A Review of Mind’s Eye Theater – Immersion Secrets

There comes a time in any hobby where, if you spend enough time involved, you reach a point where you have to either accept that you have reached the pinnacle of what you want/are able to achieve, or to continuously strive forward for an elusive perfection (I’m looking at you, Toreador). This struggle for elusive perfection can be maddening, and any help along the way is generally welcome.

 

MES: Immersion Secrets will undoubtedly help those who are beginning their journey towards perfection – its audience is clearly new-ish or uncertain storytellers, or advanced players who are leaning towards storytelling – but if you are a good way down the path towards your ideal, there’s a good chance you’re not going to find anything mind-blowing here. If you’ll indulge me –

You are making a dish you love for dinner. You’ve made it a hundred times, and you know just how to tweak it to your preferences. You’re idly scrolling through Facebook, and one of those recipe hack videos catches your eye. You watch, and you see something that makes you think, “huh, I never would have thought to try that”, and you try it. Either it works (great!) or it doesn’t (oh well, you tried something new).

 

There’s no earthshaking denouement or keys to the magical kingdom of The Perfect LARP here, but there’s a good deal of very solid material. If you don’t find a new pearl of wisdom, perhaps you will be reminded of some forgotten truths, or inspired to think about a situation in a new way.

 

Of the fourteen essays included here, I think my philosophical favorite is actually the first one, “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride”, by Jason Andrew. It contains what I find to be the truest and most valuable philosophical takeaway of the entire collection, and something that could easily be a meditation on the game theory of Mind’s Eye Theater as a whole, regardless of setting. Without spoiling it, let us say that it encourages storytellers and advanced players alike to reconsider their mental definition of the game itself, and in a very positive way.

I respectfully disagree with some of the points that are raised within this book, but as is pointed out in Andrew’s essay, “The subtle choices are nearly infinite, and they can be made to tailor the experience desired.” My choices are not your choices, and vice versa.

 

The essay that I think has the greatest utility, and in this case, I am using “utility” in the sense that it would be something that would be either seamlessly incorporated or frequently reached for, is the second essay, “Strategies for Improving Communication Between Players and Game Staff”, by Jessica Karels.

 

This one rings most true, because I’ve experienced the situations described therein from both sides of the fence. This is the essay that I would recommend ALL storytellers, of all levels, to read and re-read at least once a year. It has a brilliant subsection within the Creating a Safer Space section that will undoubtedly cause an appropriate amount of consternation and spark much-needed discussion.

The essay included that I found both helpful and distastefully clinical (a strange juxtaposition) is “Ritualizing the LARP Experience” by Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman. It reads less like an essay and more like a scholarly paper – which is understandable given Dr. Bowman’s extensive research into the art and science of roleplaying games and game theory. This extensive research is made obvious by the bewildering addition of nearly a full page of Dr. Bowman’s bibliography at the end of her essay; a questionable design choice in a 56-page PDF.

 

While Dr. Bowman’s article contains some excellent information, particularly addressing the liminality process, its tone is vastly different from the more conversational style of the other essays. Some might find its scholarly formality frosty or difficult to assimilate, which could easily detract from the value of the information contained therein. In addition, it is far more geared, in my opinion, towards games and storytellers that are seeking a more Nordic-type LARP experience – a trend that I approve wholeheartedly, but is decidedly not for everyone.

 

My absolute favorite essay – and one that I think could be sadly overlooked if a reader is looking for easily actionable items to apply quickly – is “Silently Encouraging Immersion” by Michael Pucci, someone who I would like to buy several drinks for after reading this essay. (Don’t mind the split infinitive there – that should show you how excited I am about this essay.) The line that grabbed me by my perfectionist heartstrings is this: “If a participant needs to use a higher degree of suspension of disbelief in order to be invested in the setting and scenario, then there is a reduced sense of immersion level in the experience.”

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website

I served as a Logistics AST for a local Vampire troupe for a year or so, and I can’t tell you how often I ripped out my hair trying to find a site that would truly encourage immersion by the atmosphere it created (a process that was incredibly hard to achieve in public library meeting rooms). PLEASE, for the love of spice, READ THIS ESSAY.  It is worth the $10 purchase price on its own. There’s no earth-shaking revelations, but different eyes see clearly, and Pucci’s suggestions are solid ones.  

 

Simple does not always mean easy, nor does it always mean cheap. We ALL wish we could rent out a house in a swank neighborhood, require our players to dress to the nines, and have immediate and total immersion from the moment people get on site. That’s not going to happen, and it makes me sad, but this essay will give frustrated storytellers and their staff a glimmer of hope that, just once, the magic will work. Yes, you can get together and play Vampire or Werewolf or Changeling in a library meeting room, but simple site synergy, as Pucci terms it, adds a level of authenticity that most players won’t even realize is there, but they will respond to it in a positive way, deeping their immersion and improving the experience for all.

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In conclusion, allow me to reiterate: this is not a book aimed at average players. This is a book aimed at Storytellers and their staff, or advanced players looking to take on the mantle of Storyteller on their own (or those wanting to assist their ST in more concrete ways). Is it a worthy addition to your MET library? Possibly, especially if you are inclined to want insight into what goes into making Mind’s Eye Theater games what they are – but it would be out of place among the collection of someone who generally appreciates the flavor or splat books. At the very least, frustrated and singed-around-the-edges Storytellers and their staff will be reassured that they are not alone in their struggles, and they may find a little something extra within the pages to give their games a special pop.

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She is a regular columnist and editor for the High Level Games blog. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

Sidereal Sanctuaries – New Modern Urban Fantasy LARP

We are in the golden age of gaming, and if you ask me, we are on the cusp of a LARP explosion. Blockbuster LARP like New World Magischola, Convention of Thorns, and new moves by Disney to create immersive experiences offer a chance to LARP to almost every person and interest level. And of course, the great LARP systems and game communities that have existed for the last few decades haven’t really gone anywhere either. If you want to LARP, there are more options than ever to do so. Sidereal Sanctuaries is a new modern urban fantasy LARP created by Jessica Karels (founder, Hidden Parlor) and Jason Kobett. Both are LARP veterans and they are bringing a lot of amazing experience with them to their new creation.

 

Before we discuss the game, I want to highlight they are running an Alpha Playtest in Minnesota on August 6th, and they will be running Alpha play-tests throughout the rest of the year in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

 

Here are 5 key points about the setting and rules.

 

Technology is broken – something happened at the end of 2012 that forever broke the Internet / digital data transfer / networking.  The machines that continue to work aren’t always reliable.

Social progress stagnates (and in some cases goes backwards) – Without the Internet, civil rights activists have a harder time organizing and drawing attention to non-local issues. Most mainstream people, already frazzled by their lives changing, put up blinders towards the problems of those who fall outside their immediate social sphere. Corporations gain a tighter hold on media channels and dictate the narrative (the one that makes the most $).

It’s revealed just how much “history” has been altered – In the fictional setting of Sidereal Sanctuaries, it’s revealed that technology and establishing reality are the results of a deal mankind made with various cosmic forces eons ago. Part of that deal included a clause that said cosmic forces would send out enforcers in the event that mankind didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain. These enforcers (called Remnants) have attempted to fix humanity’s mistakes throughout history. Their reward? – The ones who look most human get remembered/elevated in history and the ones who don’t get hunted and their stories are turned into myths and stories about “monsters”.

The “monsters” are protagonists who just want to exist – In Sidereal Sanctuaries, player-characters are Remnants (the supernatural enforcers I mentioned) who are hunted from the moment that their supernatural side manifests. They congregate in places that are supernaturally protected from non-Remnants (called Sanctuaries) where they learn how to work together (mostly) and how to deal with a mix of both supernatural and mundane issues.

Tethers: This is a concept inspired by Infection from DR, which gives you a certain # of lives, and Humanity from VtM which makes a character appear less “human” as their Humanity rating decreases.  In the system being designed, Tether is your lives + merit pool. You can create a plain character and endure more lethal situations, or you can buy up merits and go down in a blaze of glory sooner.

 

Representation matters to the creators of Sideral Sanctuaries, and they’ve written a great blog post on the topic. This design from the beginning will hopefully encourage players to participate and build the shared experience in an inclusive and holistic way. This idea as a core element is encouraging, and we are going to keep close eyes on this project as it gains legs. Let us know what you think about the concepts presented here!

Presentation and Tropes with ‘Monster Races’ in Fantasy Games

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I just read this article, and it is certainly something to consider. This weekend I ran a D&D game set on the frontier of a jungle. At the heart, my goal was to subvert tropes, and this article got me actively thinking how and if I was successful. Subversion of a trope can be hard to manage without forethought and focus. In the end, I think I cut into some tropes, but I could have done better. I can’t tell you too much about the adventure, because I’m using elements of it in a product in development. I can tell you that I’m seriously considering my presentation of ‘monster races.’

 

This is something I’ve written about before. In that article, I focused on Goblins, and I’m going to use them as an example again here. As a cultural group, Goblins are fascinating to me, and I think the way they are often used is very frustrating in general. Eberron does a good job of undercutting the traditional colonial/racist way of depicting Goblins. It’s not perfect, but it is a step in a positive direction and I think we should be trying to do better in our games. Other settings are less effective at showcasing Goblinoids as living, breathing, and dynamic sentient people. We’ll just leave it at that, I’m not going to throw any specific shade anywhere right now.

 

D&D has colonial roots, and racism is a symptom of colonialism. (Or vice-versa, depending on how you suss out the origins of the behavior the terms describe), but that doesn’t mean we cannot use it to examine those things critically. In fact, I think that is a core benefit RPGs can offer us. The entire concept behind Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is to help use games like D&D to explore and understand the impacts othering, racism, sexism, and other systemic prejudices have on people and our interactions with one another.

So, we have two options, as I see it. We can acknowledge the inherent colonialists flaws in D&D and then work to subvert them. Or, we can use them without alteration as a way to start discussion outside of the game setting. The second is harder if you don’t have a group that wants to deconstruct the game and their own feelings and thought processes after a session. I’d make a joke about my surprise at these things, but I’m not. Most people don’t play RPGs for constant self-reflection and internal examination of their own biases and mental constructs…

 

 

Before I digress too far down that rabbit hole, let’s talk about subversion of tropes. This is an excellent idea as it is often in the hands of the GM to create the world which these tropes are expressed through. You’ve got the power to subvert tropes as a player as well, but the GM controls the systematic side. That said, everyone at the table has a role in determining, subverting, or reconstructing tropes.

 

For example. Goblins are murderous creatures that stumble over themselves in a cannibalistic frenzy. This common fantasy RPG trope is based on some elements of Tolkein, and lots of D&D specific history. It references tropes of tribal behavior, particularly from colonial conception of African and Polynesian culture. This isn’t an accurate depiction of those cultures, but we shouldn’t be blind to that influence on the way certain monster races are presented. So, how do we subvert this trope?

 


The first possible way is to make Goblins part of mainstream society within a setting. What role could they fill that halflings and gnomes do not? Any. Halflings may focus on culinary arts (Tolkein level trope, but let’s roll with it) and Goblins work as crafters and artisans. Their smaller frames make them really good at working in small spaces, so plumbers, construction, or mining are roles that are positive to a society. You can of course also make them farmers, or animal herders and subvert several tropes all at once. Consider the motivations your Goblins have. What do they see as the good life? Is there a Goblin Socrates? Why are they part of the society they are a part of? What do most members of society do? What do the outliers do? What is normalized behavior and what is taboo?

 

You can also give the trope style Goblins motivation that makes their behavior understandable. Murderous mob of goblins? They are a splinter group of raiders that were ostracized from several goblin towns. Having the players make an alliance with these towns to mutually take the raiders into custody would be an interesting plotline They may not need to be killed and if they are, doing so may anger more goblin’s who are their relatives. Perhaps a second group of ‘murderous’ goblins are simply avenging the deaths of their kin. Looking at Icelandic Saga Feuds, or the Hatfield and McCoy feud it is easy to see how this cycle of revenge can quickly get out of control. In both cases, greater law is often imposed to limit feuding, and it could be an interesting campaign to show the imposition of higher law between groups that have agreed to stop blood feuding.

This may not be going far enough, depending on the group and the scenario you are creating. When developing a setting or a full game, I think we also have to be really cognizant of what we are saying about a culture through our writing. Eberron presents Khorvaire as once being home to a massive Goblin empire. That empire collapsed, and the majority of goblinoids are now living in poverty, or living in nomadic, or rural village life.

 

Keep in mind too, that rural village life in most D&D worlds is fraught with danger we don’t have in human history. In a lot of cases, Giants, Dragons, and such would have driven most humans to build great cities sooner if they had actually existed. Binding together is sensible in the face of this sort of outside challenge. So, it is understandable that the life of the average goblin in Eberron is one of high mortality, and a fight for survival.

This is edging into trope territory as well, though. This makes Goblins perpetually marginalized in a society where they are generally unwelcome. Again, that can be useful for exploring racism and class issues through an RPG. If that isn’t the purpose for using this trope, we have to again consider what we are hoping to say in setting development? What if Goblins were simply an accepted part of society? In Eberron, we could have them be heirs to Dragonmarks, which would include them in the House system, which could mainstream them.

Acceptable, or trope?

You could also bring Darguun up to a fairly level playing field with the rest of the Nations of Eberron, pushing back the story of its unification, or even having it have sustained unity from the imperial era. This will either make Goblins more, or less antagonistic, depending on how much inherent nationalism you build into your world.

 

If you are building a completely new world, you could also do away with the standard Goblin tropes completely. Make them as accepted a part of society as Gnomes or Halflings. If you want to keep an antagonist group in the world, consider flipping the script and having Humans, or Elves be aggressors. You can either have it be a full swap, or try and subvert other tropes while you are flipping the script. The biggest danger here is shifting things and creating or falling into the same tropes with different faces.

 

What do I want you to take away from this? Try and subvert tropes that emphasize colonial or racist elements in RPGs. When you do so, try and take a holistic view on what your subversion would change in a setting. Be realistic, avoid stereotypes, and recognize you might not get it right. Take criticism, listen, and be prepared to adjust fire at the table too.

 

I’m interested in hearing how you’ve subverted tropes at your table or in your game. Let’s swap war stories.

Running a Facebook Fan Group for White Wolf Related Games


First, thank you to Chris for offering to do this interview many months ago when I first approached him. I wanted to understand more about what got someone to start a group on Facebook, and in particular why these games. I finally cleared my plate and sent him these questions.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into role-playing games?

I’m 39 years old, a husband and a father of three. Some of my hobbies other than RPGs are Brazilian Jujitsu, Mixed Martial Arts and reading book. I’m like ¾ knuckle dragger lol.

I actually got into RPGs in 1999 when I was in the US ARMY. I was on this detail where you have to spend 5 days, 15 hours each, walking through the desert picking up trash. A guy who was also on the detail started talking to me and I mentioned I was a fan of Anne Rice. He told me about Dark Ages: Vampire and a few weeks later he started running a game. We ended up getting deployed to Bosnia a few months later and right before we left I was at a bookstore and saw the Vampire: The Masquerade book.

I ended up picking it up and ran a game in Bosnia that was a straight up katana, trench coats, and Uzis for everyone type game. During all that though I was buying books online and having them shipped and I read one book that changed my perspective of Vampire: The Masquerade forever, Ghouls: Fatal Addiction.

After Bosnia I was stationed at another base and decided to run a grown up Vampire game, and ran Twin Cities by Night the first time. I soon though found myself taking on too many players and was starting to feel the dreaded burnout. Then one day I realized my 40 plus collection of books had been stolen. I was relived and never played a RPG again until 15 years later.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016 and I am cutting weight for a Brazilian Jujitsu and I am miserable. For those of you who don’t know, it’s pretty much eating like a rabbit and trying to ride the border between malnourished and lean for maximum weight/strength effect when competing. For some reason Vampire popped into my head and I ordered the horrible Vampire: Clan Novel Anthology there and ended up deciding I wanted to run Twin Cities by Night again and the rest is history. In summary, I am a RPG poser.

You run a few games on YouTube, and they are good. Tell us about why you decided to stream your games. What were you thinking there?

Why, thank you man, that honestly means a lot! At first I was just uploading it to YouTube so that the players and I had somewhere to rewatch our sessions, but eventually I really wanted to see if I could get some feedback, negative or positive, that could help me be a better storyteller. So, for the lack of a better term, I said F-it and started posting them on Reddit, Facebook, and the Onyx Path forums.

To be honest though, now it’s to the point here I want to share my stories, and if someone enjoys them that’s awesome, if someone has some constructive feedback that’s even more awesome, and if someone says no thank you and passes I can dig that. As I said earlier I have a knuckle dragger side to me, and before I was able to balance that out with working at getting my Master’s Degree but once I was done with school in 2016 I realized RPGing and the YouTube channel filled that hole. It is a healthy creative outlet and a blast to do it with some pals.

Ok, we know why you are playing RPGs, we know why you are streaming games, but tell us a little bit about why you decided to create a Facebook fan page.

Man, I love that Facebook page, seriously, it has a special place in my heart. As a content creator myself I have experienced firsthand how damn hard it is to get your stuff noticed. In forums and Facebook pages it is very easy for media to get drowned out by posts asking what Thaumaturgy Lure of Flames 7 and what dual bladed katanas could do against Caine (I jest, I jest…..kind of). So I started a Reddit post in the WhiteWolfRPG forum, but found that was so damn hard to do. I mean I was literally scouring the web and posting stuff I found.

I felt like a dang collector. So one day I shot Slavek, a player in games on our channel and the one poor soul who has to hear all my ideas and give me honest feedback, and tell him my idea for a Facebook group that would be like the Netflix for White Wolf RPGs. He said he was down to try it. At first I was sharing stuff I found on YouTube and other sites, but eventually my thick head thought “Why not invite these people to share themselves”. The rest, good sir, is history, and matter of fact you were one of the people I asked.

My favorite vampire meme

Do you find the group hard to manage? What are the good parts, and the bad parts?

Actually the group is rather easy to manage. It now seems to have a lot of content creators who share stuff and I am still scouring YouTube and inviting creators. The good part is to see how much content there is and seeing people connect with an audience and vice versa. Shit man, I see some big names in the scene are members of our group and are liking stuff posted. That’s rad! Bad parts, there aren’t really any but the one thing is when people don’t read the rules and get angry when I tell them the group is for sharing and viewing media.

Where do you see your group going?

I honestly don’t know, but I would say I am still surprised it is growing constantly. Who knows, but I am sure very awesome places! Positive thoughts!

Thanks again Chris for answering these questions for us. I really appreciate it, and I’m sure our readers appreciated it too.

Spring Again At Last: The Return of Changeling: The Dreaming

When most people describe the World of Darkness the first thing that tends to come up is gritty street wars fought between the undead and other horrors of the night. Sometimes that includes hyper violent Garou burning with deep bloody passions trying desperately to stop creeping death from consuming mother Earth, or Nephandi seeking to corrupt all they touch. However, for some, the World of Darkness is very different.  

Underlying the horrors of the first 4 WoD titles is the hidden chimerical world of Changeling: The Dreaming. When I started gaming in my mid-teens, I lived in a town where Changeling was so popular, our local LARP crew built home brew Mind’s Eye Theatre rules because they couldn’t wait for Shining Host to dive into the capricious machinations of the fae.  

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When I left my early gaming bubbles I was surprised to discover that Changeling is not the universally loved game I was familiar with. I have heard from more than a few people that Changeling is a fine game, but it doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness. So when the Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Kickstarter succeeded with flying colors I was excited, not only that Changeling might have another life, but that with a 20th Anniversary edition the full scope of tragedy and horror Changeling represents might be brought into focus for a wider swath of players.

In many ways, the writers for C20 faced greater challenges than previous 20th Anniversary developers. Changeling never got a Revised edition, but unlike the other games in the World of Darkness, Changeling changed focus and central themes more than once during its life. There are several corners of the world that haven’t received any meaningful attention since 1st edition. The result was almost every Changeling book broke new ground, creating a much broader array of content than the line’s relatively modest word count would indicate, with several concepts and rules that were woefully out of date.

Themes

C20 tackled this challenge head on, and accomplished transforming one of the most diverse and honestly inconsistent games in the World of Darkness into a poignant, modern role playing experience. The greatest testament to this accomplishment is the sheer number of WoD fan posts I’ve seen talking about how they didn’t like CtD, but they are loving C20.

Changeling is 1 part politics, 1 part Cthonic horror, 3 parts psychological tragedy built on a pathological fear of death and loss, and some indeterminate amount of whimsy and wonder which serves more than anything to bring the first three elements into deep and painful contrast. C20 is the first Changeling book that captures every emanation of that often indescribable, unshaped mass and weaves it into a coherent whole.

Woo Hoo by Lydia Burris (http://www.lydiaburris.com)

Rules

While the thematic cohesion is a huge win, C20’s greatest accomplishment is tackling the often misunderstood rules system of Changeling. This is done, not only by tying it up into a much more balanced and manageable package, but actually expanding on the system with the concept of Unleashing. Changelings from previous editions were powerful, but deeply limited in how they could apply that power.

With the new magic rules, they now feel much more like the fae of myth and legend, able to wield the raw force of creation, but with often unpredictable and occasionally terrifying results. I have run and played in con games that used the early version of Unleashing shared during the Kickstarter and it adds a satisfying and mythic scale to the game. Beyond Unleashing, the Arts and Realms received an extensive cleanup. They were expanded in some areas, and minimized in others, resulting in a far more coherent and thematically engaging whole.

Storytelling Banality

C20 also borrows a page from modern narrative systems and builds explicit systems around your character’s emotional relationship to the world. This emphasizes the omnipresent threat of banality. In previous editions of the game, characters had a toxic (but often generic) relationship with banality. Now when you build a character, you select a variety of banality triggers, including a trigger that is unique to your character called your antithesis.  

This trigger is something the rest of your motley may find to be a minor nuisance, or in extreme cases may even garner glamour from. To you, it is the epitome of the creeping death of the coming winter. Some of the trigger dynamics could stand to be broader than they currently are, including the seeming triggers, which feel entirely too specific to me and are occasionally inappropriate for Thallain or Gallain characters, but the overall system adds a deeply personal relationship to banality that meaningfully enriches the game.   

Changes in the World

There are several other accomplishments in this edition including the expansion of the Thallain, the reworking of the Dauntain and the Autumn People, and actually wrangling Hsien Alchemy into what feels like a sleek approachable magic system. While I would love to expound on all of the edition’s strengths it would paint an unbalanced picture of the text as a whole. Much like the systems, C20 takes an often radical approach to the backstory of Changeling, and dramatically changes the canon in several areas. Some of those changes were sorely needed, such as the reframing of House Leanhaun, which changes them from arguably more evil than the Baali or Nephandi,to deeply parasitic, but playable. However, some of the changes to the canon feel unnecessary, and more problematically aren’t always well explained.

The flavor section reframes the Sidhe as being split between the Autumn Sidhe who stayed behind during the Shattering and undertook the Changeling Way, and the Arcadian Sidhe. The Arcadian Sidhe came back with the Resurgence and refused to soil their souls by fully bonding with humans. Effectively this was performed as a more violent and incomplete form of the Changeling Way where they displaced a human soul and took its place.

The Autumn Sidhe

Occasionally the text reads as though only House Scatthach and Liam took part in the Changeling Way, sometimes it frames the Autumn Sidhe in generic terminology that could  be read to imply Sidhe from any house might have gone through the Changeling Way. In the House section intro, Liam is listed as a returning House, and only Scatthach is listed as having stayed behind, and then in some of the house writeups there are subtle references to other Sidhe who stayed behind, but often in ambiguous language. The final result is honestly confusing.

During an exchange on Facebook, one of the C20 writers confirmed that any Sidhe that stayed behind became an Autumn Sidhe, which clarified things a bit, but ultimately those sorts of exchanges shouldn’t be necessary. A few explicit sentences in the Autumn Sidhe two page spread would go a long way towards providing clarity on this point. This change also wipes out broad swaths of story centering on the tragedy of the Sidhe who died in the years after the shattering because they were either trapped or chose to stay behind.

I love the addition of the Autumn Sidhe as a general concept, but less absolute framing about how all Sidhe who stayed behind became Autumn Sidhe, and all the Sidhe who returned refused to go through the Changeling Way would have cut off far less existing canon, and created messier, but more diverse plot hooks.

History Convoluted?

While the confusion about the Arcadian/Autumn Sidhe is definitely the most pronounced example of muddled narrative, there were several other smaller moments in the setting and history section that didn’t make a lot of sense, and occasionally even seemed to contradict material that appears elsewhere in the book. There is a lot to love in the C20 setting material. The conflict between the Tuatha and the Fomorians is far more dynamic than I remember in previous texts.

The role Christianity played in transforming the stories about the fae is included, which is something I’ve wanted to see in the game for a long time, but the history and setting content in C20 is best read with a strong eye towards the golden rule, especially if you have any investment in existing canon.

I’ve talked about the good and the bad of the edition’s treatment of Arcadian fae, but then there is my favorite and arguably the messiest part of Changeling, the Gallain. The Gallain are fae who are not a central part of Arcadian society. While there are a few European faeries who are considered Gallain, the term generally refers to non European faeries. Changeling has traditionally framed these spirits as either not being part of the Dreaming, such as the Asian Hsien, or in the case of the Nunnehi and Menehune, as being cut off from the Dreaming due to acts of genocide and violence committed against their dreamers. I’ve never been terribly comfortable with this framing, but I knew the writers wouldn’t have the leeway to dramatically change the way these groups functioned, but I was really hoping for a few more inclusive tweaks to the status quo.

Sprites Dance by Lydia Burris (http://www.lydiaburris.com)

Who is a part of Whom?

Occasionally the approach to non-European Changelings went above and beyond my expectations. The introduction of non-European Thallain gave the Nunnehi and Menehune a much more robust representation in the setting, but also occasionally drifted toward centering the Gallain around European stories more strongly than previous editions. The most pronounced instance of this is changing the Higher Hunting Grounds from being the Nunnehi Dreaming, which is invoked in the Changeling Player’s Guide as an equal but separate place from Arcadia, to being the Nunnehi’s home in Arcadia. On the surface this is a small change, but it recontextualizes the Nunnehi in a way that intentionally or not makes them a part of something fundamentally rooted in European mythology. The other examples of moving towards an even more European centering narrative are less blatant, but I honestly hope they are rectified in future texts.  

Overall, C20 brings Changeling into the 21st century. It is a deeply innovative take on the Storyteller System, and provides a more robust foundation to build a future line on than the game has ever enjoyed. It has done a huge service to the game by inspiring more fans to consider including Changeling in their personal World of Darkness. What C20 needs more than anything else is a full game line. It needs Gallain stories written by authors who have lived the truth of the myths being invoked, and full text expansion on the concepts that were completely reinvented for C20. This book is a monumental achievement, and it would be a tragedy of Arthurian proportions if this resurgence isn’t followed by a lasting and inspired spring of new material.

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Creative Outlets

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 Education, Networking, Health, and Social Skills.

 

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LARP can help you express your creativity and help foster creativity in others. By putting together your costume, you learn ways to express yourself through clothing and makeup. LARP can inspire art and creative writing about your character’s situation. LARP can even inspire creativity in people who don’t LARP!

 

Creative Expression Through Costume

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

Four of my own characters, all very different!

In the above picture, the common theme is that I am the player, and that is it. Each character has their own style of dress, makeup, hair and accessories. Different characters let me experience the different styles I present for a few hours in a non permanent way. Through these characters I have a creative outlet for trying new styles. I can get brave and try new styles and figure out what I like. Before I started playing the character in the bottom right, I couldn’t draw a good cat eye. Now I can do one well enough that I would wear it out in public. I’ve been able to creatively experiment with my appearance and enjoy myself because of LARP. Never in my life would I wear something like the bottom left or top right in public, but I can play with it at LARP and enjoy myself.

Sometimes I will even experiment at home with my look for LARP if I’m feeling creative. The expression has even gained me new topics to talk about with friends who also like makeup and body paint. It can even help spread creativity outside of LARP too! By commissioning costumes and asking friends for makeup help, you spread the creative process around. The artist or friend you ask for help may even end up liking the style you request and exploring it more on their own, which is a win for everyone.

 

Creative Expression Through Art

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

The guns my character uses in After The End

 

LARP also offers many creative outlets to be found in the creation of art, props, and writing. Those guns (lovingly painted for me) were just regular NERF guns that were painted to match the style and aesthetic of my character in that game. Many artistic friends of mine will draw their characters for fun. Through commissions they will also draw other’s characters and that can really help to get the creative juice flowing. I (and many of my friends) also write small fictional works involving our characters.

They focus on many subject matters and can be either dramatic retelling of game events or ‘off-screen’ events. Many of them are of stories that work best on paper, such as dream sequences, internal monologues, or backstory reveals. Having the expression outlet of creative writing is one of the things that inspired me to begin writing for KotH, so I can certainly say it is a benefit.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

If my keyboard could be a tired cat, it would be Freyr.

 

This series of articles has been extremely fun for me to write. I’ve touched on so many things that LARP can help you do, and there is still so much more that I haven’t even covered. From educating yourself, to gaining valuable contacts, to improving your health, to gaining social skills, to exercising your creativity, there are so many wonderful things that LARP can help you with. I hope you all have had as much fun reading this series as I have had writing it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to take a break from writing about LARP to actually go do it. See you in character!

 

Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Health, and Social Skills 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.

 

Monarchies Of Mau –Eddy Webb and Richard Thomas

Meow? Not so long ago we did a review of Pugmire. I’m happy to report that the next setting book is currently in Kickstarter. We are also happy to report, Monarchies of Mau has already met and beat it’s funding goal. To briefly describe it, Monarchies of Mau is the Cat book for the world of Pugmire. Cats, like their Dog counterparts, are uplifted animals in a far-future fantasy setting and The rules are based on 5th Edition D&D. If you’d like to learn more, the best place to do so is the Kickstarter itself.

 

 

Become a backer. Backers are awarded an early access PDF. It’s a 90-page document that provides everything you’d need to jump right into the game. We should expect changes between the early access and final product, as we saw with Pugmire. I don’t want to spoil anything, if you’d like to read it, become a backer. You won’t be disappointed. Also, Pugmire pre-orders are also still open here. Get it. Now, that being said, it doesn’t appear that you will need a copy of Pugmire to play Monarchies of Mau, so if you have no interest in dogs, feel free to enjoy being a cat person.

 

 

In the previous review of Pugmire, I emphasized the  goal of inclusivity that seemed built-in. Pugmire has moral grey for every culture. Neither Cats, nor Dogs, nor even Badgers are all evil, or good. The world has a vague European Medieval Fantasy overlay, but the cultures of the world are more nuanced, and there are  opportunities for the creation of decolonized game settings within Pugmire and the Monarchies of Mau.

 

 

I reached out to ask a question of Eddy Webb, the creator and principal author for Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau. Richard Thomas ( Onyx Path Publishing) also had good input. See below.

 

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Can you tell us about how you have taken inclusion and diversity into consideration in the development process for the world of Pugmire and Mau? 

Eddy Webb – Pugsteady

I knew early on that I wanted to be as inclusive as possible, so all my friends could feel welcome in the world of Pugmire and Mau. My early attempts defaulted a little too much to common fantasy tropes, when I could do better. So, after a lot of discussion and debate with various friends across the diversity spectrum, I made some specific decisions. Some examples include:

  • There is no mechanical penalty for being disabled. It’s only a factor in gameplay if the player explicitly wants it to be.
  • I removed all references to fantasy “races,” replacing that with “species.” Also, no species is explicitly “evil,” to avoid perceiving a particular cultural analog as evil.
  • Starting with Mau, I’m making an active effort to hire more women, people of color, and LGBTQ writers and designers to contribute to the world.
  • Although Pugmire refers to humanity as “Man” (as part of their religious faith), I offer the alternative title of “The Old Ones,” and I emphasize that title more frequently in Mau.

Pugsteady considers diversity to be a core company value, and I personally feel that diversity makes the game better!

 

Richard Thomas – Onyx Path Publishing

  • Visually, the World of Pugmire presents us with a great opportunity to design characters that don’t rely on the old standards of fantasy character design, but which can be more about each individual’s attitude and style. Princess Yosha is a princess because that’s where she is in her life, not because she looks like a stereotypical Sleeping Beauty princess.
  • One of the many advantages of working together on both Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau is that Onyx Path can make available to Pugsteady our connections to a wide and diverse group of creators; everybody wins!

 

Let us know what you think of Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire.

 

Let’s Level Up!

 

Josh

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

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands. Opinions may also turn out to be wrong in the future, and we are more than willing to discuss based on future information.

 

 

 

Credit to ryanmcguire on PIXABAY

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Social Skills

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 Education, Networking, Health, and Creative Outlets.

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Have you ever heard the phrase “fake it til you make it?” That phrase is more true than you may think. Many social skills can be gained through role-playing as a character who is more socially adept than you are. You will become more confident and more empathic through your characters. We’ll be exploring exactly what that means below.

 

“You Talkin’ To Me?”

Credit to ryanmcguire on PIXABAY

Not what I was originally going to put here, but I couldn’t keep this picture to myself after I found it.

 

While talking to yourself in a mirror (ala the scene Taxi Driver) is good practice, nothing beats real human interaction for practicing talking to people. When you play a character or NPC that exudes confidence, it will start rubbing off on you. Interacting as the super confident Sept Alpha will help you the next time you have a business meeting or job interview. Giving out orders as the Seneschal of the city can help you be in charge of others at your job. Mediation in a scene can help you learn to accept less than perfect situations that arise.

 

Leading in character at LARP with no out of game risks is great practice for leading in real life. You won’t get fired from LARP for making risky choices in game, so you can try them out in a safe environment. It helps you gain confidence in your decision making, and learn what you need to improve. Having to speak during a scene that is focused on you helps you improve your ability to do so outside of game. It also helps you learn to withstand the pressure of having all eyes on you. Entering into mediation to resolve a scene faster helps you learn to do it in real life. It helps you learn to negotiate for things in real life and accept that you’re coming out relatively equal instead of completely on top.

 

It also helps you cope with losing. In a safe environment like this you can learn to cope with losses and be ready to cope with them in real life. Losing in LARP has basically no real life consequence whatsoever. Losing things or people in real life hurts, but learning to cope with it can greatly help you heal and move on.

 

I Feel You

Feels Guy from Know Your Meme

Feels Guy feels you too

 

LARPing can also make you more empathic and supportive of your friends. By slipping into another role it allows you to get a glimpse of a different worldview. Maybe you played a Catiff in a Camarilla city and got a taste of discrimination based on nothing but how you were born (or made in this case). Maybe you played a male Black Fury and you experienced some gender-based discrimination. While playing one of these will not give you exact mirrors of real issues, you will start to understand the discrimination some of your friends face.

 

By taking on these differing personas, you can begin to understand the people around you. Maybe that Catiff is angry and protests her treatment by the Camarilla around her. Maybe that Black Fury rails against the system, or breaks ties with it entirely. Through these experiences you grow more sympathetic to their real world parallels. The expansion of world view through LARP has changed many people. Some of my best friends self-admitted to being homophobic, sexist, racist, misogynistic awful people.  Through LARP (and actual education, LARP isn’t a miracle worker) they gained a better sense of others and viewed them as people too.

 

LARP not only makes you more empathic, but also more supportive, which helps you and the people around you. When your friends have a bad time, you’re more aware and able to help them because you’re more empathetic. This works both ways too, because your friends will also be more empathetic. The support network that LARP provides can be crucial for some people. While LARP is NOT a replacement for professional therapy and medication, it can help to have friends to talk to.

 

What LARP Can’t Do

Credit to tnamd on PIXABAY

Dressing as Sweeny Todd doesn’t give you a cosmetology degree, or make you into Johnny Depp.

LARP is not a cure-all, a magical confidence machine, or a replacement for therapy. While you can become more socially skilled, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to try to become those things. It does not just magically happen nor does LARP ‘fix’ actual mental or social disorders. The benefit involving LARP however is it makes trying take less effort. You’re put in the shoes of different people more often, and you hear stories of other players and characters. You become exposed to 100% risk-free chances to step up, speak out, and change your mind. Through these scenes and chances, you can become more confident or more empathic if you try.

 

Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Health, 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.

 

Credit: Dylan Coffey

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Health

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 EducationNetworking, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets.

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While this article focuses primarily on Boffer style LARPs, being healthy is good for you in general!

Uh-oh…RUN!

In the dark of the cave Mal, Lucy, and Virginia blew the computer, allowing Capillary to escape the cave. Everything began to rumble and shake as the cave began to fall around them. The three hackers ran back to the main group as everyone ran for their lives.

The above scenario happened at a Boffer LARP I play called After the End (which you should come play if you’re in the Tennessee/Georgia area!). If it were a parlor LARP we may not need to physically run in real life. In Boffer style LARPs however there are situations where you’re going to need to actually run. Most people are going to be able to run some without being winded too badly. However if the person chasing you is much more fit, you get caught. If it is a long chase, you might run out of stamina. For people who aren’t very fit the running may prove difficult. Sometimes I even have trouble with running up and down stairs a lot, which can make LARPing out in the woods super tiring.

Many of my friends (and myself to a lesser extent) have begun simple or complex exercise routines in order to combat LARP fatigue. LARP itself can be it’s own form of exercise as well, and exercise can be incorporated into your LARP routine. We’ll be going over those topics below.

 

Exercise For LARP

Credit: Dylan Coffey

Wuxia Workout!

A lot of people that I know have begun hitting the gym to be in top shape for their Boffer LARP experience. They range from beginners at Couch to 5K to regular gym attendees to ones who have started their own podcast for more broad health topics (shout out to Ty and Sky!) and everywhere in between. Even something as simple as walking outside once a day can help you keep up your endurance for a LARP weekend. Many of the people I know exercising have already started seeing benefits in the relatively short time they have been exercising. They are less tired after intense weekends and are eating better and noticing muscle gain and fat loss. Exercising for LARP has begun helping improve the non-LARP life of many of my friends, and I think (if able) everyone should give it a try.

Exercise As LARP

 

Credit Niantic & Nintendo

#TeamValor

With the popularity of apps like Zombies, Run and plenty of other augmented reality exercise games, exercise is easily made into a game. Go out walking and catch Pokemon or capture bases for the Enlightened. Run from zombies, aliens, spies, ghosts and tour virtual facilities all while exercising. There is little stopping a group of friends from turning their progress in these apps into a LARP game. The Ingress and Pokemon Go communities are massive and global, and people take their teams very seriously sometimes!

Exercise In LARP

Anthem, Irving, and Vitez (characters at After the End) discuss the meaning of “feather in your cap.”

This picture illustrates a very easy way to incorporate a small amount of exercise into your LARP routine. Did you notice it? Did you know standing burns roughly your body weight in calories per hour that you do it? Anthem and Irving (who work out separate from LARP) are resting in the photo. Vitez, however, remains standing and does a small amount of exercise while having an in-character chat. Patrolling the borders of the site is another good way to add a little exercise to your routine. It also has in-character benefits too, because you help keep your town area safe.

For Parlor LARPs, you can walk around site while having a private chat.

LARPing can be tiring, but with some dedication it doesn’t have to always be. By choosing to exercise for, at, or by LARPing you will begin to see some serious benefits. Eventually you will look back on old character photos and be proud of how far you have come. Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Networking, 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.

Camp!? Guest Blog by THE Jason Hughes

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

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

 

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

Sinister, isn’t he?

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sir Laurence, as Hamlet, Tragedy Embodied

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

 

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

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