LARPers of Color – Michael Underwood

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

amtgard

 

I started LARPing with Amtgard, and have always been a bit more partial to boffer games than parlor ones. About ten years ago I lived near a park where I saw people practicing one Sunday. I wasn’t very good at the game, and the park only had about 10 regulars, so I got discouraged by the skill gap.

I am really fond of games that include real world skill and rules augment interactions, like when you can declare a skill usage in a tabletop RPG.nwm-logo

The game I was most recently involved with was New World Magischola. It was the biggest parlor style LARP I have ever been involved with. I had to save up to attend and am not sure when I will be able to afford to go back. I was a bit surprised by how much I liked the experience and would love to attend more games.

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

I have never been on staff or helped behind the scenes for a game. It kinda seems like you have to know the right people to get into a position like that.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

For a long time in my life  I managed to not really notice being treated differently. Maybe it has to do with most of my family being White, which in turn meant that most of the other families I knew and therefore friends I had growing up were White too. I was the only Black person in my family, and I think that meant I was sheltered from a lot of things. As I have gotten older I tend to notice more when I am the only Black person in a room, when tropes or cliches about race are slipped into a game, or when stories use fantasy races as a stand in for real world ones to tell stories or create conflict.

That last one probably bothers me the most, because it turns something that still happens today into  “fun.” I always get a bit unsettled when a player slips and starts smiling in the middle of what should be a tense or scary scene where they are playing up their characters hate or anger at a fantasy race. I have seen that kind of face on people in real life on people who are aggressing on me who know I can’t do anything about it. It ALWAYS breaks immersion for me, it always takes me out of the game head-space. I wish it didn’t come up as much as it does, but there is always that one person who likes to play the simple and lazy “bad guy” who “hates all” members of any specific fantasy race.

From LARPing.com

From LARPing.com

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

I am not sure there is an easy answer about how to be more inclusive. There are a lot of little things that can add up. Always being open to criticism is one. Far too often I see discussions about problematic parts of a game turn into witch hunts. Speaking up is often treated as an attack on the people who play or the game runners. Th backlash makes even starting the conversations hard.

Not using non-humans as an example of how diverse a game is would be another. If you have to point to the people with pointy ears, the ones with fur, or the ones with green skin to show diversity? Something is off.

Finally, less fixation on “realism” for games that aren’t historical reenactments. The moment that we start playing games, we start using mechanics an rules to shortcut reality. We rarely eat unless it is a long game, we treat bathroom spaces as out of bounds, we use numbers and flags to represent health… The idea that races and by extension race-based conflict and violence are needed for “realism” is a common idea, and one that leads to a lot of shortcuts with writing or thinking about how a game’s reality would be shaped.  If we could start imaging worlds where races exist, but maybe racism didn’t or no longer does? Maybe that idea wouldn’t seem so far fetched in the one anymore.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

Yes. I have been lucky enough to not have seen much personally. The worst was when my race and feelings about a subject out-of-game were used to make a joke in-game that was way bigger and more complicated than it should have been.  I am not sure what was in the head of the person who start the gag, but in the end multiple staff and players were roped into the joke. The worst part was that I didn’t “get it.” My wife got unsettled by what she thought was someone being malicious and poking at us. She start crying, I sat her down away from game and told her she was probably jumping at shadows.

I told her that and then dragged her back into the game. She was still bothered and we ended up leaving the game about an hour later. We only found out about the joke after game was over. Someone reached out to ask about why we had left, and they asked about a part of the joke I had missed. I had been handed an in-game item, and read what it did while missing the name. As upset as the whole thing made my wife, the way that the people involved closed ranks about it afterward was worse. Staff shut us out of the discussion, I don’t think I had ever felt like so much of an outsider among people I thought were friends before.

castle_keep_1

Don’t drive people out

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?

More talk out-of-game about the serious topics people play with in-game. I think LARP has the great potential to teach us of let us explore things that would be a lot harder to talk about in our everyday lives. It doesn’t just happen on its own though, we need to actually work to let it do that. If we treat LARP as only a game, instead of the art or medium that it really is? Then that is all it will ever be. I would love to be able to talk about some of the things I struggle with in real life, and be able to use game as a shared experience that helps others relate.

A Red Rose on Marble: Review of Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition

vampirethemasquerade1elogo

Introduction

My first experience with Vampire was a LARP at the local State University in my hometown. I was 15 or 16 and I’d been talked into making a character by a friend. By that point, the first edition of Laws of the Night was out, and for a long time I didn’t realize that was effectively the 3rd edition of LARP rules for Vampires in the World of Darkness. When the Revised table-top rules came out, I played with friends and dove head first into the various games. At the time, the only 2nd Edition game I can remember reading was Werewolf, and even that I quickly replaced with its Revised version. So, I ‘grew-up’ with the Revised rule-set for the World of Darkness as my standard and even though I occasionally picked up an older Clanbook, or supplement, the game for me was highly polished and well crafted. That was largely my vision of the WoD until recently.

Martin Ericsson has mentioned his desire to recapture the spirit or essence of the first and second editions of Vampire and I had to admit, I didn’t know what he meant. So, I decided I would do my due diligence as a fan and seek out a copy of the game, as written in those early nights. A friend was generous enough to send me a copy of 1st Edition Vampire: The Masquerade a few months ago and I’ve slowly worked through it while reading about a dozen other gaming books.

My first impression was that it reminded me of quite a few books I loved that were written in the late ‘80s and early 90’s. For example, I was a big Robotech fan, and Palladium’s style was distinctive. V:TM, as different, transgressive, and progressive as it was, still has the vibe of a role-playing game of its era. That is not a negative critique. In fact, some of that vibe is part of its charm. It feels like a bit of a relic, but a relic that is still potent and possibly dangerous. 1st Edition Vampire is like its namesake, a being willing to sap your time and energy. It is a lovely monster able to see into your inner darkness. In some ways, I think it does this much more effectively than the Revised or even 20th Anniversary edition does. Why?

There are a few reasons, but they weren’t really easy to put my finger on at first. There is a lot of similar basic content from edition to edition, and though the rules were tweaked a little here and there, the core Storyteller System is the same. What’s different then? I think answering that question is complex, but I’m going to try and lay out a few of the elements I’ve noticed between the two.

party-conflict_orig

The Center of Conflict

In Revised, we are presented with a centuries long conflict between various clans of vampires. These vampires are split into two larger sects and several smaller, and arguably, equally important groups. The 13 major clans are embroiled in conflict with the Antediluvians, Caine, other Clans, and occasionally other supernatural elements of the World of Darkness. What is missing in this equation? Humanity. The central conflict in Revised is intra-Vampiric. Brujah versus Ventrue, Camarilla vs Sabbat, Inconnu hiding from the Jyhad (the ancient fight between elder and younger Kindred), these conflicts are between other Vampires.

In 1st Edition Vampire, these conflicts are only hinted at. They exist in the background. In 1st edition the central conflicts are, The Beast vs Humanity, Humanity vs Vampires, and Anarchist vs Establishment. These themes are present in Revised, but they are less central to the writing. To be clear, I’m talking only about the core books here, the 1st and 2nd edition adventures frequently focus on Vampire vs Vampire conflict, often conflating Kindred conflicts with mortal ones in a very confusing way. Dark Colony is a great example of this. As a setting, New England is Gothic and during the late 80’s early 90’s had a ton of Punk elements. However, the story lines presented in Dark Colony focused on ‘Armies’ of vampires in conflict with one another. This, in an area of the US where there were at most 100 vampires across New England. I think I’m exaggerating that number too, I am pretty sure it was closer to 40.

Buy at Own Risk

Buy at Own Risk

That being said, the 1st edition Core Book lays out a human focused world. Yes, you are a vampire, but you need to remember your humanity because you have to live with humanity. Based on demographics, you interact with humans more than you do with vampires. Kindred society is written as a slightly intangible element of the unlife of the Kindred. Considering the population density of vampires to humans was suggested to be around 1 to 100,000, that makes sense. Humanity is incredibly important for feeding, for social life, for a sense of belonging. The fight against the Beast is a constant one, because you are constantly surrounded by those whom you feed upon. In Revised, humanity fades into the background. Are they important? Yes, but not in the visceral way in which they are presented in 1st edition.

Story Goals/Motivations

Players and characters have multiple goals and they are presented with several options in all versions of the game. However, keeping in mind the central conflicts we discussed above, the goals of vampires in 1st edition are different from those in Revised. In 1st edition we are presented with several goals that players may focus on. All of them are based on some element of how vampires deal with humanity.

Humanity

Staring on page 129, Vampire 1st edition examines Humanity, the importance of clinging to a version of human behavior that is, honestly, unrealistic. Why is humanity put on a pedestal by vampires? There are a few reasons that I can see for this. Vampires have to contend with frenzy and the closeness of their Beast. The Beast is a visceral manifestation of the inhuman desire for blood that lives just below the surface of the Kindred mind. That’s one explanation at least.

To me, the Beast is simply the reflection of humanities capacity for inhumanity. Humanity has a beast, all of us have the ability to let slip an anger that cannot be contained, to harm others, to demean others, to lose empathy and murder. The Beast is a mechanic that brings those elements of our character as a species to the forefront. Vampires are monsters because they inherently lose their empathy for other human beings. They have to lose that empathy, if they don’t, they struggle to feed. Feeding from animals will only sustain you for a short time.

the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

Not Following Humanity

This is why Humanity is so important, it represents holding to a higher ideal than real people are capable or even cognizant of, so that the Vampire can attempt to retain their empathy. What if they don’t care about being empathetic to their cattle? In 1st edition the vampire’s choices are Wassail or Golconda, they either embrace their humanity or they descend into complete and utter depravity. This binary is less pressing in later books because of all the various Paths and Roads of Enlightenment that are offered. By removing the central question of humanity or oblivion, one of the central themes of the game is drastically shifted away.

Golconda

This search for enlightenment is presented directly after the section on Humanity. Golconda is presented as a common story line for players to seek. This changes in later versions of the game. This mystical state of being is relegated more and more to rumor, and even the Iconnu that have supposedly reached the state are represented as having probably fallen victim to falsehood by elder Cainites. In Revised, Golconda is played down significantly as a goal for the Kindred, its not impossible to reach, but it doesn’t feel like something you would have in most story lines.

In 1st Edition though, the search for Golconda, presented as difficult and rare, is still something that is achievable and there are specific, if seemingly limited benefits from this state. The vampire no longer experiences frenzy, as they have recognized the Beast is a part of who they are. If you ask me, they realize that the Beast is simply what makes them human, and by accepting that, they return to a state closer to normal people. The other two benefits of Golconda mentioned are a reduced need to feed and the ability for elder vampires to gain sustenance from humans and animals, even if they have the Methuselah’s thirst.

state-of-grace

Diablerie

Between the sections on Golconda and Diablerie is another section, which I’ll touch on last. It’s peculiar to 1st edition and I think that peculiarity makes it special. That being said, Diablerie is the clearest element of Vampire on Vampire conflict in 1st edition. Young vampires hunger for the power of their elders as it brings them closer to Caine and closer to great power. The Diablerist in Revised has a significant social stigma attached to them, and though this is mentioned in passing in 1st edition, it does not appear as strongly in 1st. Diablerie is a valid path for the players, though it might keep them from attaining the last goal we’ll look at.

amaranth_-_alejandro_colucci

The Rebirth

When I came across the Rebirth I actually sat slack jawed for a few minutes. For me, the condition of vampirism presented by White Wolf had always been one of eternal torment. I had no inkling that in the 1st edition of the book the idea of returning to humanity was presented as a central story idea for player characters. “It is possible for a Vampire to escape the curse and become mortal again. Though it is exceedingly difficult, it is a major theme of the game and something that will direct the ambitions and thoughts of many characters.”

Holy… a major theme??! Not even close for any game I’d ever played in. I had never heard of this being a theme of Vampire: The Masquerade. By the time Revised came around it is basically impossible to turn a Kindred into a mortal once more. Yet, at the start, Rein – Hagen and the other writers had intended for Vampire to have this strong kernel of hope as an element of the game. This again is an element that makes humanity important. Wanting to be human again is a theme in a lot of vampire literature, so it makes sense, but it was removed as an element of Vampire through the years. I can’t even imagine wasting time fighting over who was in charge of undead politics if my characters knew this was possible. I can see most of them spending their nights, at least for their first 50-100 years, trying to be Reborn. Of course, this Rebirth isn’t easy, it requires killing one’s sire, or an antediluvian perhaps, sacrificing oneself, performing an arcane ritual, or even reaching Golconda. As a major theme of the game though, it changes things drastically.

Goals in Revised

Revised provides different goals. Kindred in revised are focused more on Vampiric politics, fighting against or for the Elders, and though Golconda is mentioned as something that some Vampires strive toward, it isn’t as immediate of a goal as it seems in 1st edition. The Rebirth was removed as a plot motivation early in Vampire. Which makes sense if you are focusing on the theme of eternal horror that Revised Vampire seems to express better than its earliest incarnation.

convention-of-thorns

That is one area in which Revised provides something that 1st doesn’t capture well. In Revised, the idea that you have become forced into a society of monsters in which you will never escape is visceral. This is the battle of humanity in Revised. Camarilla society may espouse the values of Humanitas, but most Kindred lose their connection to those whom they feed upon. Killing becomes commonplace, normalized, and this disconnection, this lack of empathy is a central element the Beast can play upon. Manipulating younger vampires becomes natural to Elders, it’s how they survive, and being a childer to one of these elders is a curse. Imagine being forced to work for an abusive boss, now imagine you can never quit, never find another job, and never get promoted. That is one of the core horror elements that Revised develops excellently. It’s simply a different horror than 1st edition Vampire.

Other Elements

Introduction

Both editions start off with a story that explains the world of Vampire. Revised presents a narrative, a sire explaining the world of the Kindred to their childe to be. 1st is written as a note from a vampire to a human associate where they explain the hidden world of Vampires. The story in 1st has shades of Interview with the Vampire, and in some ways so does the story in Revised. Each is quite obvious in its exposition. Revised though, is accompanied by well crafted background images, art, and evocative pages. 1st is accompanied by a bit of Tim Bradstreet art, and pages that evoke a worn well crafted letter or journal. Both are awesome, but different. Revised speaks to a slightly sexy, exciting, powerfully impactful game were you play the Monster in the Dark. 1st speaks to a gritty, personal, slightly unfinished game that has a ton of hidden lore where you play the monster who wishes they were still human.

Font

Both editions use a different font at times, but the main font in Revised is small, maybe 11 point at the largest. Its readable, but at times almost too small. 1st edition is larger but overall the font styles seem similar between editions. This is a subtle thing though, the font for Revised is very late 90’s and the font in 1st is clearly early 90’s and they obviously fit into the era they are from. Maybe I’m the only font geek that would care, but this is something that set the tone for the book for me.

Art

The art in Revised is polished, beautiful, well drawn. I could go on and on about how awesome it is. Bradstreet is amazing, an artist that everyone should appreciate and admire. Bradstreet’s art in 1st edition, though? Iconic, but not the art I was really drawn to while I was reading through the book.

No, ironically the art that interested me the most was the single image story that was placed throughout the book. This story tells a tale of a woman who becomes embraced, proceeds through torpor, conflict, and power to the modern age. She then follows a similar predatory path to the one in which her existence began. She embraces a man that resembles her sire. Ultimately, she is killed, and the man she embraced is freed from the Curse of Caine and he returns to his mortal life. This story is compelling for the humanity lost by the woman in question as she proceeds through her unlife, and just as compelling for the way in which she steals the life of the man she embraces and the way he fights to regain that life. I’m not sure who the artist for that story is, it doesn’t look like Bradstreet’s art, but I’d love to give whomever they are credit.

My favorite Bradstreet Art - Check out his website

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website by clicking the Nosferatu

Character Options

1st edition Vampire assumes the 7 Camarilla clans are the only options for characters. This reduces the amount of conflicts possible with this rule set. Revised provides us with the 13 clans from the beginning, including the pillar Sabbat clans and the Independents, whom were only hinted at in 1st edition’s core book. This limited set of options focuses the story more on the nuances between Kindred and humans. Of course the conflict between Brujah anarchs and Ventrue bluebloods is present, as are other elements of conflict between the Camarilla clans. However, it doesn’t feel like powerful creatures fighting against one another is the central theme of the game. In Revised, the camera lens is firmly on the world of the Kindred, in 1st, the story is shot from the shoulder of the vampire, as they gaze upon the herds of humanity on which they prey.

When I read 1st edition I could see why people wanted to play this game so much. I wanted to play Revised when I read it as well. Vampire: The Masquerade has changed a lot over the years, and if you ask me, one is not better than the other. They are simply different. I can respect the desire of the new White Wolf to try and recapture some of the themes in 1st edition. Those themes are important. Humanity should be important to the Vampire. Humanity sustains them, humanity is the essential element which they must draw upon to survive. Finding ways to refocus the camera on humanity, will have an interesting impact upon the games that people craft together. I look forward to 5th edition Vampire, if it finds a way to capture the essence of 1st edition, and the skillful hand of Revised and the 20th anniversary edition, then it will be a wonderful game to add to my collection.

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) the admin of this spectacular website. Consider donating to our Patreon if you would like to support other columnists.

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

LARPers of Color -2 Ron Leota

Our second interview in the LARPers of Color series. Please feel free to share these interviews and contact Keep if you are interested in sharing your experience with everyone. You can email us at admin@keepontheheathlands.com

Keep: Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

Ron: Hi, I’m Ron Leota and I am a larp creator and huge supporter of the hobby. I’ve been larping for about 8 years, roleplaying for 20. I started larping as a way to lose weight and explore deeper narratives in role-playing. I love all forms of larp but tend to play full weekend immersion boffer games. I prefer games that have some combat but make story the focal point. I am not a huge fan of boffer sports but think they’re great for those who enjoy them.

I am currently playing World of Oz full time and occasionally play Alliance LARP. I am currently running Spite: A Science-fiction LARP, Battle!, and a few other unreleased projects with my company NW RPGs. I also host and produce the NW Nerdcast, a podcast all about role-playing.

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Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

I have been running larps for 6 years. I love that experience but it’s also caused me a ton of stress and heart ache over the years. Running games is a fantastic creative outlet and has allowed me to tell stories and present certain levels of activism to my community via the themes explored. Most players are fantastic people but we occasionally see problem players that don’t respect the boundaries of staff and that’s probably the hardest thing for me.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

In the Pacific Northwest it’s been pretty good. There are still microaggressions, culturally appropriative costuming, and things I’d like to see change but there has been a major cultural shift to weed out some of the worst behaviors. The community is strong and becoming much more diverse. I find that being a PoC isn’t as much of an “exclusive club” as it once was. I tend to do much better than some folks because I am what you call, “white passing”, which affords me some luxuries my more obvious PoC friends don’t have.

On a national level it’s been incredibly hard. Some players have disheartened me to the point of never wanting to run games in certain states as I genuinely fear that I could not harbor the safe and diverse environment that I so highly value in the games I currently run. The stories some of my fellow PoCs have shared about being attacked for voicing a concerns make me thankful I have the community that I do.

Many PoCs felt that discussion groups like Larp Haven were so toxic that we’ve splintered off into our own group to find the support we’re looking for. Horrendous vitriol is thrown at PoCs for “daring to question” things in the community. Even posing questions about diversity has been met with outcry of “trying to take our games” and “SJWs are trying to kill fun”. It’s very sad and has a lot to do with the dominant white male culture of larping in the US.

Fortunately, this very vocal outcry come from a loud minority of players. Unfortunately, this behavior is allowed and condoned by the other members of the community, who’d rather sit silent than stand up for marginalized players.  This harbors a feeling of being an “other” rather than a peer and creates the appearance that we’re just not welcome because we aren’t the “right color”.

self-reflection

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

Listen when people with wildly different life experiences speak about something you may disagree with but doesn’t necessarily affect you. White players can be great allies if they’d just listen and understand that PoCs face things (daily) that they will never have to face. Learning about those woes and how they bleed into larp is important. Stop using the excuse that “it’s just a game, it’s supposed to be fun.” That’s neat but when your fun is at the expense of other’s cultures you’re not being a very good person and are putting a sign out there that essentially says, “whites only”. That’s what many of us see.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

I’d love to see blatant racism removed from games. Too often “races” in games are nothing more than offensive stereotypes. I feel if your IG races mirror offensive stereotypes of real-world ethnicities than you have creatively failed as a game creator. You’ve taken the lazy way out at the expense of real people and that’s a game I won’t play and will vocally denounce.

We also need to eradicate toxic positivity in the community. Some larpers are devout and faithful to their games, to the point that they won’t just condone but fight for blatantly racist behavior to exist in the game. It’s heart breaking to watch good people be sucked into the mentality that anything negative said about their game is an attempt to destroy it and we must get the torches to attack the “invader”.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?

I was the head rules writer for the game I actively play and currently run all the others I’m involved in. I kinda already added the things I want. =)

Is She Hot? The Question Female Gamers Dread

As a female bodied gamer, character creation can be difficult sometimes. No, I’m not talking about the sexist view that women are bad at math, or that complex rules are too hard. I am talking about the answer to the question that I feel most female gamers or female presenting gamers dread. This loaded six word question that means something different when it is asked of a female presenting gamer.

 

Question: What Does Your Character Look Like?

Yes, when a male presenting gamer is asked this question it means exactly what it means, no hidden subtext. Does Valeros have brown hair or black hair? What armor is Harsk wearing? What instrument is Lem carrying today? All of these are perfectly normal questions with normal answers. However when this question is asked of female presenting gamers, it usually does not just mean ‘What does your character look like’ but another question instead.

 

Real Question: Is She Hot/Attractive?

How much skin is Seoni showing? What size are Feiya’s breasts? Is Alahazra’s Charisma high? These are a few of the many subtext questions asked of female presenting gamers. Everyone at the table wants to know if our characters are sexually attractive, and if their characters can get with ours. A fantasy takes over in their minds where they feel if they can befriend our character and get with them, that they can get with us in real life. I know many relationships have come about from first starting an in game friendship (including my own!) but that relies on attraction between the parties being mutual, instead of one sided.

 

Perils of Attractive Characters:

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

Take for example my character Kita. Kita was a Sorcerer in the Pathfinder rules set, so it was beneficial for Charisma to be my highest stat. My first PFS module was The Overflow Archives and I was excited to play in a game at my local gaming shop. In the module there was a section with some fey characters that you could either talk to or fight, and I chose to talk. It was then the party at the table realized my character had high Charisma, and even though they were annoyed I chose to talk instead of fight I was suddenly much more popular. One of the orcs gave me a ride on his shoulders in a flooded part of the dungeon. I got healed almost instantly when I was hurt by the party Cleric.

After the game was over, the Orc player asked me to coffee. I told him I don’t drink coffee so I’d have to decline. Then it was lunch at a restaurant I luckily did not like, so I said no again. Then he asked where I’d like to eat and I walked away, and have not returned to that gaming group. At no point did I learn anything beyond this player’s name, and they knew nothing of me other than my name and that I played a cute female character. They didn’t even ask if I was in a relationship or anything else before making it clear they were looking for a date.

 

Freedom of Unattractive Characters

darkestdungeon.com

Ragin Jane Scarlett, the Woman With No Neck

Conversely to the above, I once played a pirate in the Skulls and Shackles adventure path named Ragin’ Jane Scarlett. She was a Barbarian and guard of her male friend and partner in crime Thomas Stringer. It was often said of Jane that she had no neck, just muscle. She was gruff and unattractive, and had no romantic interest or motherly feelings, and was nothing but platonic towards her adventuring partner. They formed a strong pirate crew and made terror on the high seas for those unfortunate enough to cross them.

No one at this group asked me to coffee, no one flirted with me in character as a veil for out of character. The only ones who made passes at me were a couple NPCs that I scared into submission. It was freeing and refreshing. I’ve played several more unattractive or not specifically attractive tabletop characters, including just playing men instead.  I find that most GMs and players leave alone male characters when it comes to their looks and don’t bring it up as often if at all.

 

Attractive/Unattractive Characters and LARP

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

At one point in my LARP career, I played an attractive Brujah named Gianna (not pictured) who was a prostitute in her mortal life, inspired by Ros on the Game of Thrones show. Gigi, as her coterie and bloodline called her, wore short shorts that I shyly wore to game with tights under. I posted a selfie in the shorts after game, proud of wearing them. Almost instantly there were comments from the other players about the naughty thoughts they had and what they wanted to do with me. I did not ask for a review of how I looked or how nice the shorts and tights made my butt look. I deleted the picture because of how uncomfortable the comments made me, but I and many female presenting gamers deal with these comments constantly. Some can’t even post pictures of new Pokemon slippers without commenters asking for nude pictures.

I currently play Rook (pictured above), a Nosferatu that I have written about before. Once when visiting a game, I showed up already in costume. No one flirted with me in character because they found me or my character attractive. I looked unattractive with a gaunt face and giant cloak. I enjoyed an evening being able to be unharassed. Once the game was over, I stood up straight and revealed that my body is in fact female. I had several people whom I did not talk to all game tell me that the RP with me was good. They were all male presenting with surprised looks on their faces that I was female bodied. Up to that moment they disregarded me because they couldn’t see my female body, and I loved it.

 

The Answer: It Doesn’t Matter!

When I’m asked what my character looks like, I sigh.  I am always ready for them to follow up with “Is She Hot?” when I fail (on purpose usually) to mention their attractiveness. I tend to ask them why it matters and most of the time I find that it doesn’t actually matter. These are my experiences, and yours may be different. I feel that if you ask your female presenting friends you’ll find similar patterns of behavior towards their characters. When they play ugly or unattractive characters they will be treated normally. Female characters that are attractive are targeted by others who want to push their fantasies on the character. Perhaps keep this and the follow up article in mind next time you want to ask “Is She Hot?”


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer.. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community. She’s a console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

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

LARPers of Color Interview 1: Morgan Nuncio

This is a series of interviews we’ve done with LARPers of Color to understand the experiences, challenges, and successes people of color have within the LARP community. 


Keep: Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with me. I’ve been a big LARP geek since I was in High School, and I’m always excited to get feedback from others in the hobby.
Keep:-Can you tell us how you got into the hobby?:

Morgan: Soooooo, I was a junior in high school, and my best friend was a senior. She was dating an older guy for a couples by now, and he seemed really cool. One day she was like, “Hey, my boyfriend wants me to go with him to his friend’s house for this Vampire thing.  I don’t want to go alone. Will you come with me?” I said I would, and that Friday night we went with her boyfriend to this guy’s apartment, where her and I played “Ghouls” for this game called “Vampire: The Masquerade”. I really enjoyed the make-believe aspect because I used to do roleplaying for years online through AOL chatrooms and forums. This made it feel so much more real and something I can easily grasp. After that night  I was hooked!

by-night-studios-logo

For the New Vampire LARP rules

 

Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.):

After playing various types of games from parlor larps like Vampire: The Masquerade, to weekend long games like Dystopia Rising to even the U.S. blockbuster larp New World Magischola, I really enjoy the one-shot freeform games. Freeform games involve very little barrier-to-entry, meaning that costuming and cost of the game itself is very low or nonexistent, and the game last either 2-4 hours for that night, and that’s it. I don’t get trapped in the mindset of one particular character and I can much more throw myself into drama and chaos because I don’t have an emotional connection to the character like I would with my campaign characters.

dystopia-logo

What LARPs are you currently involved with?:

The only campaign larp I am involved with currently is Planetfall, which is a weekend-long scifi larp just outside of Austin, TX. And I try to participate in New World Magischola as much as I can, but it isn’t your traditional “campaign” game. Other than that, I am apart of a freeform group that gets together about once a month to play a variety of games, and even sometimes do larp jam sessions that we get together and write games and then playtest them.

How long have you been LARPing?:

I’ve been larping for about 11 years now.

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?:

When I was with Dystopia Rising, I was a Marshal for a few months, meaning that I was someone players could come to talk about rules, and when I was running NPC shifts, I would either hold the fort down at the desk or take NPCs out for various mods.

planetfall-logo

For Planetfall, I’m a Referee, which is pretty much like a Marshal for DR. However, we don’t really have NPC shifts for this game, people just volunteer to go away for a bit to be an NPC creature, since the playstyle of the game is very player vs survival/ environment, and focuses on roleplaying. Also, I’m the lead of the Social Team, meaning that a few days after games we try to get people together for “Pizza and Planetfall” for people just to hang out, and on the months between games we try to host another social event because we want to make it about the community aspect. I am also apart of the Inclusion Advisors, which means that myself and the other Advisors come together and discuss issues with the game itself, if there are any, when it comes to anything possibly appropriative or problematic, regarding people of color’s cultures and identities,  misogyny, or those within the LGBTQIA spectrum.

When it comes to freeform games, I slowly have begun to facilitate games. My first games I facilitated were apart of the #Feminism (an anthology full of nano-games regarding various aspects of the issues women face), and The Great After Party (a fun larp that lasts 3-4s that is a larp about the afterparty of a larp, full of your various larp tropes) by Erlend Eidsem Hansen and Frida Sofie Jansen at Living Games Conference back in May 2016 here in Austin, TX. I then ran Slayer Cake back in the beginning of October, which is written by Kat Jones and Evan Torner.  I am also slowly beginning to write my own larps as well in the past year, with my first game (with the help of Sarah Lynne Bowman) called ColorMatch[.]Com, which tackles the ideas of awkward first dates, finding what you are attracted to, and how to deal with fetishes. It’s a fun and short game that lasts only about an hour (if that). I am also working on various other larp projects, that I hope to debut sometime in 2017!

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?:

Mostly good, with some bad memories sprinkled through it. I’ve gotten into my fair share of heated discussions about issues in the larp community because the majority of the larp population is cisgendered, white men, who don’t understand the amount of privilege they hold, or care to acknowledge it. There was one fantasy larp down here in Texas that before the game was even open before their first game, I tried to voice my concerns to the game owner about the races he made, and the basis they come from. But what I said fell on deaf ears and a “well, maybe this game isn’t for you”.

 I have left games I have played in for years because of slowly being aware of the problematic issues that are within the world design, despite having tons of friends who run and play in the game.

But for the most part, especially those within the freeform community, have been a lot more aware and accepting, and a lot of them have the same concerns and thoughts. If they put something controversial in their games, it is there for a reason. It is for the reason for players to become aware, gain empathy of the situation, and learn what to do with things like it. That’s why I am SO THANKFUL for the #Feminism anthology, because there are tough and difficult ideas that we tackle in the nano-games, but they help so much more with awareness and understanding those mindsets. The one that really sticks out to me is a game called the “Grey Zone” by Siri Sandquist, where the players embody the emotions of a woman who is stuck in the grey zone between rape and consensual sex in a relationship.

feminism

 

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?:  

Listen and understand those who are marginalized and the issues they are seeing and facing. Ask how they, as game designer or other players, can help to make those who are marginalized more included. Active listening and engaging in a conversation, then acting upon that by changing the game, truly helps, because it makes you seem like you truly do care that people who are different than you enjoy the same nerdy hobby you do. A lot of the time when these issues are brought up, they are torn down by people not listening, disregarding the issues as “a cry for attention”, and being complete asshats.

Also, if there is opportunity for people of color (or anyone who is marginalized), to rise within the game staff, I want to tell who larpers of color to do it! I want to tell the women to do it! I want to tell the LGBTQIA folks to do it! Be the change we want to see in our world! Hell, I would love to see larpers of colors writing their own games, be it through normal North American style boffer campaign games, to blockbuster events, to freeform games! Representation matters, especially in a hobby that is so visual like larping is.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?:

Yes, and it was within my first few years of larping too. I was playing Vampire: The Masquerade, and my character was raped by a Baali (a type of demon-worshipping vampires), to be impregnated with a demon baby she couldn’t get rid of. And the out of character I was given after the horrific and detailed event happened? “Sorry Morgan, you were the only female at game. It had to be you.” Like, seriously?! Just because I am a woman, I had to be the one targeted for rape, and not have the topic brought up to me beforehand. This memory has been something that has stewed in me for years, and I have written about it finally on my Facebook within the past year now that I am much more comfortable talking about these issues within larps. I really regret being apart of it, however I am also happy that it has happened because I can talk from experience and I have learned from the experience, and advocate against these things ever happening again, to anyone. I am all for scene negotiations, so that everyone consents to the outcome and what is involved.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?:

To Vampire: The Masquerade, I hope that it does start adding in the ideas of scene negotiation,  and how for people to opt out of the scene. I know various types of V:TM games, like End of the Line and Convention of Thorns, really focus on the ideas of consent based play which I positively adore. I hope the run-of-the-mill World of Darkness games do follow the same light.

convention-of-thorns

For the larp I left, it is getting better with using safety mechanics and check- ins, however the world design is still heavily flawed. It has appropriated so much from other cultures, and the interpretation that player take on the game design is quite disheartening as well. It’s an inclusive community, meaning that it includes pretty much everyone, even those who are toxic or a missing/broken staircase.

For Planetfall, I wish we had more people of color playing. We have a good handful, but I wish there was a way for us to reach out to more people of color to play. I hope that in time we can get more people to join and help us diverse the game more, because I want the game world to really reflect 200 years into the future, where the world itself is one big, beautiful mixing pot.

One thing I would like to add to New World Magischola is games by me, instead of across the country! One can hope, right? Lol

And to the freeform community, I would love to see more larpers of colors become game designers and write games in this field. I am hoping that with freeform growing, that it attracts more game designers to it. The one thing  I would change is the availability of the games, because it seems like a lot of larpers do not know about the freeform larp community.

Know When To Say When – Is It Burnout or Bleed?

 

The misery of a year that is 2016 is drawing to a close, and as we all search the horizons of infinity for a glimmer of hope that 2017 will not takes its cues from its predecessor, it is a good time to take stock of our individual states of mind regarding our shared hobby.

2016-into-2017

 

This is an exercise in self-assessment and metacognition, a study in ourselves and our reactions. I recommend undertaking this effort in a comfortable and sober state of mind, possibly discussing it with your closest gaming associates or the people who can offer you an outside perspective.

For the purposes of this article, we will be using bleed in the pejorative sense; that is, the state of getting too wrapped up in/involved with in-character (IC) issues or problems, to the point where it is negatively affecting out-of-character (OOC) quality of life. Nordic-style or play-to-bleed is another cooking vessel of aquatic life forms entirely.

bleed

It’s a Thursday night. Your local once a month LARP is Saturday. What are you feeling?

A) Woohoo, game this weekend! I’m SO ready!
B) Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.
C)Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?
D) Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go.
E)Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

prisma-grigori

I’m ready!

If you answered A, please pass GO and collect your $200….unless you are ready to maliciously wreck the game for someone else. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If you answered B, you’re in the same boat as 90% of all the LARPers I have ever met. 5% of the remainder are super-organized and the other 5% will be panicking as they are 30 minutes late leaving for the game site.

If you answered C, you might be getting a little worn down. This might be because life is kicking your ass (and we all feel like we are wearing that Kick Me sign from time to time) or it might be because it is time to do a little self-diagnostic on your enjoyment/investment in the game.

If you answered D, you are definitely getting a little singed around the edges. Is something lacking in the game, the setting, the environment, or your gaming group, or are you/your character just in a neutral phase?

If you answered E, you may actually be burnt out or experiencing an undue amount of bleed.

A – Game is this weekend, yay!

Are you happy to be going, to be portraying your character and spending time doing something you love? If so, fantastic.

Are you happy to be going because you know you are going to be ruining someone else’s plots/plans…and you’re looking forward to enjoying their suffering?

The second answer is not categorically a negative one, believe it or not, as long as it is your character who is going to be enjoying wrecking another character. Part of the inclusivity of the hobby is being able to differentiate between player and character – but you knew that already, or you wouldn’t be here.

This is where you check your investment – does your entire life revolve around the game? Are you okay with that state of affairs if that is the case? Do you need to take a step back and reassess your investment and involvement? Are you living for the game, or is it a fun activity you enjoy with great enthusiasm? Have fun, but keep things in perspective.

B – Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.

jp

I’m ready!

As I said earlier, this is the area where 90% of the gamers of my acquaintance fall. The spectrum is basically spread out between “oh gods where is my everything” and “everything is here, in its proper place, repaired/polished/updated, and I’ve communicated with my DM/ST in triplicate.” If you are one of the people towards the neater/more organized end of the spectrum, please write a blog post and share your witchcraft with the rest of us.

You’re looking forward to the game, but you are keeping your other priorities in mind and in balance. This is a good place to be. Do you want to be more involved with the game? Do you see an opportunity for improvement, and want to help? This might be the time to reach out to your ST or DM and ask if they need any help, or let them know you are willing to volunteer.

C – Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?

This is the beginning of the singed edge. You may be going through a phase where life is interfering with your ability to game as much as you would like – and it happens to all of us. Maybe your work or class schedule changed, maybe you got involved in a new hobby that requires more time, or family/friends issues demanded priority over your gaming hobby. All of these are perfectly normal, perfectly respectable reasons to have slightly detached from the game, and a healthy, supportive gaming crew will work with you to make sure you can come back when circumstances change.

On the other hand, you might be in a low phase with your gaming experience, such as recovering from a loss of a character, or the completion of a huge storyline. This is either a recovery phase or a spot to take stock of your away-from-game commitments and responsibilities, to see if you need to reprioritize your involvement.

Have you reached a point where you are obsessing or brooding over your character’s frustrations and taking them on as your own? This is a potentially toxic level of bleed, but it can be handled if you recognize it early enough to take a step back and reevaluate your level of involvement with the character. It’s way, way too easy to fall into the trap of 24/7 role-play, especially in these days when it’s more work to get truly away from instant communication than most folks realize – and no one wants to snub their friends because they need a break from being in character all the time. Some people end up blurring the lines between player and character, and that can be incredibly awkward, frustrating, embarrassing, and frankly psychologically damaging – the bad kind of bleed.

Alternatively, this may be the spot you are in if you are in the process of returning to an ongoing game or campaign after taking a break, voluntary or otherwise. If that is the case, I recommend speaking to your DM or ST one-on-one and getting a general feel for the game state, to see how you can best reintegrate with the group. You can also look at this spot as a chance to debut a new character and start fresh.

D – Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go play.

work

I lied, I’m not ready.

If this is your feeling one random Thursday, you might just be having a bad week/month and don’t have the social energy to get into character and deal with plots and connivery and such. That’s cool – as a truly devoted introvert, I feel you. Stay home, cuddle your pets/sweetheart/favorite fuzzy blanket, watch TV or murder pixels or read a book. Do whatever makes you feel better.

If this happens two months in a row, it’s time to reassess your involvement in the game. Have you been doing too much role-playing? Especially in an Org game, or any other avenue that can lead to 24/7 play, it can begin to feel like an endless pressure to be in character all the time, and that’s exceptionally draining. Have you had an in-character crisis that has ended badly and you need to take some time to deal with the emotional fallout? That’s okay too. Are you frustrated because your character can’t seem to accomplish anything and you are beginning to feel like you are just going through the motions? This is a time for a calm and rational discussion with your DM or ST, which brings me to my next point.

This is going to be an unpopular statement, but hear me out – this can also be a sign that you are not a good fit for the game. There are times where personalities just do not mesh, or personal issues (and we’ve all got them, anyone who says otherwise is lying) prevent us from fully joining in with the game or group of people. Maybe, especially in a horror setting like Vampire or anything Lovecraftian, there are events in your own life that make the setting uncomfortable for you, despite your ardent desire to play. Maybe you are part of a group where the expectation of involvement/commitment/investment is WAY higher than you can afford, financially or temporally or emotionally.

social-contract

Make Friends, not Vassals

If you have made friends in your gaming hobby (and I sincerely hope you have!) see about hanging out with them away from a gaming setting, to just BS and be friends without character sheets or dice involved. Grab a beer or a coffee or see a movie or try a new restaurant. Be friends, not only friends-who-game-together. Maybe they have some insights that can rekindle your enjoyment in the game. Maybe you’ll discover that they also have a passion for watercolor paintings of bonsai or collecting esoteric cheeses – whatever your non-gaming passions are.

E – Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

You’re as burned as Anakin Skywalker after the duel on Mustafar.

This is where communication – and for the sake of clarity, I am going to reiterate that all of this is meant to be taken and performed out of character – is truly crucial. If literally everyone in your game is having a fantastic time, constantly and consistently, and you always feel like your own experience is lacking, TALK TO YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS AND YOUR DM/ST. Ask them, away from game and in a neutral setting, if there is something that needs to change about your playstyle, or if there is a fundamental misunderstanding about a key part of the game that you have missed, or if you joined the game with X expectations and are seeing Y results.

Part of being a responsible, emotionally mature, and informed player is realizing that sometimes the problems are not external, but internal. Sometimes, players just do not fit, and it’s unfair to the rest of the group to consistently be asking them to bend to your will and preferences. Want to do a fade-to-black (FTB) when a scene is getting too intense? I am 100% right there with you and will speak up for you if I see you getting uncomfortable. Invoke FTB every single time heightened emotions get involved? I will be less sympathetic.

What it comes down to is this – if you have left multiple game sessions with headaches and grumbles, truly having not enjoyed yourself, and you have reached out to try to make things better and not seen any improvement, maybe you need to reconsider if you are a good fit for the game. It is a sign of maturity and good self-awareness to realize when, despite best intentions, something is just not going to work. Like the old commercial said, “Know When To Say When.”

I will leave you all with this final thought –

We’re all part of this hobby, one giant dysfunctional family, and there’s always going to be situations that make us uncomfortable, people we don’t like, and constraints that we have to work around – be they psychological, financial, temporal, or otherwise – but we’re all here to play a game, and those challenges can actually strengthen us as people.

The biggest difference between our giant dysfunctional family and the other type is that you can always choose to walk away from this family if you realize it’s no longer the right one for you. We will miss you, but there’s always a seat at the table if you decide to come back.

2016 has been a bitch of a year. Let’s make 2017 our bitch.

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite Princess,

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x) Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary 54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO's Documentary 'Bright Lights', USA - 10 Oct 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x)
Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary
54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO’s Documentary ‘Bright Lights’, USA – 10 Oct 2016

May the Force be with you!

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

*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.

Power and Identity: Mage: The Ascension

What does belonging look like when you have the power to change yourself and the world around you? What happens if you think you have the power to change the world, but instead are bound by the rules of those around you? As a mage, how do you define your identity in relation to your power?

Power and identity

Mage is an amazing game for the way it weaves mysticism and philosophy into a coherent universe. However, at the heart of that universe the very concept of what reality is, is in question. What are Mages? We know that they are human beings by their birth, but what is the Avatar? Is this a symbol of immanent godhood or an individual separation from the forces of the universe? Is the Avatar really a separate force or is it something all human beings possess but few harness the ability to connect with? What if Mages are the broken ones? Perhaps sleepers are connected to one universal avatar and it is through this force that they sustain and contain the consensus?

Delving into Mage is a journey into answering some of these questions. Your players may not directly choose to address them, but these questions (and others) are woven into the fabric of the game. Mage is a game about power, what one does with power and how one interacts with oneself and others when they have gained such power. As such, Mage is a game about power and identity.

What is power?

Power is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Mage is about power because it is about control. When you have the ability to control the forces of the universe to your advantage you clearly have power. However, this power is hardly omnipotent. Mages are constrained. First they are constrained by their Paradigm, the way they understand magic and the way they understand how they can work magic within the constraints of the world. To me, these are slightly separate things. The magus that believes the world is a sequence of controllable effects may believe she has to work differently with those effects than another.

For example, the Hermetic Mage believes that there are fundamental principles to the universe. Unlocking those principles requires using the correct rituals, the carefully crafted sigils, pacts with otherworldly beings, and perfect and repeatable procedures that have worked for centuries. That Mage has to be tutored. An apprentice has to learn from his superiors, it is a part of the way they see the world. To gain proficiency requires experience, repeated attempts to enact effects, and tutelage in proper procedures. Their paradigm requires they use these systems, because that is how they believe the world works.

A technocrat may have a similar view of the underlying principles of the world. It is knowable, repeatable, and quantifiable. If I mix these chemicals together, in the right way, then this specific effect will undoubtedly occur. However, the way mages are taught to interact with the world is different. Instead of using sigils and markings upon goatskin, they follow procedures based on bio-chemical theory. They use heat, and chemicals, and fine needles and lasers with the intent of bringing new creations into existence.

Power and Identity

 

What does this have to do with identity?

These two mages would refuse to see a common identity with one another. The technocrat is working with methods proven by both enlightened and non-enlightened science. However, in the world of Mage we know that the only reason non-enlightened science has been taken as fact is because the majority of people in the world have accepted it as such. In this way, the Technocracy has the upper hand regarding both identity and power. The majority of the population accepts their paradigm (at least on some level) and this ensures they are more apt to be considered a member of a given society.

The Mage that uses virgin made beeswax candles to summon demons is an outsider to the world around them. These activities may be TRUE to the Mage in question, but they are untrue to others. This separates the Tradition/Disparate Mage. This separation will drive a wedge between the Mage and the other people from their culture. A Chorister may be an exemplar of the Faith, but they do so by joining a Divine Song that is untouchable by the lay-person. This can breed hubris and jealousy. The challenge for the Mage is to balance their drive and ability to use their power and to avoid separating themselves deeply from the world around them. Yet, we see in most games that Mages are a step apart from their surroundings. They separate themselves into Cabals, and hide in Chantries, Churches, Laboratories, and other places detached from their fellow man.

How then do we create Mage characters that want to be a part of humanity? How do we construct worlds that encourage the Mage not to think of themselves as better or separate, but simply a different type of person than those around them? We have to give them attachments, connections, interlocking relationships that bind them to their friends, families, and communities.  Of course, as we know, this will bind the Mage. This will prevent them from rising to highest orders of power. By connecting themselves they limit themselves.

Identity

Do Mages Belong?

This is part of the drive to create the Traditions and the Technocratic Union and even the Disparate Alliance. These Mages want to belong with others that can support and empower the activities that they know they are capable of. However, as a group then they become distanced from the rest of humanity. They fail to see how they are just as intimately tied to the Earth and the cycle of life. By creating these communities Mages can reach for the stars. But, as they do they can also be scorched by the sun. This gives a young Mage the chance to challenge their elders. To drift skyward is to achieve greatness, but to build up the whole is to give everyone a chance to reach the sky.

Mages each have an element of their identity that separates them from those around them. This is a common issue for those with divergent interests, needs, or elements of their internal identity. In Mage, this identity separation has the consequence of power though. So it behooves the player and the storyteller to balance the hubris of power with the connections a person has to endure to be a member of society. At the same time, it is important to show that Mages feel different, not special, but divergent, radical, perhaps perverse.

Mages are liminal beings, living on the outskirts of society. They are the local wise witch that people would seek, but never welcome into the village. Even as these Mages live among humanity they are divergent, they are different, they are separate. How then does a Mage make themselves feel included? How do others remove them from the in-group and push them away from those more ‘normal’? These are design elements that are important to consider for the storyteller looking to tell deeper stories in the Mage universe.

 

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) and should not be construed to be anything but his random musings.

Source: Bethesda

How Console Mods Help New People Enjoy Gaming

 

 Note: This article contains a picture of a doodle drawn spider from an old internet meme.

 

2016 was a big year in gaming for Bethesda fans. At E3 2015, they announced mod support for PS4 and Xbox One users for Fallout 4. Additionally when Skyrim Special Edition was annouced it also would come with mod support.  Finally, console gamers could have a taste of the modding fun! Mods are responsible for things like this My Little Pony dragon replacement mod for Skyrim, or this one that turns the trolls in game to internet trolls. Finally, us console gamers can be one step closer to the glorious “PC master race” that has eluded us! But console mod support has another unintended benefit: those with phobias and disabilities can now join in on the fun.

 

Anti Phobia Mods  

Source: Bethesda and yrock1234

Doodle spider added for effect. He’s sad!

There are many, many, phobias and many degrees to which those phobias affect those who suffer from them. Some people just need to kill the spiders they see, while others may be so paralyzed that they can’t do anything. It’s never fun to have a phobia accidentally triggered, even more so when you spent up to 60 dollars on it and can’t get a refund. Your copy of Fallout 4 or Skyrim may sit on the shelf or in your hard drive gathering dust because you didn’t realize one of your phobias was in the game.

 

Luckily, with the added mod support, many users like Joescreamatorium and yrock1234 have created texture replacement mods to replace things like bugs, zombie-like ghouls, crabs, and spiders with non-triggering textures for other creatures in the game. User yrock1234 even went so far as to replace the items dropped by the insects with same-effect items that fit with their new textures. The bears they replaced the spiders with (shown below) now drop beehives instead of spider web sacs that have the same in-game effects. Clever!

 

Cirosan’s Full Dialouge Interface Mod

Source: Bethesda and Cirosan

The Zhongwen language mod hard at work, making The Vault-tec Salesman no less annoying.

User Cirosan made Fallout 4 specifically more inclusive by adding a mod to ‘fix’ the dialogue system. In the unmodded version of Fallout 4, you don’t actually get to see what your character is going to say. Instead you see a rather general prompt, like THREATEN or ASK FOR CAPS. Sometimes you can be more or less of a jerk than you intend. With this mod the text your character speaks is clearly shown on screen for all four dialogue options, eliminating the guesswork. No wondering what sarcastic or emotional thing your character would say. Their mod is available in TEN languages at the time of writing, and they seem to be working on more.

 

This mod is amazingly inclusive, because it helps people who have trouble picking up on social cues, such as those on the Autism spectrum. I am not on the spectrum but I sometimes have trouble sometimes picking up on the cues. You see exactly what your character is going to say displayed on the screen, with an [emotion] tag associated. For those who have trouble processing spoken language, this mod is awesome. 

 

Source: Bethesda and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTgu3Svbo3g

The modder did not upload any images, so this is a screenshot taken from The Gameplay TV.

LGBTQ* Family Mod

On the LGBTQ* side of things, Skyrim doesn’t really need any modding.

For romances in Skyrim, as in Fallout 4, any eligible NPCs that can participate in the relationship/marriage system will marry your character regardless of gender. Neither game makes any big deal of your character choosing to be with male or female NPCs. You are also not ‘locked in’ to whichever type you choose and can change throughout the game. However in Fallout 4’s opening few minutes, your character is defined by experiences with their opposite-sexed partner and their child in a heteronormative fashion.

 

User Overseer777 has modded a way around this by changing all references made in-game to the spouse and changing the beginning to have your spouse’s in-game model match the sex of yours. Heteronormativity is a problem in gaming, with most games only option for opposite sex relationships. It is amazing that Fallout 4 and Skyrim are not heteronormative, and this mod helps seal the deal.

 

 

Source: Bethesda

OOOH YEAH!

Game mods can be sources of absolute hilarity, cool new content, all the cheats you could want, and more. Mods are also a great resource for making games much more friendly and inclusive for everyone. In the future, I hope that other developers begin to support modding on consoles. Modding is making gaming more accessible for everyone, and that’s a good thing. Besides, who doesn’t want to be able to turn their in game enemies into Macho Man Randy Savage? I know I do!

 


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer and console gamer. On weekends when she isn’t a vampire she treks to the woods to beat up her friends with plumbing supplies.  Anna is a feminist, part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. Anna is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

Beast the Primordial: Subverting the Monomyth

Beast the Primordial Logo

One of the most persistent tropes in modern speculative fiction is the Hero’s Journey, or the Monomyth.  The monomyth varies from telling to telling, and it can be found in a wide swath of modern media.  The basic manifestation of the Hero’s Journey takes a protagonist from “normal life” into a fantastic setting where they are faced with conflict, personal struggle, and ultimately, they achieve triumph/glory over a villainous foe.  In most tellings, a glorious return home completes the journey.

RPGs, from D&D to Exalted, use the Monomyth as their central narrative.  White Wolf didn’t start with a substantial investment in the monomyth, and arguably the World of Darkness, and even moreso the Chronicles of Darkness, often explicitly subvert or at least de-emphasize the monomyth.  It’s not hard to find player troupes that missed that memo and run heroic arcs with their Sabbat packs, Wraith circles, or throw themselves at the hero’s tale intrinsic to Changeling while ignoring the tragedy that’s clearly designed to subvert that narrative in the core text.

A Group of Japanese Yokai Feeding on a VictimFor all of the subversive ways the World and Chronicles of Darkness play with the Hero’s Journey, I’d never seen a game completely reject the validity of that story model until Beast the Primordial.

Beast devotes almost two and a half pages to the topic of how and why the game subverts/deconstructs the Monomyth. In Beast you play a monster of myth manifested within the soul of a human being.  Beasts are driven to feast on human terror in uniquely personal ways. The primary antagonists of the game are “Heroes” who are driven by the same supernatural cosmology that creates Beasts to seek and destroy them.

It’s easy at first glance to think that this game is just a dark twist on the narratives common to our modern media, but the game does something much more compelling as you work through it.  There is no monolithic enemy in Beast.  Hero’s arise as stand alone phenomenon, every bit the cosmological constant Beasts are, and the culture of the Children (Beasts’ name for themselves), is incredibly loose and comes with no great political force to oppose. There is no Sabbat, no Technocratic Union, no Hierarchy, or corrupt guilds to stand against. The game emphasizes family, and the connection Beasts have with other supernatural creatures in the Chronicles of Darkness.

The fundamental conflict of Beast centers on the complicated task of finding your place in a world when that world finds everything you represent abhorrent.  Heroes in Beast are clearly forged in the mold of the broken and corrupt heroes of Ancient Greece as opposed to the bright eyed perfection of classic Superman comics. They are deranged, driven, and while they may save a few humans from Beasts who have been pushed out of control by their hunger, it is a rare person who would say that is worth the collateral damage they cause.

Why is this  framing so powerful? It seems due to the fact that the game forces the player to truly grapple with the experience of being the “other”.  While that theme runs through many of White Wolf’s horror titles, Beast takes the metaphor further by casting the Beast’s greatest enemy as humanity itself.  Heroes are twisted, deranged, and supernaturally powerful, but they are fundamentally human.  It is the Beast who is not.

If you want to pick up Beast and give it a try one of the most important narrative considerations should be how comfortable you are with demonizing humanity.  There is a sidebar in the Heroes chapter that asks, “What about the Heroes that listen to reason?”.  The answer is that these heroes do exist, but they generally don’t hunt Beasts.  The book continually states that the Heroes that should appear in a Beast game are the narcissistic, driven, cruel ones.  I have seen a few people talk about having problems with this dynamic because it creates an unrelatable villain, and the book specifically states than Heroes should not be relatable enemies.  

Heroes, at their core, are quintessentially human. So shouldn’t they be relatable?  Modern storytelling has moved farther and farther in the direction of understandable antagonists, and messy flawed protagonists.  Beast seems like an obvious attempt to dive directly into that dynamic, but when you step back and look at the game as a model that inverts a classic storytelling trope the problems with this lens become apparent.

Beasts are not good guys.  You are not playing some gritty but relatable anti-hero.  Despite the few words in the opening about how Beasts were outcasts, and “different” before their Devouring, this game is not some glorified revenge fantasy.  The narrative that runs through the book emphasizes the constant struggle to keep existing while humanity continues to reject you, because you are fundamentally wrong.  If you view this game through a lens where humanity is intrinsically good then a lot of the intended themes quickly fall apart, and I’ve seen this specific logical crisis in a great deal of the negative responses to the game.  

A Beast's Horror Standing Behind ThemBefore playing this game you should really know your players, and you should spend some time making certain they are prepared to play true monsters in the night with none of the glorified romanticism that comes with games like Vampire or Changeling.  You’re not flipping the tables so you can play a Beast anti-hero. There is no good guy in this story.

Not every player will be able to get into this particular narrative headspace, and if even one or two players approaches this game with the wrong intent it could derail your whole chronicle.  That said, approaching the game with this tilted perspective opens up new story possibilities.  As a litmus test, if you dislike the writing of Thomas Ligotti due to the lack of a moral compass, even the inverted one present in more mainstream horror stories, this may not be the game for you. That particular form of nihilism is required to dive into the darker corners of Beast.

If the narrative darkness above sounds appealing there is still the question of game mechanics.  I have seen consistent complaints that Beast is overpowered compared to the other games in the Chronicles of Darkness.  After reading Beast I understand where that perception comes from.  While the “powers” that Beasts purchase aren’t necessarily overwhelming (though they are powerful and a lot of fun) Beasts come with a barrage of innate abilities you don’t have to pay for.  They have a special realm carved out of the Primordial Dream, they have the ability to transport there from a variety of places in the real world, they can buff other supernaturals they are allied with, and they automatically sense other supernaturals. There’s a system to create custom powers, which even though they must be purchased, is something you don’t often see, and these custom powers can become more unique when based off supernaturals a Beast is associated with.

Reading Beast, I felt like I was constantly stumbling over new powers, and it was a little overwhelming. However, I believe all of this power is important to further the fundamental themes of Beast.  Unlike Mages, Werewolves, or Vampires, who might have driving goals, or grand schemes which their powers help them fulfill, Beasts are just trying to survive. More importantly, their power is a trap.  

 

Hero Fighting a Dragon

Satiety, which is the Beast’s supernatural resource, is complicated and dangerous.  If you gorge yourself on the fear of your victims your inner Horror becomes fat and contented and you suffer penalties to your rolls.  If you are starving, then your powers are buffed by your deep hunger, but your Horror (your Beastly soul) can easily run out of control and you are left with no resource to buff your powers. You may think this is a simple matter of maintaining balance between these two states, but as a primordial being you reject such equilibrium and grow uniquely vulnerable if you maintain the stasis between these two extremes for long.

If we look back at this system, and think about the themes of the game, it becomes immediately apparent that a Beast’s power reinforces the anxiety of their existence.  Beasts have profound power, but every method of engaging with that power is toxic in a different way, and the more they leverage their supernatural strength, the more attention they draw from Heroes who want nothing more than to stand over their broken bodies.  Even Wraith, which plays with a similar dynamic by having very shallow experience costs, but pairing PCs with a dark shadow that will abuse their drive for power, still comes with a set of enemies players can secure satisfying victories against.

When a Beast defeats a Hero all they gain is a brief rest before the next Hero finds them.  As long as the Beast isn’t allowed to break out of that cycle, and Heroes are powerful enough to be a threat, no Beast can truly be overpowered, because their strength is a mockery more than an actual benefit.

Beast the Primordial is probably one of the most complex games in the of Darkness lines, both in terms of systems and due to its rejection of familiar narrative territory.  The lack of a unified enemy, and the fundamental rejection of the Hero’s Journey are daring moves that align Beast with experimental narrative ventures like Dread or Bluebeard’s Bride as opposed to other games using the storyteller system. Game mechanics are fairly complex (satiety is no blood pool), and to be honest, I have a hard time imagining keeping track of all the different things I would be capable of as a player without a substantial cheat sheet.  

Madness on the Outskirts

By Lydia Burris http://www.lydiaburris.com/

Several sections of Beast drive the inverted Monomyth narrative in less than nuanced ways.  This is most acute in areas that were re-written based on player critique during the kickstarter.  Several players felt the game was too dark, that Beasts had no reason to exist, and that the relationship Heroes had with the Integrity stat was messy in toxic ways.  To the dev’s credit they listened to the fans and made changes, but they did so very quickly and some of the text dealing with the themes introduced during the rewrite feel somewhat rushed.  This is especially obvious in the reminders that only Heroes with low integrity hunt Beasts, though the fact that the devs made certain to leave high integrity Heroes in the world is significant, and I hope we get to hear more about them in the upcoming Beast Conquering Heroes.

Ultimately, Beast takes some profound risks, and in doing so creates a dynamic new corner of horror role-playing than many of us never knew existed.  There are areas of the game that need some judicious application of the Golden Rule, such as the persistence of the “Beasts Teach Lessons” idea among the Children, without any coherent Beast society to perpetuate this culture.  That said, some of my favorite White Wolf games have tapped into incredibly messy, yet fascinating narratives because they were willing to take risks, and they also required fairly liberal use of the Golden Rule to manage their rough edges, so Beast is in good company.  Finding a large enough group of players ready to discard any heroic impulses and embrace the endlessly powerful anxiety of Beastly existence is a tall order (and may well resign Beast to my eternal bucket list alongside Promethean), but I do feel it’s a unique game that breaks new ground not just for the horror genre, but gaming more broadly and it’s well worth exploring.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*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.

Into the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

From the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

torg

This week we’ll be going off on a bit of a tangent. I will be highlighting one of my favorite RPG’s from “back in the day.” This idea struck me as I saw both Jack Benners  Savage Worlds article and Jim’s Deadlands articles.  With the multitude of RPG’s out there, it is easy to lose track of what has come before. During the 1990’s a multitude of games would hit the markets. Some would be huge (Vampire: The Masqurade) some would cause controversy (Kult) and others would find a niche following that blossomed into cult status.
One of these later titles was TORG. TORG was originally an acronym for The Other Roleplaying Game. It was originally a tile used by the in-house development team. TORG was published by West End Games and came in a box set with the rulebook (pictured above), an Adventure book, and a Worldbook. As of 2016, Torg is under license to Ulisses Spiele. Plans for this new version of Torg will be released under the name Torg: Eternity. I am excited to see this updated both in rules and setting of the game.

 

The Setting

 

TORG is a pan-dimensional setting where different realities have invaded various parts of the earth. Per the cosmology of TORG, there are different cosm’s and each cosm is separate from every other cosm. That was until The Nameless One created different darkness devices. The Nameless One gave these darkness devices to different High Lords. Each High Lord has their own Darkness Device, each one different in design but all are Made of an obsidian material. The function of the Darkness Devices was to allow the High Lords to access the different Cosm’s and capture the possibility energy of each world.

When used to invade other cosms the darkness devices would open up gates leading back to the invading cosms home and begin to influence the invaded world changing it into a mirror of the invaders world. Thus a low tech, high magic cosm that was invading a high-tech non-magic cosm would find that their guns didn’t work most of the time, while the invaders had access to spells that worked, giving them an advantage.

 

Of the High Lords to get a Darkness Device one of the most prolific was The Gaunt Man. He is the High Lord of Orrosh, a Gothic horror realm with a Victorian setting. The Gaunt Man had successfully overtaken dozens of other cosm’s. Then he came across  Earth. What he found was that that Earth contained more potential than any other cosm he had previously discovered. He knew that he would not be able to take Earth alone. He set out to make deals with other High Lords and together they invaded parts of the Earth draining it of its possibility energy. The following are the starting realms for the game:

 

Core Earth– This is “our” Earth. This is the basic reality. Core Earth had slightly better tech than what one could find in the real world which also included access to faith based miracles and magic. To start, Core Earth had no High Lord, however the United States government was ruled  by a shadow cabal known as the Delphi Council.

 

Living Land – This was a Lost World style realm. Jungles, dinosaurs and low to nonexistent magic ruled this area. Centered in the United States on both the East and West Coasts, and a bit of Canada, this realm was ruled by humanoid dinosaurs. At the start of the game it was ruled by the HIgh Lord  Baruk Kaah. His darkness device was Rec Pakken, a large copse of trees.

 

Aysle – This was the “D&D” fantasy realm with high magic and low tech. It was centered in the United Kingdom. At the beginning of the game it is ruled by Uthorion in the body of Pella Ardinary. His darkness device is Drakacanus, a large crown

 

The Cyberpapacy – This was a cyberpunk setting messed with religion. Centered in France, it is ruled over by the Cyberpope Jean Malreaux I. Originally, a realm of jazzed up churches and religious artifacts it melded with a virtual reality on it’s way to invading earth giving way to the VR know as the Godnet.. Jean Malrequx’s darkness device is Ebenuscrux, a glowing cross both in reality and as a VX presence in the GodNet

 

Nippon Tech – This was an ultra-capitalist realm centered in Japan. Ruled over by 3327. This realm blended in so well at first that core Earthers didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late. 3327’s Darkness Device is Daikoku, a laptop computer

 

The New Nile Empire – This was the pulp hero realm ala Indiana Jones. Centered in Egypt it was ruled over by Dr. Mobius. Known for high tech “gadgets”. Dr. Mobius’s Darkness device is Kefertiri, a crocodile-headed idol.

 

Orrosh – This was the Victorian horrors setting. The name itself is an anagram of horrors. This realm was centered in Indonesia and ruled over by the Gaunt Man. The Guant Man’s Darkness device is Heketon, a stone heart

 

What made it different

Torg had a lot of things that set it apart in the over saturated market of the early 90’s. Among these were a ambitious living campaign, the multi-genre setting, and an innovative rules system including a drama deck of cards used in combat.

living-campaign

Living campaign

Torg attempted to do a living campaign right from the outset. Included in the original box set was an infiniverse guide explaining the state of the world and a form that players could mail into West End Games to let the publisher know how the players did. This in turn would influence the ongoing plot of the game world.

This was very ambitious in scope. So much so that while the Infiniverse campaign updates, one of which is pictured above were done throughout the run of the game. The idea of mailing in your updates fell off after about the first year.

what-made-it-different

The multi-genre setting

As covered above Torg had a very interesting setting that allowed for “cinematic style” games .Being able to play a magic slinger next to Doc Savage and do battle in a vampire crypt was great. No other game at the time (to my knowledge) was doing this.

 

Innovative rules system

Torg’s combat system was very interesting. For most conflict resolution you would roll a skill and look to hit a particular difficulty number. You would compare the number you rolled to a chart printed at the bottom of all character sheets. This number would be your bonus to your role. In addition to this if you rolled a 10 or a 20 you rolled again adding the rolls together. This is a mechanic that many games are implementing these days from AEG’s Legend of the Five Rings roll and keep system to Chronicles of Darkness exploding 10’s.

For me though, the best part of Torg was the drama deck. This was a deck of cards that were used in combat. It dictated many different things. From initiative to actions you could take, and even special plot points for characters to pursue.cards

This is an example of the a card one would get from the drama deck. The Orange top boarder was used for the GM. It told him what actions were available. The Grey side was for the PC to use. At the start of a session each player would get five cards. These could be used both in and out of combat.

The box set came with a set of drama cards and subsequent sourcebooks had more cards released with them. The drama deck assisted in bringing in the cinematic style of gaming Torg was aiming for.

 

Drawbacks

Torg did a lot right. The setting was compelling, the system as originally released was solid and different. The living campaign was ambitious and something not  done in pen and paper RPG’s at the time. That all being said, the game was not without its faults.

 

Chief among these were the lack amount of quality control with regards to the system. As the game line progressed core systems introduced in earlier books (including the original boxset) were thrown out and replaced with new rules sets and those in turn would be glossed over or simply ignored in other supplements.

 

The other two big issues Torg had to deal with were cross over ability between cosm’s and overtly anti-Japanese and anti-Catholic sentiments. The crossover ability stemmed from lack of support in published adventures and sourcebooks allowing for overtly customizable characters. For example, a pulp hero from The New Nile Empire that also had cypertech and knew how to cast magic would be left having to  house rule almost every aspect of their character.

 

The concern over anti-Japanese sentiment was raised due to the portrayal of Nippon Tech and the perceived view of Japan dominating U.S industries during the late 80’s and early 90’s. With the Cyberpapacy, perceptions were that the game had a anti-Catholic slant as well. West End Games did state that was not the intention behind either of these settings, however they continued to release product that many found distasteful.

 

In Conclusion

 

Torg was and is very entertaining. The overarching storyline still gives me ideas and I find myself wanting to try and run the entirety of the gameline. With the use of a very fun combat system in regards to both dice mechanics and the Drama deck the game moved very smoothly and upheld it’s cinematic style.

 

Even it’s faults from system, to tone to anti undertones of certain races or creeds can be seen as a product of the time they were a part of. This is not to say they are okay. Part of inclusiveness is the bad as well as the good. Torg’s cannon characters included a Priest that fought against the High Lords for example. The evolving rules perhaps could have been better suited to a full new edition. A 1.5 edition was released in the late 90’s though it didn’t make much impact nor did it fix many of the storyline issues.

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*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.