A Fomorian Horror Among His Gentried Peers

The horror movie is innately conservative, even reactionary.” – Steven King

A World of Darkness dev introduced me to this quote on Facebook. He went on to explain the theory that the vast majority of horror is designed to make us afraid of the other, the thing that goes bump in the night, or stalks obscure corners of our world that we may one day be foolish enough to invade. This is not the conservatism of our modern politics, but a more fundamental use of the term rooted in the “maintenance of the status quo”. It is only by returning to normalcy that the beasts of the pit can be banished. There is a long history of these stories being used to reinforce societal norms, but there are as many examples of this small ‘c’ conservative format being used by creators who aren’t interested in maintaining any social status quo, but are fascinated by the human relationship to horror.

I’ve pondered this topic for a long time, and it strikes me, as role players, it’s worth understanding these themes in a meaningful way, because it helps us build the kinds of stories we want to tell at our tables. I’ve also found this model of horror illuminates why we are drawn to certain stories and not others. I think the best illustration of this dynamic is the relationship between Changeling: The Dreaming and Changeling: The Lost. I’m a long time fan of Changeling: The Dreaming, and when Changeling: The Lost came out for what is now known as the Chronicles of Darkness I went and dropped full MSRP on it without so much as cracking the cover. I had been jonesing for new Changeling content for years and it was with immeasurable excitement that I opened the book. After reading the text cover to cover I was in full blown Edition Warrior mode. I’ll spare you my barely more than a teenager histrionics, but suffice it to say, I was not a fan of the new game.

What really bothered me though is I WAS, kind of, a fan. There was so much in Changeling: The Lost that I loved and wanted in Dreaming. The kiths were flexible, the magic was more dynamic, the writing maintained a consistency of quality that unfortunately eluded Dreaming for most of the 90’s. I’ve talked with other Dreaming fans for years and hear this same sentiment over and over. The theme is consistently that Lost is a beautiful well done game but just . . . no and no one exactly knows why. Until recently I wasn’t able to find a satisfactory explanation for this feeling. I honestly believe the explanation lies in the Stephen King quote above.

Changeling: The Lost is a quintessential example of the kind of horror King describes above. You play a creature abducted into the Hedge by Chthonic Fae horrors called The Gentry who is subjected to one trauma after another. When you return to the world, either through heroic escape, or your master growing bored and releasing you, your family doesn’t recognize you, and your entire existence is now a perpetual PTSD trigger reminding you that you barely survived. This is systematized to the point where using your own magic can trigger your morality trait, because it reminds you “you are wrong”. This creates stories of desperately wanting to re-establish the status quo of your previous life, but never pulling it off.

Even in the deepest, most interconnected motley of Changelings, there is always a background of “Yeah, we’ve lived through hell and worse together, but if I could go back to normal I’d ditch you all in a hot second and run screaming back to my wife/husband/children/etc”. I don’t know about the supplements, but the core book passes up no opportunity to remind you of this creeping sense of isolation, or that you are always desperately afraid of losing even this shadow of a normalcy should The Gentry return for you. One of the core messages of Lost is, “cherish the phantom normalcy you’ve been gifted because at any moment it could be stolen away. The Gentry remember”.

In contrast, Changeling: The Dreaming is a game that casts the status quo as the greatest horror in the game. You play a primordial creature born of human dreams. As with all World of Darkness games, you do indeed play a monster feeding on humanity in one way or another, but you are a monster because humanity dreamt you into being as a monster. If you make the world a bloody and brutal place it is not because something awful lives in the darkness, it is merely because humans BELIEVE something awful lives in the darkness, and would they believe or care if there were no status quo to shatter in the first place?

Even where the game slips into more Chthonic territory its core premise subverts the conservative nature of more mainstream horror. This is clear when you look at the Fomorians, who walked a path of darkness across the world in the earliest days of creation. The Fomorians now threaten to return to the world, but the fear of “the other” is always subverted by the fact that the darkest of Fae are still summoned by the dreams and fears of humanity, not the other way around. The Evanescence of dark glamour described in the Changeling 20th Anniversary edition originated with the atrocities of humanity, and even the myths of ancient times speak to the fears of humans at the mercy of a capricious world they did not yet understand. They do not speak of the Fomorians coming before the fear of the unknown.

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Years after that first reading of Changeling: The Lost, the initial sense of “betrayal” I felt has passed and I see these games as possibly the perfect reflections of each other. In many ways this division assures that everyone has some corner of the Faerie they will love, which I deeply appreciate. If you approach these games with an awareness of these themes you can much more easily cast antagonists and scenarios that double down on, or explicitly subvert the core identities of the games.

Plot Seeds

ADHD Shaman by Lydia Burris

In The Dreaming, the toxicity of the status quo of humanity, and the status quo of the Seelie court is hinted at throughout the game line, but is not often how the court is played. A story emphasizing those themes, with players who are Seelie opens a lot of narrative potential. Perhaps the most powerful saining magics of the Dark Ages aren’t as lost as everyone thinks, and if your players see the need to tear down oppressive feudal structures, but don’t want to be caught in the role of “the court of nightmares” then you could tell a story of great quests, and complex magics means to redefine the core identities of the courts, or perhaps even sain a new court altogether. There is nothing that compromises the status quo like redefining the basis of identity for your entire species.

On the other side of the Faerie divide Changelings in the Chronicles of Darkness who find themselves allied with a Beast may come to see the Beast’s hunting and the scars it leaves as a lesser form of the sins committed by the Gentry.  Not all Beasts “teach their lessons” with equal elegance, and some make no attempt to teach lessons at all, seeking only to feed on the fear of mortals. The existence of Beasts, who exist to subvert the status quo, and Changelings, who are creatures uniquely driven to preserve it creates a dynamic where if you are aware of these themes you can tell truly brutal stories setting family member against family member. I would pity the poor Changeling who finds themselves allied with a Hero seeking to “purge the world of Horror”, but I could easily see how such an ill fated allegiance could emerge.

At the end of the day a solid foundation in genre awareness aids a storyteller running any game. When you find yourself guiding players through the darkest corners of humanity’s narrative canon look closely at what makes your players afraid, and tailor your setting to those fears. Knowing the deepest, broadest themes of any horror game makes it a lot easier to find exactly where those fears come from, and how to tap them.

Against the Darkness

Once upon a time, when the sun fell, we knew only darkness. We sat huddled against the cold in trees and caves imagining the hunters that sought us in the night. Every so often, often enough to justify our fears, they would come. When this happened we would lose someone, sometimes more than one someone. Death and darkness became synonymous.

Over time, all this imagining did us some good. We imagined whether there could be food on the other side of the hill we had never seen. We imagined there were predators where there may or may have been. Those who imagined better survived longer, and bore children who carried the spark of imagination within them.

 

That spark eventually manifested as fire itself, born from our hands, but first created in our minds. No longer were we bound to spend each night trapped in fear and exhaustion. We brought the sun to earth, and those that once hunted us learned to keep their distance from the flames that lit the night.

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Our imaginations never ceased. Instead, we began to envision things that had never existed, events that had never happened, and places no one had ever seen We had become aware of ourselves as individual minds, but more than that, we realized that we could see ourselves as things we had never been. We carved masks and wore paints, and in the light of the flames (which had burned away the darkness of death) we took on the roles of spirits, heroes, and gods. We danced and we sang because we were free not only from fear, but from the boundaries of our physical forms.

Now the world is lit by light so great that in many places you cannot see the stars. Many still live in fear and darkness, but every day those who live in fear number less than ever before. The stories we tell  reach across time and distance to affect lives in ways we will never know. Radio, television, and the internet reach numbers that would take years for any single person to count aloud.

 

Roleplaying games as we know them are largely a modern invention, created and developed in the last fifty years. As a skill and as an artform we have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with this medium. The roots of our hobby run deep, to one of the cores that define us as a species: the power of our imagination.

 

These games we play show us that we can see ourselves in others. We can take on the personas of other people and see ourselves through them as the hero or the monster, as the villain or the victim. We imagine these other selves of ours enduring experiences we will never have in our mundane lives, the sweet taste of victories we will never win, the utter agony of pains that will never touch us, joys and despairs freed from the chains of physical reality that bind us.

 

I would never suggest that imagining something is the same as experiencing it. I would say that it can give us an idea of that experience, whatever it is. Imagination can broaden our perception of the world around us and allow us to see more than we have before. It can let us more easily understand the successes and plights of others and try to put ourselves in our (their?) place.

If we are careful not to let this turn to arrogance, our ability to empathize and sympathize grows. We can see our selves in others more clearly, and envision a world that is better than the one in which we live. The stories we tell have origins in one of the collection of traits that allowed us to evolve. If we are compassionate and brave, the stories we tell can help us to go further still.

 

Escapism and entertainment are not the only uses or purposes of roleplaying games. When we pursue them with the goal of playing to explore, we can touch the first spark of the flames which freed us from death and darkness once more. Just as with fire, this power can burn, and we must treat it with all due care and respect. Every time we do this, we take one powerful step closer to becoming whatever it is we desire to be.

JP Bauer is a gamer who currently lives in the southeastern United States. He thinks roleplaying games are pretty special and wants to play them with you.

A War Of Our Own Interview

First, give me a moment to gush on the idea of A War of Our Own. How do we explain war to those who haven’t faced it? How do we understand the challenges, the decisions, the choices service members have to make? How do we understand the challenges that the civilians on the sidelines face? We can’t send everyone to war, and I’d never want to. We can provide them a glimpse into the realities of war through various forms of media. Movies, TV, music, books, all of these help to convey the Hell of War, but they fail to capture the thinking behind the eyes. What does it mean to carry the M16 and pull the trigger? What does it mean to be a civilian in a war zone with foreign troops ‘invading’ your town? What does it mean to see a conflict unfold before you in a way you cannot stop? LARP allows us to get closer than other media forms, and for that it offers something only VR might be able to eventually capture. So, I’m on board with this idea. I had the chance to shoot Matthew Webb from Jackalope Live Action Studios some questions about A War of Our Own, and he graciously has answered them below.

Matthew, thanks for your time. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to do this project? What are your core goals and expectations?

First off, it’s great to hear about your excitement about the project. Ultimately, this game is not about the soldiers because so many games are about the soldiers. But the people who have to live in the worlds that war, politicians and armies create. What happens to the civilians caught in the middle.

I have been a huge fan of This War of Mine since it was first introduced 3 years ago. I have immense respect for it as showing the messages and realities that a game can convey, while still being a game. Earlier this year, my partner Steve Metze and I decided we wanted to start a live action event studio, to explore the art form and hobby with high-value and high-production one shot events. Steve was a veteran of the Bosnian and Iraq conflicts; and I mentioned This War of Mine as a possibility. It went from there; and really took off when 11-Bit Studios agreed to sponsor us; and when Temple Airsoft was so generous in offering their support and partnership.
 
It’s impossible to truly convey the cruelty and hardship of living in a war zone unless you actually have experienced it. But our intent with A War of Our Own is to make a LARP that makes people think about the decisions people are having to make around the world right now in places ravaged by war; the choices you have to make about how you are going to survive; and how senseless the world becomes in the shadow of conflict. We want to build empathy for an experience that as safe and secure Westerners, we are so unlikely to experience. We can’t expect anyone to come out of this feeling like they really experienced what it is like to be in a war zone, but we can expect them to come out of it learning about those who have.

There is growing academic literature around simulation of real events and its value as a teaching tool. With that in mind, what made you choose a fictional setting for this game? Does the fictional setting of Calbia allow for something in particular that you wanted to capture? 

One of our key principles in this project is respect and being constructive about the cultures and people affected by war. We owe that to them, to act in an educated and honest way. But in a live action game, we have to get dozens of players from a wide variety of backgrounds to play in the same world. We don’t feel comfortable taking 50 or 60 people, mostly Americans with little experience with these parts of the world, and expecting to train them in a few days or hours how to be authentic Ukrainians, Syrians, Croatians, Georgians, Serbs or Bosnians; or anyone else. We don’t want to satirize or simplify the cultures of proud and courageous real people.
A fictional setting frees us from that constraint, and allows us to focus on the core message of the game. Calbia is going to be inspired by several nations and their history, but not a copy of any of them. A fictional setting means we can avoid divisive and contentious politics revolving around these real world places, and hone in on our message without distraction. This is a long-standing tradition in art, especially in the context of war and its realities. One of my favorite classic novels is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck, which is about the local resistance to an occupying power, but the nations involved are never named; and in short stories like The Upturned Face by Stephen Crane or The Prisoners by Nicolas Travers. Even in This War of Mine, while the situation is modeled after the Siege of Sarajevo, it is set in the fictional city of Pogoren, Graznavia. We don’t want to take sides, but present the universal truths of these sorts of situations. So we’re following this tradition by fictionalizing the setting.

Tell us about the physical props you will be using. I’m guessing you’ll be using airsoft weapons, based on the site? And I see some trailers and other set pieces in your website pictures. Are you going to be using military surplus Humvees and other vehicles as well? 

While we are going to be using an airsoft field, the game is not going to use any airsoft weapons. We will be using a collaborative system, so when there is violence, it’s not really a test of skill so much as a dramatic moment playing out. We will be using blank-firing weapons and some prop tools and clubs, but these are props to use when acting out violence you have already agreed upon the outcome of. But very few of the participants will be armed with guns, bullets will be scarce and the situation desperate. A single working loaded gun in this game is a huge deal. And the soldiers on either side will be a force of nature, like a tornado or a flood. There’s no negotiation with the winds of war, only getting out of the path. And sometimes, you just get unlucky and are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Temple Airsoft has been a great help to us when it comes to props and other effects. They have a collection of military vehicles and converted civilian vehicles which will really help sell the idea of being in a war zone; and they are graciously letting us use them. Along with helping with special effects and pyrotechnics. They do this all the time as a part of their recreational wargaming, and are being wonderful by bringing that skill and experience to creating our immersive experience.

You’ve got a great team; can you tell us a little bit more about them?

We are very lucky to have the expertise we have; and we’re already getting interest from others interested in joining the team.
Steve Metze is one of the sources of creativity and passion behind the project. He’s an officer in the National Guard, and This War of Mine struck a huge chord with him. He’s long wanted to convey the often surreal and heart-breaking realities of countries that are steeped in civil conflict. He’s also an excellent filmmaker, having made a war documentary called Year at Danger about his experiences in Iraq. And a remarkable and imaginative game designer. His latest book is a provocative reversal of the Lovecraft mythos called Unwanted.

Angella Seaman is our wonderful community safety coordinator. She’s had years of experience with managing healthy game communities. And given the subject matter, we want all of our players to be emotionally and physically safe during the event, before and after. She’s a veteran LARPer as well.

 

Myself, I’ve been running and writing LARPs for over a decade now. I have written several free-form LARP games, one of which I published called Shades. I’m also the lead developer at Incognita Limited, a software company that makes software specifically for supporting live action gaming. I am the creator of the world’s first augmented reality LARP Planetfall and am collaborating on software projects with several other companies in the LARP community, including Ford Ivey’s Legacy Game Systems and Participation Design Agency in Sweden. We will be announcing more team members soon.

Why War Child? What about this particular organization led you to choose to donate to them in particular? 

War Child is the charity supported by This War of Mine in their recent DLC, The Little Ones. So it is a great fit for our event. We wanted to run this event, but we weren’t comfortable profiting off the subject matter; and War Child is an incredible charity doing a lot of good in a imperfect world. They provide education and safety to children and families torn apart by war. It is hard to think of a more worthy cause than that. We know that the money we raise will be going to some of the most vulnerable people in this world who really need our help. I’m just hoping we can raise enough to make a difference in their lives.

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share about the event? 

We are floored here at Jackalope at the reaction A War of Our Own has gotten. People are talking about flying from around the country and as far as Sweden to attend. Academic experts on the Balkans and civil strife have offered their input; experienced writers have asked to be involved in the project; and survivors and their families of the Bosnian conflict have even reached out to us. We are hoping to keep the momentum strong and make this a great event that we can repeat. War and refugees, especially children, are a huge issue right now; and we want to help both by encouraging people to think and debate these issues in an informed way; and by giving help those who desperately need it.
I encourage everyone who wants to help to follow us on Facebook or Twitter; or sign up for our mailing list, so we can get the word out and keep growing what is already turning into a vibrant and great community.

Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition Alpha Release Review

Vampire V5 Alpha Playtest Overview

 

I attended GenCon 2017. This was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to attend and the convention was amazing on so many levels. I was invited to attend by The Wrecking Crew, a gaming demonstration group. They usually demo and playtest White Wolf and Onyx Path Publishing products. At their invitation, I got to run 5 play tests of Vampire 5th Edition’s Alpha release. Over these sessions I got very familiar with my particular take on the adventure, Rusted Veins, and very familiar with certain elements of the rules which I leaned on heavily. Upfront, this set of the rules and the adventure was a significant improvement to the pre-alpha slice which came out at World of Darkness Berlin.

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This Alpha product included a significant slice of rules, particularly focused around Hunger, Compulsions, combat, and some disciplines: particularly Potence, Presence, Fortitude, Celerity, and Obfuscate. These rules will be outlined more fully below. Mechanically, the game has some departures from previous Editions of Vampire. Particularly, as in the pre-alpha, the inclusion of Hunger dice is different. That said, this mechanic is a boon for adhering to the theme of Vampire: The Masquerade and ensured that the concept of The Beast and the need to Feed were incredibly present.

The module adventure, Rusted Veins, was written by Matthew Dawkins, with contributions and assistance from Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl with special thanks given to consultant Monica Valintinelli. The Alpha ruleset was written by Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Matthew Dawkins, with guidance, editing, and contributions from Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl.

Rusted Veins is a continuation of the Forged in Steel chronicle from the original Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition core book. It also continues the stories in Ashes to Ashes (1st Ed) and Dust to Dust (V20). Thematically, the story in Rusted Veins has the feel of Vampire 1st Edition. It’s gritty, street level, and the night to night need to survive felt incredibly present. Vampire at its finest offers a chance to explore dark themes, recognize them, and then work to find ways to conquer the darkness while staring deeply into the abyss. This story succeeds at that, there were a few elements I chose not to include while I was running, but Matthew (and other writers) did such a wonderful job creating multiple hooks that this wasn’t a problem.

Honestly, if this quality of work continues than I anticipate that Vampire 5th Edition will win awards. It’s gritty, honest, and it opens a door into the classic World of Darkness that needs to be opened and enjoyed. A shout-out to my players at GenCon 50! You were all awesome. I sincerely enjoyed running this game for you. To the players of Baggie, in particular, thank you for engaging with some of the adversarial aspects of this character, it was really awesome.

Below I’ll be diving more deeply into certain mechanics, and elements of the story, but above are my core thoughts in my post GenCon fugue.

Rusted Veins (sections in quotes are descriptions I used in my game)

“Gary, Indiana is a shit pit. It’s broken, run down, and industry has fled. This has left Gary a veritable ghost town, filled with crack houses and dilapidated buildings of all forms. It starts to rain; the rain is falling in heavy droplets that soak you to the bone. The rain in Gary is acidic, and you can hear it making slight burning hissing sounds every few drops, it hurts to stand in the rain for long. A whistling wind blows through the streets, and thunder shakes the windows of your haven”

Rusted Veins is a continuation of Forged in Steel, Ashes to Ashes, and Dust to Dust. This pedigree makes the adventure feel deep, nearly by default. There are layers upon layers present that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious to those who haven’t played those adventures. That said, you don’t need to have read them or know their content to enjoy this adventure. I’ve never previously run any of those chronicles, but I did read through them prior to running Rusted Veins. Having done so, I didn’t add any of their elements into the game at all, and that wasn’t a problem. That said, there are hooks that would allow you to do so if you were interested in trying it out.

We were provided character sheets, and detailed two-page backgrounds on each character. I gave my players a chance to read these backgrounds and most groups spent between 10-20 minutes reading through them. Dawkin’s stated goal of ‘a plot-hook in every paragraph’ is clearly present. Each character is really well detailed, and there is a story-hook and role-playing guidance in every paragraph. This creates a lot of depth, and I noticed that players focused on different elements for each run through. There were some key things that stood out for each, but I was surprised in my Sunday game when a player focused on an element of their character no-one had mentioned in any of the other playtests. That’s cool, that shows a lot of depth and a lot of options to explore. Honestly, these characters are deep enough to run a continuing chronicle, and Rusted Veins could easily be run over several gaming sessions if you wanted to run it with your home crew.

The core plot returns you to Gary, Indiana, the home of Modius and Juggler (two elders, one Camarilla, and one Anarch). Modius is the official Prince of Gary, but he’s nearly powerless at this point, flexing his muscles in small ways to try and impact events in the city and further. That said, he is personally capable in a fight (as written) and is heavily involved in the plot of Rusted Veins. Juggler is now the Baron of Gary, having been granted the title in the aftermath of Dust to Dust. Further, the feared vampire hunter, Sulivan Dane is present in this story and his character was the most fun for me to introduce to the players. In each run, I used a variation of this description.

“Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, and for a moment you can see clearly through the rain. Standing a distance away is an ancient Catholic priest. He’s still got strong, broad shoulders, and his face is hard. He’s holding an umbrella, and is wearing a long black trench coat. At his side is a sword, handle barely visible. As the light fades, a palpable feeling of dread crawls through your belly.”

Dane isn’t described as having a sword in the official materials, but I wanted to call back to the tropes of trenchcoat and katanas, and Dane offered a fantastic way to do so. Most of the players found his character particularly intimidating with how I described him. Goal achieved.

Running this 5 times gave me a few chances to approach the introduction of each of the core NPCs in various ways. I used different accents, voice inflection, and presentation for each of them every time. This helped me to differentiate the games in my mind. It also helped me to see various ways an adventure like this can be adjusted to create more tension, or allow the tension to fade, as thematically appropriate.

We started each session with feeding. The new You Are What You Eat mechanics were fun to play around with, and I often used my own judgement on what bonuses to provide the players. These sessions set the tone for the game. They also gave us a chance to investigate the Composure mechanic and use the new Hunger rules. Since you cannot get rid of Hunger without killing your victim, this created some serious tension at the start of the game. Every time, at least one character would fail to control themselves, and their feeding victim would die. Some players tried to hold off on Rousing the Blood as long as they could after making it to Hunger 0, some didn’t care and they were more than willing to try and use their Disciplines or increase their statistics whenever they got the chance.

We then moved into the main plot, which was a fetch-quest with lots of interesting complications and plot developments that adjusted the story as we went through it. Most of these complications were player driven too, and several sessions saw the players handing me and each other various slips of paper to represent text messages they were sending to the main NPCs and to one another. Hopping away from the table and talking in private was also incredibly common, and this created obvious and interesting tension as the players left at the table often speculated on what the others were planning.

In the end, Rusted Veins allows for an interesting exploration into what it means to feel an ever present vampiric Hunger. It offers choices, and the most frequent comment on my survey sheets was, “I felt like I had tons of choices, and this was awesome.” The choices that characters had gave them a sense of ownership over their characters, and to my knowledge not a single player felt uncomfortable investing themselves in roleplay. That said, if any of you folks read this, I’m happy to hear some negative feedback. Or even more positive feedback, I’m always interested in having that.

There is an epilogue in Rusted Veins. I chose not to use the Epilogue, since it took away from the cool sensations and ideas present in most of the core adventure. In the Epilogue the players would play other characters for a very short period of time. To be honest, this is an awesome mini-adventure, and I would encourage those that eventually see it to use it as a separate session at some point. It also has relevance for long-time vampire fans. For GenCon, it really didn’t work well, but the core concept is cool.

Mechanics

In most cases I’m a mechanics light kind of storyteller. I use them when I think they make the most sense and I generally find a way to use them that makes sense to me. This isn’t a great thing for a playtest though, and I tried to retain the new rules as much as possible. That said, there were a few times I went off the rails while I was running. I’m not upset with how I kept most of my games rolling along, but if there was a weakness of mine during the playtest it was my lack of a full grasp of all of the new mechanical elements of the game. Below is a description of the rules from the playtest, and how I ran them during my game.

Dice Pool and Successes

Vampire 5th Edition is going to be a dice pool game using D10s. You create your dice pool in the same way that you have always done for the World of Darkness, Attribute + Skill, in most cases. However, the largest difference is that the target number is now always 6. Then, you count the successes you get to determine if you complete a task. For example, to hit a person, you might need to roll 4 dice. If you roll a 6, 3, 6, and 7, you get three successes. This might be enough for a moderate success, or it might be one short. If you are one short, you may ask to Succeed at a Cost. In this case, the storyteller alters the success to add some elements that cost the player character something. For example, hitting a person, but then falling over after losing their balance at the same time.

It is possible to spend Willpower to reroll a partial dice pool, or the entire dice pool. To be honest, I didn’t catch that mechanic for the first four of my playtests. When it was used, it made a lot of sense. That said, I found that it tended to slow the story down, rather than keep it going. Hunger Dice are also a thing, but I’ll explain those under Hunger below.

Criticals can be achieved in two forms, two 10s on regular dice is considered a critical success. This allows for an increased success or narrative benefit. You can also get a messy critical, if you roll a 10 on a Hunger die (again explained below under Hunger). A messy critical allows for success, but in a way that is over the top, and potentially harmful to the player character’s intentions. This is indicative of the Beast rearing its head, and pushing the character farther than they would do so normally.

Criticals were incredibly fun to use, and messy criticals were awesome to help narrate interesting alterations. The rules include some other elements surrounding Composure, particularly that if a player could not think of a messy result, that they would lose composure. I think my groups and I found a good middle ground between my narrative control of these messes, and their overall control of their characters in most situations.

Virtue and Vice

Instead of a Nature and Demeanor, V5 Alpha playtest used Virtue and Vice. These are mechanics that allow you to regain Willpower when you act in accordance with your Vice. Since acting in accordance with your Virtue is harder, doing so refills all of your Willpower. Most players in my game used these as basic roleplaying hints and we did dip into the Willpower refill mechanic in a few of the games. In most, we didn’t spend a lot of Willpower. That was partly my fault, because I didn’t often suggest it as an option to the players and players unfamiliar with the WoD wouldn’t have thought to do so.

Initiative

Initiative is now determined by Wits+Combat Skill. This is the skill the Vampire uses in their first combat and determines the initiative order. Now, I did not catch this and continued to use the Wits + Dexterity rule from the old version of the rules.

Initiative now flows from lowest to highest, with the person with the highest initiative going last with the ability to react to other characters. Honestly, this is present in several versions of the rules, but I’ve rarely seen people use it, and it’s a shame. This allows for sensible dice pool management if you want to split dice pools, otherwise knowing when to plan to split a pool is nearly impossible to determine. I really enjoyed using this rule and I recommend it to every person playing any version of WoD rules.

Combat

Combat in the V5 Alpha is a contested action. Yes, this can mean a combatant gets hurt when they attack someone. This is why splitting pools can be so effective if used right. You can dodge an attack, and attack in the same round if you are willing to reduce your pools. Damage equals the amount over the contested result a player gets on the dice. Which is much easier than worrying about a mechanic for soaking damage etc. This made combat speed by, in most cases.

There are two types of Health damage, superficial and aggravated. You have Stamina +5 health levels, and superficial damage accumulates and becomes aggravated if enough is taken. Superficial damage is halved for Vampires. We ran these mostly correctly in my playtests, though there are some more in-depth rules that I didn’t use, particularly relating to the Critical Injury table.

Hunger and Hunger Dice

Hunger has a rating of 0-5 and represents a similar in-game concept to what blood points used to represent in earlier editions of Vampire. That said, Hunger feels different. Blood points often didn’t feel like they were important, because they were often fairly numerous (at least in my experience). A vampire with 0 hunger is sated, but the only way to have 0 Hunger is to have killed a feeding victim that night. Waking raises the Hunger of every Vampire to 1.

Hunger is an ever present effect, and every dot of Hunger a character has replaces one of their regular dice. These dice should be a different color to differentiate them, and I recommend red dice… cause, well, blood right? When you replace your die with this Hunger die, you need to look out for two things, if you roll a 1, and if you roll a 10.

A 10 create a messy critical situation, and (in the Alpha) two 1s would cause a Compulsion. This mechanic did not come up often, and there were quite a few discussions around how to adjust it so it would occur more frequently. A good goal for this is probably having it occur around 15-20% of the time, if you ask my completely un-mechanically minded brain.

When you use a Discipline, or do various things that only Vampires do, you have to roll 1 Hunger die. If you roll a 1-3, you raise your Hunger, if you roll a 4-10, you don’t. This encourages players to use their disciplines, but also creates a lot of tension when they do so. This is awesome. This makes using a discipline a dangerous activity, but one that most players feel comfortable using in moderation. In a regular chronicle this is going to decrease Discipline use, and I think this is fantastic.

If a player gets all the way up to Hunger 5, they need to make a Frenzy check. This never happened in my games at GenCon, though it was a constant fear that a character might get to that level.

Feeding

Feeding can reduce Hunger, 1, 2, even 3 points. However, Hunger can only be reduced to 0 if a player accidentally or willingly kills their victim. Most of my players ended up having at least one moment where they seriously considered draining someone. I made my players roll Composure every time they fed. If they failed, they would drain their victim. This doesn’t appear to be in the rules, so this wasn’t really required. That said, it did add tension, and it did make players cautious about feeding and using their disciplines. Every death from feeding resulted in a Humanity point loss.

Compulsions

These were present in the pre-Alpha playtest, but they have been adjusted to remove the elements that made this rule’s element controversial. Now the player can choose, or ask the storyteller to choose a compulsion. This is an interesting back and forth discussion, and usually is pretty quick. Tables for the Brujah no longer included the term ‘Triggered’ and that is refreshing, to say the least. These didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but they did in a few of my games. When they did occur, it was interesting, and it added a layer of roleplaying and story to the game. So, I think they do exactly what they are intended to do, but they don’t currently happen enough to really be that impactful. I understand that White Wolf is going to be adjusting this mechanic in particular, as they want to get this right.

All in all, Vampire 5th Edition Pre-Alpha rules are really engaging and interesting. I didn’t get the chance to read them as much as I should have and I didn’t always run them exactly the way they were intended. Rusted Veins is an awesome module, and I really enjoyed running it. If this is indicative of what Mark Rein-Hagen, Kenneth Hite, Karim Muammar, and the rest of the team at White Wolf are creating, then I think Vampire 5th Edition will be a really exciting product.

DAV20 Dark Ages Companion Review

I’ve been struggling to do this review. Not because of the reason you might think either. Dark Ages Companion is probably one of the best books I’ve read from Onyx Path Publishing. I’ve had to stop every paragraph or two to sketch out notes while reading this book. In the 2 weeks that I’ve been actively trying to get through it, I’ve had, at minimum, 10 chronicle concepts come to mind based on elements presented in this book. This book was developed by Matthew Dawkins, and I can tell you he and his writing staff did nearly everything right.

Lords, Lieges, and Lackeys

Dark Ages Companion: for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Dark Ages is broken into eight chapters. The first six are various domains, most which have never been given a full treatment. The final two chapters are rules for building Domains and Dark Ages warfare. The final two chapters are an excellent resource for a storyteller that wants to dive deeply into these elements in their game. The Domain rules remind me of a more streamlined version of the AD&D supplement Birthright, and are effective if you’d like to include some elements of city/domain management in your games. These rules use Pooled Backgrounds as a baseline, and then go deeper. This is an excellent way of utilizing downtime and maturation rules in a way that doesn’t cause large breaks in the story.

Chapter Eight gives some deeper rules on warfare. If you want to be more accurate in your portrayal of various weapons and armor these are the rules for you. If you’d like to keep things cinematic, the core rules for the game still work fine, and you can pepper these details in as you see fit. I’m getting this stuff out of the way first. Great two chapters, but the first six are more exciting.

Plot Hooks Abound

Rome, Bath, Bjarkarey, Constantinople, Mogadishu, and Mangaluru: these are the domains presented in Dark Ages Companion. There are enough plot hooks to construct at least 100 chronicles here. Each chapter provides details on key Cainites, key elements of the domain, and key plots, disagreements, and ways to get your player characters involved. The domains are also connected in subtle ways, with plot hooks linking them to one another sprinkled throughout. This is masterfully done, very little of these connections seem forced, they are nuanced, smart, and really intriguing.

By Pat McEvoy

 

Each domain offers something different in the way of scope. Bjarkarey is small, intimate, and highly aggressive. As is Rome, which offers an interesting counterpoint to Bjarkarey. Constantinople and Bath, both drastically different in size, offer more expansive exploratory plotlines. I haven’t read enough of Mogadishu and Mangaluru yet to say what their full details will be like, but I can say from a quick look that they present a mix of large and small scale plot to throw your players into. Seriously, you’ll have to work hard not to come up with some great story concepts after reading these chapters, they are excellent.

Problems In the Text

There are very few things not to like in this book. One thing I’m not sure of though are the creatures at presented at the end of three chapters. The Black Dog, the Kallikantzaros, and the Pishacha are presented as supernatural opponents which you can utilize in your game. These are local legends related to Bath, Constantinople, and Mangaluru, respectively, but I’m not sure that makes me want to utilize them. For a Vampire game, I’ve always tried to focus on the internal darkness which plagues the Kindred, and I often shy away from ‘monsters’ which to have the PCs encounter and challenge. That isn’t how these are explicitly presented, but they do have a subtle hint of D&D encounters to them. They are there if you think they make sense for your chronicle, use them if you think it will add to your story.

I know a couple of things about Old Norse culture.

The second thing I was frustrated with is a relative historical quibble, and I’m going to explain what bothers me about it. In the chapter on Bjarkarey, there are a few mentions of blood purity and rugged individualism. Neither of these concepts is historically true to Norse culture, at all, and I find their presence here frustrating. The Norse were intensely communitarian, as you would have to be if you lived in some of the most hostile climates in Europe. The concepts of blood purity were developed by the Spanish during the Reconquista (1400’s) and would have been bizarrely strange to the Norse during the 1200’s. As a student of Norse history and a follower of Germanic religious traditions, these elements bother me. They speak to a narrative that far-right elements in society attempt to latch onto, and though they are fleeting in this text, their presence is annoying.

All in all, this is a good chapter on a culture that was still having some inter-cultural conflicts between Pagan cultural holdovers and Christian religious dominance, and it is not badly written. In fact, it’s really well developed and I immediately find myself excusing the things that bother me.

Final Takeaway on Dark Ages Companion

Buy this book. One of my favorite White Wolf books of all time is House of Tremere. I’d give that a 10/10 rating in a heartbeat. Dark Ages Companion is easily a 9/10 book. If you ever plan to play a Dark Ages game of any edition, you should own this book. The art is amazing, the writing is fantastic, and you’ll have a ton of great ideas come to mind while reading it.

6 Reasons Why LARP is Not Just a Game

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If you’re a LARPer (live action role player) or even just know a bit about LARPing, you’ve probably heard it: “LARP is just a game.” As a staff member and new LARP marketer of a small American fantasy boffer campaign game back in 2010, I quickly realized the power and importance of this phrase. When players became emotional or upset over a rule or a plot, I mistakenly thought it was helpful to remind them that LARP was just a game.

 

How wrong I was.

Not Just A Game

While I spread this rhetoric, I practiced quite the opposite. As a marketer, it made sense to build a community around a young game and engage our player base. From the start, this meant that to me and many in the local community, LARP was far more than just a game. Every participant – from staff member to financial investor to player – invested time, money and trust in the game, its community, and its success. They believed in something I was part of building and growing.

 

It would take a good six or seven years before I realized the importance and responsibility of that power.

 

I recently observed a conversation involving a LARPer who is clearly experiencing some struggle over how his ideals do not align with those practiced in one of his LARP communities.

 

He reminded everyone that “LARP is just a game.”

 

I’m finally ready to say that it’s not – and that there is real harm in pretending is fashioning LARP to be as simple as make believe.

 

LARP is a Community and a Culture

From LARPing.com

When you create a LARP – whether it’s a four hour one-shot, a regular boffer fight club in your backyard, or a full blockbuster experience – you’re automatically creating or enhancing a community. Professional marketers do this intentionally all the time, hoping to cultivate a community around the brands they represent. By the event-focused nature of the LARP events, you’re shaping and providing space for a LARP culture to grow.

 

Why is that a big deal?

 

It comes with some responsibilities. LARPers depend on their communities for things like:

  • Healthy socialization
  • Opportunities for catharsis
  • Physical fitness
  • Education about writing, acting, game design, cooking, event management
  • Empowerment through connecting with like-minded individuals
  • A meaningful place away from home, work, or school
  • Entertainment

 

When I started LARPing (and when I created marketing messages for my first LARP), I saw the community potential – but I didn’t think about the impact of this experience. When I write and design LARPs now (or when I consider playing one), I look first at codes of conduct and any material about community or standards. That’s because I know safety and community are huge parts of the LARP experience and how I might feel about playing in a game.

 

LARP Can Be Transformative and Therapeutic

Until recently, I never thought of myself as a leader, except when it came to some modest accomplishments in the world of publishing. Through in and out of game positions in LARPs, I learned that I am an effective leader. This kind of safe experimentation wouldn’t have been possible without role play scenarios, and the challenges I’ve faced in leadership roles in the real world are much easier to handle, having already faced similar scenarios in fantasy worlds.

 

Similarly, I also spent time dealing with themes like mortality and grief in LARPs. This is in contrast to one of my family members, who grieves a loss in a circular fashion, talking about someone’s end but never coming to a form of acceptance.

 

Through the slightly removed perspective of LARP, I’ve been able to employ some coping mechanisms in conjunction with (and under the approval of) a counselor.

 

More than that, having a community has helped immensely during tough times.

 

LARP is a Growing Industry

Of LARPS

LARP has legitimacy. Every year, there are more individuals and companies proving that LARP is becoming an accepted, viable way to operate as a business – while there are still, of course, informal and nonprofit LARP organizations out there as well.

 

The reasons for this are various and decades in the making, heralded in the U.S. by earlier successes like NERO, shaky (but visible) representations of LARP in more mainstream media, and the successful development and migration of blockbuster business models.

 

Additionally:

  • People now long for experiences more than things
  • Despite socioeconomic hindrances, passion drives game creation and commerce
  • The community is growing at a pace rapid enough to support substantial growth
  • Lead community members are giving of their time and experience, mentoring other game designers and business owners who are committed to representing the hobby and subculture in a meaningful way
  • A larger brand took the leap: Disney is making a Star Wars LARP hotel (even if they aren’t calling it that)
  • Savvy resources help newcomers find games, reflecting the increasingly less disparate nature of LARPs on a national (and international) scale and the role of the internet in this

 

LARP is Art and Art is Progress

LARP as Art

Here in the U.S., our schools face budget cuts. The arts are often the first thing to go. Naturally, there’s still a need for us as students of school – and life – to express our wants, needs, joys, griefs, and frustrations through art forms.

 

That’s where LARP comes in.

 

Even if you don’t view collaborative storytelling in a high-art way, it provides a vehicle for expression in a very difficult sociopolitical time.

 

LARPers come from a variety of backgrounds, so “LARP is art” was never a solely academic reality, even though LARP academics were at the forefront of saying it. LARP is a means for expression. Its community is a means for disagreement; sometimes it’s a battleground for inclusion. In my daily experience, nowhere is the struggle of inclusion more relevant.

 

“My story is important” makes LARP more than a game, especially when this feeling is expressed by a marginalized individual.

 

LARP Represents Commitments of Time, Money, and Trust

Building Community!

Regardless of the size or type of LARP, it requires three things from all participants most often: time, money, and trust.

 

It takes time to play the game, even if the LARP doesn’t require extensive character development. For larger productions, LARPs can involve the investment of time on a weekly or monthly basis; they can involve weeks or months of prior character development online;

 

It usually takes money to travel to a game; at the very least it is a willing decision to spend your time doing something other than work.

 

Lastly there is the trust of building a story with other members of the LARP. Whether you go into this consciously considering the trust or it evolves out of interactions, it’s often an important component of LARP.

We’re aware of our various commitments, and knowing that we have truly invested these valuable resources in something (in this case LARP) fulfills the sense that it is more than just a game.

 

LARP Embraces and Causes Change

 

The real world impacts us in dramatic ways, often beyond our control. LARP provides participants with more than a sense of occasional escapism, even when participants avoid immersion and internalization. LARP creates a sandbox for exploration and discovery – whether we see characters as aspects of ourselves or the outcomes of people we’d never want to be. By its very nature, it’s conducive to the practice and development of empathy.

 

But hey, some people aren’t into the deeply emotional side of LARPing – and that’s okay.

 

LARPs still become affected by those who play them, and they still create change on various levels. Here are some examples I’ve seen at a variety of LARPs:

 

  • Players with chronic illnesses or periods of unemployment who built businesses off of creating commission-based LARP and other artistic projects
  • Foamsmiths who learn small business and safety skills all because they showed up to boffer games with safe and impressive weapons
  • Through turmoil or inspiration, LARPers who come out of a LARP weekend full of inspiration to create their own game – forcing the evolution of the hobby whether they intend to or not
  • LARPers who employ story-based game mechanics more heavily into work and game settings less traditionally accepting of collaborative narratives
  • New and experienced LARPers who are now more open to trying new activities

 

Now that I’ve seen this kind of change, I’m ready to stand by it: LARP is not just a game. It’s a lot more than that to me and to many in LARP communities around the world.

 

What does LARP and its potential mean to you? Please let us know in the comments.

Tara M. Clapper is Managing Editor at Mythbuilders, a game designer, a fan of Marvel’s Thor, and a forever LARPer. She is the founder and senior editor of The Geek Initiative, an online community focused on women in geek culture.

How LARP Made Me a Badass at Work

Guest Post from Tara Clapper of The Geek Initiative and Mythbuilders

Few professionals emerge from high school, trade school, or college with the badassery required to act fully confident in their respective field. In any job, you grow as you learn – but you can enhance your confidence and other work-related skills through the magic of LARPing.

 

Here’s a look at how it’s worked out for me.

 

LARP Kindled My Interest in Marketing

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Following college, I got my professional start in publishing – which was an uncertain field due to its not-so-smooth transition from print to digital. Moonlighting as a freelance writer, I also learned about SEO (search engine optimized) writing and its constant state of evolution.

 

What tied it together was the opportunity to be a marketer for a LARP. The duct tape budget was mandatory; the marketing budget was meager (and by that I mean $0). I bartered talent and content for tables at conventions and even recruited LARPers on Freecycle.

 

Most other games didn’t have someone who knew how to seed a new blog and dominate keyword opportunities, but like a veritable marketing badass, I made it happen and began my official journey into a marketing career.

 

LARP Got Me Hired Four Times

What differentiates me from almost every other job candidate? I’m an avid LARPer, and I’m not afraid to talk about it during my job interviews. In digital marketing and publishing, the right kind of creativity really helps me distinguish myself.

 

Additionally, my knowledge and enthusiasm about LARP shows that I’m able to speak clearly about what I do. Four prospective employers felt that their team needed my passion – and every time I described LARP and what I learned from it, I got hired.

 

LARP shows several desirable traits to employers:

  • Improvisational ability: I’m able to think on my feet
  • Ongoing desire to learn: I take lessons from LARP and apply them to real life
  • Continual creativity: LARP’s a vehicle for creative thinking
  • Problem-solving skills: As my character, I often have to overcome challenges, and I take pleasure in doing so
  • Team player: Collaboration is the name of the game in LARP, as it’s a necessity for the media’s format as well as character development and progression

 

LARP also serves as a backup for those pesky interview questions. “Can you remember a time when you handled an emergency?” Not in real life, but one time I totally helped a pregnant dwarf get to the midwife on time.

 

LARP Makes Me a Badass Leader

Minerva had only a moment to think about the years of preparation under the guidance of her mentor. Presently, she was a mage enrolled in her second year of wizard college. Refusing to hand over the coveted letter, she defied her professor openly before the entire class. In that moment – in doing what was right even though it was against the rules – she knew that the decision to pursue law enforcement was right. This wasn’t only justice, it was leadership.

 

…And I took that experience to work with me.

 

This is the narrative of my most immersive and impactful LARP experience to date. As a woman in marketing who often interfaces with people in the tech industry, leadership and confidence are essential – and not always easy to maintain. Through LARP experiences like the one described above, I deliberately practice embodying confident and decisive actions.

 

This allows me to speak up and lead confidently, whether I’m working with a team of writers or leading a client through the buying process.

 

Success in this endeavor comes through repetition. That’s how to make a good habit stick.

 

LARP Makes Me a Badass Marketer

I’m a more effective marketer thanks to LARPing. In marketing, telling a brand’s story and appealing to prospective customers through genuine passion for your work is all the rage. (And for all those people who said an English degree wouldn’t help my career: you were wrong.)

 

LARP is all about collaborative storytelling, a skill I constantly practice at work and on game. This also means I’m used to reacting to what others give me to work with, and I’m not going to stick to the conventional beginning-middle-end format with every story. LARP helps me help brands stand out.

From LARPing.com

LARP Makes Me a Badass Colleague

 

In addition to the collaborative nature of LARPs, these games have helped me focus my passion for advocacy. Often in LARPs, I’ll have to take a stand on a position and convince others of its value. Through my career, I’ve used these skills to advocate for team members, customers, and even fair wages.

 

Forget Toastmasters: I LARP

 

Public speaking is an important skill in every field. Like most writers, I’m far more confident in crafting written words than delivering speeches, but public speaking is also a necessity for many marketers. Whether I’m on a podcast, webinar, or speaking live at an event, I lean on my LARP experience to engage the audience effectively.

 

Specifically, I grew more confident in public speaking by portraying a bard in a monthly fantasy campaign LARP over the course of five years. The bard began as a passive fairy princess and retired as a respected and battle-ready political leader.

 

Remember that time the inn got attacked in the middle of the bard’s song? That taught me how to deal with the unexpected when there was a technical glitch in my webinar presentation.

 

I still have a long way to go when it comes to nasty glitches and surprises, and work life doesn’t always go as planned. But thanks to LARP, I’m able to handle it like a badass.

 

Tara M. Clapper is Managing Editor at Mythbuilders, a game designer, a fan of Marvel’s Thor, and a forever LARPer. She is the founder and senior editor of The Geek Initiative, an online community focused on women in geek culture.

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.