SOCIAL JUSTICE BARD WANTED

Project Opportunity

Conflict Resolution – Content Developer

Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is looking for a team of people to help develop our products. We are specifically looking for individuals interested in role-playing games with diverse backgrounds willing to invest their time and talent in a project that will help integrate creative problem solving techniques and conflict resolution principles. You will be working with the Editor-In-Chief to develop a handbook that provides guidance on how to integrate creative problem solving and non-violent conflict resolution techniques into role-playing games. The handbook will also detail a method of dialogue using role-playing games.

Qualifications

Current Student focused on Conflict Resolution or Conflict Resolution specialist
Writing/Content Development Experience must include the summary of complex concepts and making them easier to understand for a wider audience
Experience with formal Dialogue procedures


Background Desired

Experience with table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, FATE, Savage Worlds etc.
Women and people of color are particularly encouraged to submit their resume and letter of interest


Pay

We are looking for investors interested in supporting this project with their time and writing skill. I’m looking for a team willing to embrace this concept and help develop it by taking a risk. Once the handbook is developed we will be looking at crowd-funding options to print and distribute. Funds raised will go toward the printing of the books and paying the writers and artists that provide content.
Interested?
Please send resume and a short letter of interest to admin@keepontheheathlands.com If you would like to know more about the project and other related projects you can visit our website at www.keepontheheathlands.com

DEADLINE EXPRESS – DEADLANDS ISSUE 1

In 2001, I saw a book on the discounted shelf of my local game store, and stopped dead in my tracks.  There before me was the single best cover art I’d ever seen (true then, true now). An undead cowboy menaced viewers from the cover, one revolver held casually aloft, his coat draped open to reveal a panoply of lawmens’ badges, all drilled through with a bullet hole.  I did the most cursory flip through before purchasing it immediately.  I devoured the whole book in a single sitting, and was so enamored with the setting and system I didn’t even mind when I realized I’d purchased the first printing and had to go back and buy the second edition. What game was this? Deadlands.

deadlands-banner

 

Since then, Deadlands has been my go-to game.  I’m up to run it anytime, for anyone.  The books occupy the largest section of my RPG library, and it’s always the first suggestion I have when people ask me what new game system they should get into.  Although the game successfully transferred to the Savage Worlds system in 2006, I continued with the classic system. (It’s reasonably easy to do an approximate conversion between the two.) The game has continued with both plot continuity and developer continuity since its inception, and you will never find a more responsive and communicative developer than Shane Hensley.

 

With the 20th anniversary of the original release, I was thrilled to hear the announcement that Deadlands Classic would be given a re-release, with glorious new color artwork, in tandem with their latest plot point campaign book. My hope was that this might create a little more interest in the classic system for the game.  When Keep on the Heathlands told me I could write a regular segment, my first choice was a no-brainer.

 

If you’re not familiar with the setting, if you need a refresher, or if you’re trying to explain it to someone new, here’s the bare minimum you need to know:

It’s an alternative history game, but the history is largely our own.

200px-deadlandsThe game was set in 1876 when it was first released.  Various releases have advanced the timeline over the years, to 1882 in the most recent version. Until 1863, the history of Deadlands is, for all functional purposes, the same as that of the real world. So there’s less than two decades of ‘alternate’ history to worry about.

 

All the changes stem from a single event: in 1863, a supernatural cataclysm rocked the world.  The release of otherworldly power caused a titanic earthquake (shattering the coast of California) and releasing arcane forces back into the world which had been bottled up since the back half of the dark ages.

 

 

That’s right, magic is real.

Since the Reckoning (the events of July 4, 1863) magic and myth have returned to reality.  Dead men do not always stay dead. Monsters of legend have begun to creep out of the shadows, some newly spawned, and some merely coming out after centuries of hiding. Ancient books of sorcery, encoded into books of card games, have regained frightening power, which are now wielded by keen minded cardsharps. The forces of good have risen as well: the truly faithful among the world’s religions now find they can call down the power of their faith to protect themselves and mankind. Native American mystics can call upon their spirits in ways both tangible and terrifying. Arcane minerals unearthed during the earthquake have given rise to bizarre steampunk science, most of which fuels the ongoing Civil War.

 

History is still being made.

The largest plots in Deadlands are based on real history.  The Civil War grinds on in a gruesome stalemate.  Westward expansion, driven by the discovery of gold and ghost rock (the mineral which makes mad science possible), continues to shape current events. The transcontinental railroad continues construction, with even farther-reaching and bloodier conflicts than ever transpired in reality.  The Indian Wars continue as well; the magic’s of the Reckoning have leveled the playing field a great deal. The events that shaped the real American West continue to play out, augmented by a world where the dead rise and the shadowy forces behind the scenes seem to seek out the ugliest and barbaric course for history to follow, as though by malevolent design.

weird-west

It’s a true western.

The system has been designed beautifully to maintain a true western feel.  Shootouts, staredowns, and quickdraws mesh seamlessly into gameplay. Characters are easy to create and advance, and are task-effective from character generation, while still maintaining plenty of room to grow. There’s none of the clawing your way through mediocrity at first level you see in some game systems, and very little of the deific power at higher levels that tends to accompany such systems.  Characters are always useful, but at the same time will always be challenged. Perhaps best of all, there’s a strong emphasis on flawed characters.  Like all the best western protagonists from William Munny to Cullen Bohannon, you’re not only allowed, but encouraged, to create characters who are seriously flawed yet still capable of seeing the larger threats that have begun to menace humanity.

 

Your options are limitless.

In a true historical setting, there are a great number of restrictions on characters based on race, nationality, gender, and the like.  Deadlands has been written with this in mind, the changes in the social setting remove or ease these roadblocks to allow the largest amount of diversity possible.  Players who might not otherwise feel welcome in a western setting can still enjoy Deadlands without feeling like the GM is jumping through hoops to accommodate them. (More on this next time!)

 

Did you miss out on the Kickstarter for the 20th Anniversary release of the classic rules?  That’s okay!  There was a merchant option pledge tier available, so you’ll likely still be able to get a copy of the anniversary edition for some time.  Even if you can’t track one down, it remains available from Pinnacle in PDF format.

 

Keep your eyes peeled here, as well.  As long as Shane and the gang continue to bring us gunslingin’ western action, I’ll be here to toss my own drop in the bucket, as well as try to catch newcomers up to speed or even provide some alternative viewpoints for veteran saddle tramps.

 

Adios.

 

Jim Stearns is a one-armed gunslinger from the swamps of Southern Illinois.  In addition to the bi-weekly Ravenloft Corner at High Level Games, his mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World and Fitting In, both by Mad Scientist Journal.

Images are the Properties of Pinnacle and are used under Fair Use. We love Deadlands, and want to support them. Go and buy their books.

*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.

Pimenov Bloodline

prisma-grigori

Grigori seen in Maine circa 2001

Pimenov

I finally remember that peculiar smell that wafted into my nose as I was burned alive. It’s not something you expect to forget… but when you’ve lost your mind, and at least one body like I have… things are a little different.

We should never have left Siberia, or at least, we shouldn’t have tried to find the homeland of our grand-sires. Tatiana… Nicolai… Henri… gods, even that fool Kirov, all of them dead because of my fool need to know where we came from. The truth is, even if our blood did descend from Carpathian madness… we were nothing like them and nor are my new childer.

Grigori Pimenov took over an inn by devouring the blood and soul of Andrei, but worse, he became Andrei instead of staying Grigori. At the same time, Grigori became Vassily, an old beggar that would only slip through the streets late at night. It is hard to use I when remembering these things… my mind was shattered into these different bodies. Vassily forgot who Grigori was, Andrei was content that his inn was the best, no one could challenge him and all of them forgot they were one.

I’ve been thinking on this for a few years now. Do I call myself Grigori again, now that my mind has been brought together? Or do I choose a new name? Vassily was never a name I wished to keep, but it’s been with me the longest. It was the first I retrieved from Sofia. I don’t even remember all the different names any longer. Adam, or Mattescu, or Cecelia… names just fade away to reveal a scattering of simultaneous memory. Like a land of dreams, they all sit like a fog until I peel back the layers. The stories I know; the tales I could tell. When those around you see you as safe, as one of them… they tell you everything.

Pimenov Bloodline:

The Pimenov Bloodline are likely descended from the Tzimisce. Stories from Vildergohm (deep in the Carpathian Mountains) assign that clan to Grigori and his brood. However, they have been tainted by madness in a way that no other Tzimisce (other than perhaps the Eldest) are known to be afflicted. This madness comes from their mixture of the Dementation discipline, Auspex, and Vicissitude. The question comes up, who taught them Dementation? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Their particular mix of these three disciplines gave rise to some interesting usages. The Bloodline tends to stick together, with sires often embracing at least 3 companions… or perhaps splitting themselves into 3 personalities. There appears to be some similarities between the Blood Brothers and the Pimenov and it’s unclear if they are related in any way. Modern sightings of the bloodline place them in Washington, DC, Seoul, and southern Germany.

Disciplines:

Auspex, Dementation, Vicissitude

Bloodline Weakness: Pimenov are all afflicted with a Derangement that functions similarly to the Malkavian clan weakness. Due to their particular power set, forms of dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple-personality disorder), fugue, or other memory related Derangements tend to be the most appropriate.

Combination Disciplines:

Multiply the Mind:  Auspex 4, Vicissitude 4, Dementation 2: Multiply the Mind allows a Pimenov to create separate bodies for their various personalities. These bodies exist as completely separate beings from the time of their separation. Each personality continues to carry the Curse of Caine. A would-be diablerist cannot lower their generation without finding and devouring every personality.

System:

Creating a new body requires the expenditure of a permanent point of willpower, this willpower may not be repurchased through XP until the personality is reabsorbed. The new body must be fed within 5 minutes or experience frenzy. Each personality is considered 1 generation higher than the primary and this increases by 1 for every personality. For example: primary is 7th gen, first split is 8th, second is 9th, third is 10th. The new body has only the memories imparted by its particular personality and fabricates memories to fill out an entire life. Separated personalities may learn different disciplines apart from one another, but upon recombining the reformed Cainite will retain average rating of any discipline, rounded down. If any portion of the Pimenov is diablerized the primary Pimenov may still reacquire their knowledge through the subsequent diablerie of the diablerist. Each recombination requires a decision by the player to determine what path the various personalities will follow. This should be a storytelling moment. All Pimenov personalities may ghoul, and embrace. Any bonded beings are bonded only to their distinct personality, if that personality is reabsorbed, the bond dissolves as if their domitor had perished. The Pimenov can reabsorb any of their personalities at any time by being in direct physical contact and spending a point of blood. The merger takes at least 3 rounds. If a personality is sent to final death, it’s memories can also be reabsorbed if a significant portion of that body’s ash can be recovered and eaten.

This power costs 28 XP to learn.

WHO’s THE GM? SOCIAL CONTRACT 4

Social Contract 4: Who will be running the game if a Game Master (GM) is needed?

tabard

Welcome back, once again! This week the topic is all about that very important job. The job that not everyone wants to do. The one that for some people is shrouded in mystery and veiled by a screen. Of course, this is the role of the esteemed GM or Game Master. However, whether you refer to them as DM, GM, Storyteller, Judge, or any of the other long list of names it all comes down to the same thing. They run the game for the group. From setting up the plot, creating interesting situations on the fly, to not flipping out when things go off the road, the GM is a role with many hats.

Of course, that is, if a GM is even needed for your game. In these days GMless games are gaining in popularity and merit a look as well.

So, this week we shall break down what one is really getting themselves into when they sign on to be a GM, from a one-shot, to a campaign. As with other weeks I will intersperse examples in italics. Looking over the duties of a GM, what all is really needed? What exactly does this position entail?

Judge

judge

Like the esteemed Judge Reinhold , the GM must make quick and fair decisions on the fly with a strong regard for the rules.

This doesn’t mean they have to know all of the rules and I will tell you a little GM secret, listen closely now, we don’t know all the rules.

We don’t and that is okay. However, we DO need to understand them enough to interpret situations as they arise. Interpreting dice rolls and understanding WHEN to call for rolls is a large portion of a GM’s roll (ha!). This will be largely influenced by the game being ran.

D&D has a different way of handling things then say, Burning Wheel. In D&D, by the book will tell you that you need to roll for just about everything, if there is a CHANCE for failure. However, with that in mind, this works well for the D20 engine and that is an important thing to keep in mind. Many times I have heard the following conversation from groups:

I don’t like game X because it uses the X system and that system is bad.hero

This is a very basic way of determining if a system is good or bad. Look, I personally am not a fan of Hero System

That is MY personal preference. However, I can APPRECIATE what it does. With six editions under its utility belt it does what it does well and has a rabid fan base. The system allows you to create just about any kind of character you can think of. That is its goal, and in that, IT SUCCEEDS!

Why the short diatribe on this? Because, from a GM standpoint it helps to run a game you overall understand and feel comfortable with, as well as making sure it is something you ENJOY! When you enjoy a game, learning the rules and helping others to understand the rules will be easy. You will enjoy teaching the game to the group and that enthusiasm will show in the game in other ways as well.

So, know the rules. Use the rules. Know when not to use the rules, as well.

For some groups part of the first session (besides character creation) is going over the basic concepts for the game, usually rules and setting.

My friend Metal put together a powerpoint presentation for our group to go over and explain Hero System as none of us had ever played it, or even looked at it before. This allowed us all to understand how to make a character and get used to the game system.

So again, know the rules in depth. Not all of them. You never will, and that is okay, however, know them and understand them enough so that you can use them and discard them as needed.

Gameworld

Aside from knowing the rules, the GM will have to create the world and situations the players encounter. Some games have established settings and some don’t. This is really your first question. Will you run a pre-printed setting/module, run your own game within the established setting, or run your own setting all together?

This question isn’t really as daunting as it may at first seem. From a creative standpoint you will know if a published adventure or settings grips your imagination or if the rules make your imagination swim with possibilities.  In either case, the GM needs to make the world feel real and tangible to the players. They make the PC’s the center point of the story and have their actions produce consequences that will affect the world they inhabit.

This short section helped us setup the next, which is time spent prepping the game.

Prepping for the game

prepping

You have decided on the date, the time, the place, the game, the world, and spent time reading and learning the rules. Now you need to get the plot outlined and ready to run the game. How much is too much?

Let’s discuss that, shall we?

Before looking at this further I want to share something about how I prep for a game. I do this to show one way of doing things. There is no right or wrong way. Find what works for you and use it. For me it starts with the end; more specifically, a scene. I take that scene and figure out how to use it in a game. I then work backward from there. From that scene, I look for a good theme and mood to apply to the whole game.

The mood and theme help me to direct the story I want to tell and give me a focus to come back to once the game starts. KEEP THAT IN MIND!

NO AMOUNT OF PREP WILL SURVIVE THE PLAYERS. ALL OF YOUR HARD FRAUGHT WORK WILL COME TO NOTHING. In fact, Victor wrote about this a couple of weeks ago in his convention game write up

Keeping things honest here, I was the person who ran the Changeling game he mentions. I will come back to how I could have planned that better. (SORRY FOR THE FRUSTRATION ON THAT, VICTOR!). He also mentions that the Numenera game went off the rails when the GM’s plan for the plot escaped them.

So, to keep this at a minimum I plan a skeleton of a plot and have certain scenes that will happen. I think of these as set pieces rather than hard and fast things that have to go off as planned.

So, really the “prep” for a game will depend on your style. Different people plan differently. Like I mentioned above, I tend to have an overall framework for the story I want to tell. This goes for convention games as well. By not over-planning, I allow the players to really engage the world, and no matter what they do, my story can continue and hopefully the players all have a grand time.

Other GMs I know will have pages and pages of story and plot, and playing will be more reminiscent of the old classic Call of Cthulhu adventures.

This is a true “railroad” game.

cthulu

This is not a slight on CoC adventures. I LOVE Call of Cthulhu. However, it is a different game than what I normally run. Those who do run games like this have a very hard and fast plot that will happen no matter what. Players will find that they only a few real choices. Again, this is fine if that is the game your players have agreed to play.

My friend Ray ran a Star Wars game that was very much railroad in style. Now, we understood this going in, and to Ray’s credit, when we asked to have more freedom as a group, he gave us that freedom. He had full on handouts and backgrounds for all the NPC’s we would be interacting with, and a very detailed knowledge of the worlds we visited. It was impressive.

On the other hand; unlike my skeleton plot points and Ray’s handouts, there is my friend Bob.

Bob is currently running our group through a Burning Wheel game. Bob will let an idea sit and percolate for a long time. Like a year. He will jot down notes as they come to him. From there, he will then do a character creation session to get the players roles set up for his story. With that done, his real prep is complete. The week to week prep is really just noting 4 scenes he wants to try to work into the game. It takes him all of 5 minutes. It is truly amazing to see him do it.

As you can see, these are very different ways to prep and set up a game. All of which are perfectly legitimate ways to work the GM magic. The point here is to know how much time *you* as the GM will need to put into the game from getting the basic ideas running around in your old hamster wheel onto paper and all the way to getting to that climactic showdown with the adversary and the aftermath.

So, to GM means putting in extra time and effort and keeping up with the ongoing story. It is a demanding role, to be sure. However, it is one that is also incredibly rewarding. Next week we’ll wrap this whole thing up with a discussion on how to make sure the topics covered in the game are not offensive, while still being true to the theme and mood that the GM is trying to bring to the game.

As always please comment and let me know your thoughts either bad or good. Let’s get a good discussion going, and of course, thanks for reading!

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.

GUEST REVIEW MET WEREWOLF 2016


So a quick history: White Wolf published a LARP (Live Action Role Play) variant of their Old World of Darkness (oWoD) series in the early and mid-90s dubbed Mind’s Eye Theater (MET). By Night Studios (BNS) recently acquired the right to make new LARP materials from oWoD and have set out to create newly revamped systems that are based today  incorporate more recent societal themes. This is a review  of their newest book in this reimagining, Werewolf:The Apocalypse.

                                                                   The Story

werewolf-cover

All Images Used are the Property of By Night Studios, White Wolf, and their Respective Owners, they are used here under fair use, any concerns please alert us ASAP

In the original setting, the world ended around 2000. To allow for the game to be more modern, BNS had to work from the point where the world would have ended, forward, and continue to build the world. This was a monumental job that could have fallen flat if they had gone in the wrong direction. Instead, they hit it out of the ballpark.

The story moving in to the current era is plausible, interesting, and makes for a large amount of story hooks for any storyteller. The feeling of something akin to an Apocalypse happening was preserved. At the same time, the authors moved both the game and the setting forward. I feel the most impressive thing they did was characterizing the cyber generation, especially in a game historically defined by hatred of technology (and sometimes progress). The inclusion of two political factions (The Concordat of Stars and the Sanctum of Gaia) working both together and against one another while fighting the same war also adds a new angle that storytellers can use if heavy meta-politics are their players’ jam.

Most importantly to me, some of the tribes have moved forward to become fully fleshed out, living groups of people. Black Furies accept all women and cubs of both genders born to the tribe, the Wendigo aren’t solely just angry native people, and in general, the setting incorporates globalization of our culture in a very appropriate and respectful way. I’m not saying that if you hadn’t dug deeper in to those tribes I mentioned before you wouldn’t have found life and spark, but this is an area where I feel the previous LARP books did a disservice. I feel like BNS went above and beyond to truly give new players a glance in to a living, breathing cultural organization of people, especially ones with more sensitive themes.

Mechanics

If you are familiar with rock-paper-scissors, you can play this game. Mechanically not much is changed from BNS’s MET: Vampire: the Masquerade (VtM). You have test pools determined by your sheet, you throw rock-paper-scissors, you compare your results and then things happen. Some elements are new, but if you are familiar with the other book, this book is an almost seamless transition. It’s also obvious that this is BNS’s second book, because concerns with MET: VtM have either been corrected or elaborated upon (backgrounds, etc.).

The only mechanic that is truly new, and I feel makes the game stand out from its companion, is the Quest System. Players develop a Quest, work together to determine requirements, and then, regardless of success or failure, collectively create a shared narrative. This emphasizes player cooperation and agency, while reducing storyteller stress. It’s a great example of a system promoting positive play and I am very impressed with it. I have heard a lot of Vampire storytellers that want to incorporate it in to their game and I look forward to that.

Relevance to New and Old Playersrokea

I would like to preface this section with the fact that BNS talked with the community at large about what they liked and disliked about Werewolf, and it’s pretty obvious that they took those suggestions to heart in their development of the new book. They made a lot of changes to make the game more palatable, easier to run, and easier to play.

My old group of players has an adage. “Forget what you knew before, read through the book and that’s what you have.” There is a lot of difference between the original Werewolf and this one. But these changes aren’t bad, especially considering the backstory of the book. If you like Werewolf, you’ll definitely find the old Werewolf you love deep inside the heart of this book, as well as a whole new world to explore

For newer players, this book is a great introduction to the genre. With the inclusion of definite mechanics and story hooks that allow for inexperienced players to play as Kinfolk (the human relatives of werewolves), and Cubs (newly changed werewolves), and also to become actively involved in the story, even as low powered creatures (I’m looking at you Den Mother), even the greenest oWoD player can truly become involved and captured by the system and story. Don’t try and read the whole thing in one sitting though.

Storytellers are given a lot of information and a lot of meat to sink their fangs in to. The Umbra section alone could be an entire 5 year chronicles. This makes the book great for someone trying to run a game, especially if paired with its sister book, Vampire the Masquerade. There are 750+ pages of pure information to sink your teeth into and you have all the time in the world to get to know it.

Art:

This needed its own section. The art is amazing, representative, evocative, and while the style may be slightly strange at first, it meshes well. There are depictions of strength and serenity in both genders. It’s some great stuff.

skin-dancerBut… it’s not perfect.

My major gripe is that there are firmly more depictions of men than women (by a factor of maybe ¼ from a quick count through the book) and there are a few ‘sexy poses’ that women are in that you don’t see the men paralleling (I’m looking at you page 735). There’s nothing wrong with sexy, but similar poses could have been employed in some of the male images. Also the bewildered and bored look that the two women in the Pentex scene respectively have (page 610) hurt my soul a little bit compared to the businesslike and serious look the men have.

These seem like petty gripes, but I hold BNS to high standards in regards to being open and accommodating to the community, and art is one of the major ways that the gaming community has majorly failed to do this in the past.

Overall, the art is stunning, and despite these issues the full color renderings of them make me want an art book with more.

Portability:

So there is one Were-Elephant in the room I’d like to address. The original LARP books were small and portable. This book is not. While the 750+ pages are absolutely glorious and give you all the information you could ever need, it’s also a monster of a book. There are ways around this (printing and creating subsection binders, e-readers, etc.), but those are hoops that the consumer has to jump through themselves. Also, the size does seem to mess with certain e-readers and PDF readers, so a B&W option of the pdf at some point in the future would be appreciated.mourning

Final Verdict

This is an amazing book. It’s a great re-imagining of Werewolf that addresses and deals with a large amount of the issues that the community was vocal about. It’s obvious that the two years of work that both BNS and the community put in to it have paid off and I feel like this is definitely going to revitalize a once dying subset of the LARP community. They have taken a part of oWoD that I loved but was always hesitant to suggest due to problematic issues in the original source material and morphed it in to something I would suggest to most, if not all, of my LARPing friends to try out at least once.

 

 

Will Martin has been LARPing since college and has found no reason to stop yet and is quite fond of being able to watch the age where the art of gaming has become more self-aware and critical of itself. This is accented by his job working in Public Health with a focus on underprivileged communities. Currently he is the head Storyteller for a yet to be named Werewolf LARP out of Washington DC, run through Underground Theater.

*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.

Let’s Talk about This Con Game Thing Part 3: The Challenges of Running Public Games

Part 1, Part 2
ChangelingIn my last article I discussed the difficulties of planning a con game that tackles difficult subject matter in a responsible way while creating a welcoming environment where everyone is comfortable voicing any concerns or boundaries they have related to the game.  Ironically, of the two games I ran at Valor Con, it was not the Wraith game where I ran into these dynamics.  It was during the Changeling game, which acted as a prequel to the Wraith session, I ended up running into a player’s boundaries, much to my surprise.

My Changeling game was set in 1925 Chicago during the opening of the Uptown Theatre cinema palace.  This is a significant moment in Chicago history during the escalation of tension between Al Capone’s gang, The Chicago Outfit and the Northside Gang, which was Capone’s primary opposition at the time.  Chicago was embroiled in an all out gang war after arranging the assassination of the Northside Gang’s leader a year prior.  There was nowhere entirely safe from the violence spilling into the streets.  However, despite the violence, Uptown was relatively peaceful.  At the time, Uptown was the primary entertainment district of Chicago.  It was home to the Arcadia Ballroom and skating rink, the Green Mill jazz club, which was larger in 1925 than it is today, and the Riviera theatre.  As magnificent as the district was, its peak was still years off.  The Uptown Theater, the largest cinema palace in the country was opening on Broadway and the expansive Aragon ballroom was already under construction across the street from the Lawrence el stop.

Original Ad from the Uptown Theatre's Opening Night

Original Ad from the Uptown Theatre’s Opening Night

One of the many reasons all of these entertainment venues were able to flourish is both gangs loved the nightlife and they knew if their war spilled into Uptown and the adjacent neighborhood of Edgewater, where visiting performers were housed, then their night life would fall apart.  If you can’t enjoy the spoils of your illegal empire then what’s the point after all?  The opening scene of my game has the players in the Green Mill, and as it’s a one shot I broke one of my personal ST rules and went for a simple quest giving dynamic.  The local “ruler” among the Fae, a mostly kindly, but terrifyingly powerful Boggan told the characters about a plot to destroy the Uptown theatre on it’s opening night.  He suspected the RedCaps in the Northside gang were involved, but he couldn’t prove it and he had to stay in the Green Mill to keep the peace.

This was the setup I had scripted in advance, and I really didn’t think there would be any particularly problematic aspects of this story.  I generally follow my players lead in terms of tone and boundaries and didn’t think I’d run into any problems as long as I stuck to that approach.  The first question of the night was posed by the one female player at the table, who chose the Pooka I based off of Josephine Baker.  She wanted to know if there were any RedCaps in the Green Mill, when I confirmed that there were, she decided to to team up with the female Sidhe in the group and attempt a seduction roll to try and get some information out of them.

This point in the flow of the game demonstrated to me that “following my player’s lead” doesn’t work nearly as well when I don’t know my players.  I decided to take the opportunity to perform a little bit and put on my best best gangster flirting with a girl in a club.  These were unseelie RedCaps, so I went for hardline trope as opposed to subtle.  The NPC wanted to get the two PCs to go over to the Arcadia Ballroom (my attempt at giving them a hook into the next scene) and do some dancing.  Josephine (I’ll use her character name from here on out for convenience and anonymity) immediately cringed at my performance.  I gave the exchange a line or two more before it was definitely clear that she didn’t know what to say and was uncomfortable acting out this dynamic.  So I immediately dropped character and affirmed that they were supposed to be pretty disgusting unseelie RedCaps, and not a representative of anything desirable.  Josephine seemed happier when I dropped the hard rp approach and she said she didn’t want to go dance with them, but really just wanted to get info from them.  So I said “That’s cool, I’m not going to make you LARP through this.  You can throw a Charisma+Expression roll to try and get the information you need out of them.

Archival Shot of Josephine Baker

What is a Pooka to do when the ST goes off course?

Once I changed my approach the rest of the session went very well, but in the back of my head I realized I had made a huge assumption thinking the Changeling game wouldn’t have the same sorts of dynamics my Wraith game had, especially given the genre it was set in.  At the end of the session Josephine thanked me for running and seemed to have legitimately enjoyed the experience.  She had a couple stellar character moments (one right after the exchanged described above), but unfortunately she had another session that started right as ours was ending. I wanted to chat with her and ask her about that moment and see if she would have liked me to handle it differently but I was not able to have that exchange due to her tight schedule.  For future con games I will likely hand out a link to a Google Form so players can give me feedback even if there isn’t time after a session, or they aren’t comfortable being critical in person.

When you run a game for yourself and your friends you have a good sense of what your boundaries will be, and it’s easy when running a public game to use that experience as a map for what territory you should approach delicately.  The truth of the matter is public games are much more fraught, especially with a setting like the World of Darkness that emphasizes a decayed world filled with all manner of horrors.  Had I been in a session with someone who wasn’t as expressive, or who had learned to hide their feelings on topics like this one I may not have noticed that I needed to change my storytelling approach and left one or more of my players feeling unsafe or unwelcome at my table.  An incident like that could also easily have run afoul of the ValorCon standards of behavior, which I am very happy to say are quite comprehensive.

Looking back at my experiences running both games I am glad things got close to running off the rails without actually running off the rails in my Changeling game because it served as a solid lesson on the dynamics of public play.  I am spending the next few months cleaning up the mini modules I created so I can use them at future cons and I will be including a disclaimer on my Changeling module that is similar, if slightly different in scope to the one in the Wraith writeup.  Despite seeing reminders in countless White Wolf books about negotiating boundaries before playing one of their games it is a very easy step to forget, but an important one not to.

The Tabletop Floor at ValorCon

The Tabletop Floor at ValorCon

Planning and running a game in a public space with unknown players is every bit as dynamic and invigorating as I describe in the first installment of this con game series.  As with all public narrative it is also a more delicate dynamic than telling stories around your table at home, and should be approached more carefully.  I highly recommend finding a way to run a few public games if you generally wear the storytelling hat.  Just remember to set a stage for your players where they feel like you took the time to learn about their boundaries, and feel comfortable letting you know if those boundaries are being pushed.  As Game Runners we aren’t just playing these games.  We are introducing new people to our favorite worlds, and we want that experience to draw them back again in the future.

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.

SUPPORTING INCLUSIVITY IN GAMING

werewolf-coverLast Thursday I received my advance PDF of Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this post was informed by some preliminary reading of that book which made me happy with some of what the writers addressed. The rest of this post will not exclusively be about By Night Studios, but I want to call them out for moving things in the right direction and striving to be one of the more inclusive gaming companies on the market. I think this comes from the form of gaming in question. In some ways, LARP is an atmosphere where inclusivity, and safety, are much more present. You have larger groups, and often groups engaged in physical storytelling.

I got asked the other day what inclusivity in gaming means to me.

Inclusivity means having a game world that reflects reality in its diversity. Inclusivity means an openness to thought, to writing, to characters that walk a spectrum of identities. Inclusivity means a game culture that welcomes players and encourages them to engage in world building in a self-reflective way, but also in a way that acknowledges a plurality of vision about the purpose of gaming. Inclusivity means trying to find a way to engage, support, and empower any player that walks through the door, if their goal is to support the collaborative process.

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Borrowed from Dreadful Games

Storytelling and gaming are essential elements of our being. When I engage in stories that challenge my perceptions, that encourage me to think, to expand, to reflect, that is what I search for. I want everyone to have that chance, to be included if they want to be included. I want anyone that picks up a book I write, or a plays a game I play, to feel like they could make that their core pastime. Collaboration requires maneuvering with, and for people. Inclusivity embraces that challenge with the goal of trying to open the door so that all people, voices, and thoughts are heard, considered, and added to the collective memory, the shared myth.

Inclusivity in gaming is a process that can start from the ground up, or, from the top down. What, in this case, do I mean by top down? I’m talking about from the game company themselves. From choosing writers, to tapping artists, all the way up to developers, a desire for and a strong commitment to inclusivity impacts their games in ways that ripple throughout their fan communities. That isn’t to say the job of inclusivity is only on the developer side, but they have a role to play. (hah, no pun was intended but I’m going to keep it now I’ve noticed it)

Actions both subtle and obvious help to encourage an atmosphere of inclusion in a game. Let’s run through a few of them.

PRONOUN USAGE: White Wolf was one of the first companies to use the female pronoun in their books. This is one of those subtle decisions that can have a huge impact. Having she sets the tone that women, just as much as men, can be the standard gender for roles in the World of Darkness. That was 1991, and a pretty big deal in that day and age. Today using she is less trendsetting, and is still powerful. At the same time, using gender neutral and gender ambiguous pronouns can indicate an attitude of acceptance of all gender identities, both for players and for characters. If reading through a book and a signature character is a 3-dimensional figure who happens to be gender queer as part of their identity, it represents some of the diversity within our world.

SAFETY AND CONSENT RULES/STANDARDS: Consent is an important part of the social contract of gaming. Players consent to sit around your table, or embody characters in LARP, and they need to continually be provided the option to opt-in or out of story elements that could hurt them as players. By Night Studios is doing well in this department, in the MET Vampire book this concept is treated with respect and given decent coverage. In Werewolf? They’ve done even better, pages 19-20 cover several concepts that are essential to supporting player safety and encouraging behavior that ensures it. They discuss Bleed, Personal Responsibility, Sportsmanship, and techniques of storytelling that support player comfort like Fade to Black and Time Stops. For those of us who have been around the LARP world for a while we’ve seen a lot of discussion on these things, and it is essential to have them front in center in a game book.

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Kadira by Bryan Sime: From Ki Khanga

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGES: Recently Wizards of the Coast received some soft praise for having one of their signature characters be a black woman. This is good, and needs to continue. What is also praise worthy is that the character is wearing, basically, sensible armor. There is also the awesome new game, Ki Khanga which is set in a fantasy world based on Africa. Games like this, and games that incorporate honest representation are part of the process to make games more inclusive. Representation matters, just as with gender, characters with similar looks and ethnic identities to players help to give them role models. They also give players with different identities a chance to see awesome characters that do not look like them, which I believe has an impact on how people are seen in one’s day to day life as well.

SUPPORT FOR PLAYERS WITH DISABILITIES: This I feel, is at times the area that we have the most opportunity for growth and development of new strategies for support. One of the concerns I’ve had with the newer White Wolf books is their size. These books are 500, 600, 700 pages long in one volume. I struggle to hold him in my hands and this is due to a very moderate problem with grip, probably caused from my military service. Thankfully I have pdfs and other electronic versions of these books I can read as well, but it would be amazing to have some other technology to support our gamers with other disability concerns. Some of this is built into our new devices, but that only goes so far. I’d like to hear some feedback on what sort of devices, support, or ideas could help in this area.

Here is my take-away. We are doing better as a community, partly due to the benefit of Kickstarter and other forms of crowd-funding that allow for smaller projects to get off the ground. We can do better, though. That should not be taken as a critique, just a fact, we can always do better, we can always work to be compassionate and supportive and inclusive and we should always strive to be so. What games do you think are the most inclusive? How do you ensure a sense of inclusivity in the games you create or the games you play?

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

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

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS CON GAME THING PART 2 THE CHALLENGES OF PLANNING PUBLIC GAMES

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Part 3, Part 1
In my last article on con games I talked about my experiences playing at Gen Con, and designing two con game modules with a focus on making them approachable to new players at Valor Con.  I’ve talked a lot about the fun, exciting aspects of the con game format, but con games also come with some very unique challenges that I think are worth exploring.  The con game format turns the subject of the Social Contract between gamers that is being explored in depth in Scott E. Vigil’s series on the subject on its ear, and much of that is connected to these specific challenges.

Scott talks in his last article about finding a space that’s acceptable to everyone, and choosing a game that everyone wants to play.  At a con game all of those questions are swept away.  The con tells you where you will be playing, likely including a specific table assignment.  Whoever submitted the session pitch to the con decides what game will be played.  This person may or may not be the storyteller.  So in many ways the social contract for these games is templated and packaged for you when you take part in a con game.  One of the topics Scott mentions in his first Social Contract of Gaming article was very much in play at my Valor Con games though, “Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the role-playing setting?”.

There is a lot of talk in all corners of the internet about representation in media, both the need for more representation, and the damage that can be done by poor representation of groups that have a history of being stigmatized by negative stereotypes and systematic oppression.  The tension between representation and quality representation weighed much more heavily on me than it normally does when I’m planning a game.  The potential for sloppy representation to cause damage either through someone feeling unwelcome at my table, or by reinforcing a negative stereotype, albeit unintentionally with a completely random group of players is significantly higher than with the troupe I usually play with.  I know my friends well and have an understanding of how they will engage with my content.  At Valor Con, I was walking into a situation where I would be running Wraith: The Oblivion, which is one of the darkest games I have ever played, with a completely unknown group of players.  As I developed my modules, the complexity of these dynamics became abundantly clear to me.

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

For readers who are not familiar with Wraith, you play ghosts who are still tethered to Earth by some form of unfinished business, which is a classic theme in ghost stories from several different cultures.  The society of the dead though, is something entirely unique to Wraith, and poses a series of significant problems for the type of game I wanted to run.  Wraith society is based on an economy of souls.  There is a vibrant slave trade, and the vast majority of “physical” items in the underworld are made of smelted down souls.  While it appears at first glance that this is cheap shock horror, there are very compelling reasons for this atrocity, and the game is deeply founded in inspecting the human potential for atrocity in high definition, and really grappling with it.

I am the only person in my immediate gaming circle who has ever run Wraith for more than a few sessions, so I know the lore fairly well, and I love it dearly because I love stories that shine a stark unflinching light on the darkness inherent in the human soul and don’t give into the aggrandizement of “humanity”.

I wanted to set the game in my neighborhood of Uptown, Chicago because Valor Con has a very strong local Chicago brand and I wanted to incorporate that brand into my games.  Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in America, except for Uptown.  In a city where almost everyone lives around other people who look more or less like they do, Uptown stands out as a diverse neighborhood with representations from a variety of nationalities, sexualities, and economic classes  This is a big part of why I love living in Uptown as much as I do and I really wanted to highlight my neighborhood.  I wanted to tell a story about Wraiths from the different generations, and communities that have built Uptown into the neighborhood it is, and who have connections to major changes in Uptown’s history.  There is a large African immigrant community in Uptown and I was halfway through making the character I wanted to represent the local African Diaspora community when I stopped typing and thought about the core themes of Wraith and how they could very problematically interact with an African character.  This was the weekend before the convention and there was no way I had the time to redesign everything before the Con.

uptown-theater

The inside of the Uptown Theatre reminds us what the shadowlands must be like.

My game focused very specifically on soulforging and the commodification of souls that is common in the underworld.  I wasn’t playing with the themes in Wraith that half justify those actions because no one is entirely good or evil in the Underworld.  I was approaching soulforging and the Thrall slave trade as intrinsic evils, but I was still incredibly concerned about the story I was about to tell.  I decided that I didn’t want to back away from the core themes of Wraith or accurate representation of Uptown because I was walking into difficulty territory.  It was time to hold myself accountable to telling this story, even in a public venue like a game con properly.  So the first thing I did was put a content warning at the top of the setting writeup that read:

wraithoblivion2ndlogoThis is a game that deals with incredibly dark societal themes.  It is fundamentally a game about the atrocity that lives deep in the human soul and can never be truly excised, it can at best be vigilantly managed.  These themes include slavery, murder, xenophobia, and a literal commodification of the human spirit.  I tried very hard to balance representing the myriad communities of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where this session will be set, against those themes in an honest and respectful way, while leaning into the full atrocious horror that defines Wraith.  I am open to critical feedback of areas where that goal might not be fully realized in these writeups, or in how the session ends up playing out.  Please know that if you read the rest of this setting and the character writeups and would rather not engage in this session that is fine.  If you want to engage, but would rather I downplay certain themes I am also 100% fine with that conversation as I feel it is essential to any positive Wraith experience.

I know some people are not fans of content warnings, and I don’t want to open that whole conversation here, but in a con game setting where people want to have fun, and by the nature of the format may not know anything about the games they are sitting down to play, I feel this kind of notice about the primary themes being tackled is appropriate.  This also made it clear to my players that I welcomed them bringing up concerns as the game session went on.  When we sat down to play the game I explained the specific thematic juxtaposition I was concerned about.

I also went through my session plan before the con and made sure I wasn’t aligning the themes related to the commodification of human soul with my PC’s identity as a Black woman.  While there were abductions, and soulforging of clearly unwilling victims in the game, they did not reflect any particular racial makeup, and as I opened my game session with a frank conversation about the themes I would be exploring, I felt I had prepared the most inviting space I could for this kind of horror session.  I was entirely prepared to improv changes to the setting if anyone felt uncomfortable.  As it turns out, no one did.  We had a dynamic session, where the diverse relationships the characters had with the story and the setting came into play surprisingly well for a one shot game.  It is worth nothing, the players ended up being all white men, but they were all very positive about the fact that I opened the game the way I did, and I received good feedback on how I structured the session.

Ironically, despite the content being seemingly less fraught than the Wraith game, I ran into more tricky game dynamics in my Changeling session than I did in my Wraith session.  My Wraith game ended up being an excellent example of how to plan navigating difficult content in advance.  In my next article I will talk about my Changeling session and how I went about navigating unexpected player discomfort mid-session, and what I will be doing differently in future con games based on that experience.

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.

HOW THE DARKNESS CAN LEAD US TO THE LIGHT

Preface to this article. I started this in the hours after I left The Grand Masquerade, and finished working on it after reading extensive responses in the community discussing our interview with White Wolf and the Keynote and Q&A at The Grand Masquerade.

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What is the value of darkness? Darkness teaches us to value the light.

 What is the value of difficult literature? It teaches us things about ourselves, as human beings.

What is the value of media that addresses dark themes? It can teach us about a side of life we do not witness. It can teach us about lives unlike our own at every level.

These questions and answers are at the core of what the World of Darkness can teach us, if we let it. I want to preface this article with this, we need to be sensitive to everyone involved in discussions surrounding themes in WoD games. Player comfort and safety, and consent to address dark, mature themes are essential. That being said, I might pose more questions than answers here and I want to help encourage a healthy dialogue.

I would hesitantly say the goal of role-playing in the World of Darkness is to generate an understanding of the dark things that occur in our world, and to find ways to address that darkness and ways to change our world. Vampire is essentially a game of immortal parasites that dominate and leech off humanity. By playing one of these monsters we can see the dark aspects of our society reflected back to us. If I play a woman in these games, if those games are run by a sensitive storyteller, I can hopefully begin to understand some of the layers of systemic sexism inherent in the real world. I will never be an expert on that experience, and such a thing should not be played for *shock* factor, but it can have deeper impacts. These games may be one stage in understanding, perhaps a strong first step into embracing feminism and striving to make the world a more gender equal place. By addressing gender inequality, in a place that is safe (with fellow gamers that I trust to respect my consent) I can find tools to identify actions or thoughts I take that tacitly support the sexist world we live in.

self-reflection

Some players don’t want to play games that address societal faults. They enjoy other aspects of Vampire’s mythology, they like the clan politics, or monster’s hiding in the darkness of society. Whatever it is about Vampire, they like the game, they enjoy spending time in the World of Darkness. This style of play is totally understandable. Not everyone looks to games as literature. Like enjoyable fiction, sometimes you read something because the story is fun, it makes you smile, perhaps it makes you excited. The World of Darkness can be played in both ways.

white_wolf_publishingWhite Wolf’s new leadership says they want to create books that address the first style, they want to write books that address the darkness in the World of Darkness. They also want to support players that choose either style of play. Are these goals incompatible? I, for one, don’t think so. White Wolf wants to create books that can be used to run games that are fun, or self-reflective, or both. They want to engage writers that are looking to explore elements of the world that they know intimately. By doing so, they can hopefully create a true reflection of the power of their experiences. At the same time, for those gamers who wish to play for fun, they will have materials that are truer to life, alive with those experiences and that will reflect in the games played. By providing the best material, all of us gain.

I personally think we, as people, have to challenge ourselves if we wish to grow. We can use a lot of various media to work this growth. We can read works by great authors, we can watch great movies, and we can play great games. Great games allow us to learn skills we can apply to our world. There is academic evidence to suggest that gamers either have more or gain empathy skills from gaming. At the same time, I believe gaming can be used as an effective method to perform inter-cultural dialogue. Gaming, in my humble opinion, can be a force of individual and cultural benefit. Sometimes the method to that growth is through the darkness of the world. Yet, darkness is not the only element of the World of Darkness.

Iconoclasm, Punk, and Anarchist mentality are also themes in Vampire the Masquerade. Why? Because they are methods of challenging the status-quo. In the World of Darkness, we see a world run by the patriarchy (in this case immortal or with powerful magic), entrenched in systemic racism, mired in conflict on every side, we have a world beset by severe income inequality, and a devastated ecology. At the same time, many Vampires have tossed mortal concerns around gender roles, Avatars choose Mages regardless of social status, Werewolves exist of every race. These characters have the ability to challenge the systemic problems of the world.the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

These themes, though changed to some degree, have not left our world since 1991, when Vampire first addressed them. I would argue, as others have, that White Wolf games were essentially subversive at heart. They sought to dismantle the constructs of the world we live in, by making some of the worst aspects of our world stark. I wouldn’t say these elements were eliminated in later editions, but they were tempered, they were certainly more nuanced. Understanding the underlying reality of those themes is important in our modern world, we need to understand how to challenge the status-quo, how to stand up against oppression, and how to advocate for positive change. The World of Darkness can help teach us effective methods of doing so.

At the same time as investigating darkness to understand light, we need to be cognizant of individual player buy-in and acceptance of the topics being addressed. How do we work with darkness, even playing elements of the darkness with respect to real player backgrounds? Consent. Consent is integral to running White Wolf games. If your players want to play a game that only peripherally touches on the darkest themes in the World of Darkness, LISTEN to them. If a woman at your table says stop, stop. If a man in your LARP asks not to run a scene with rape involved, listen to them, fade-to-black, ask for feedback and adjust where appropriate. If you have a player that wants to explore their gender identity, find ways to do so with respect and with their investment.

One way to do this well is to ask for feedback ahead of time before you run plots. For example, I recently asked my players if they wanted to move our Dark Ages game a few years in time in between sessions. I did this to get a feel for what they wanted. They didn’t want a time jump, they still have things they want their characters to learn and do. This helped me to develop the next 5-10 game sessions (give or take). This wasn’t an issue of dealing with dark elements, but it is a good example of how to work with your players to give them an experience you enjoy facilitating and that reflects their gaming interests.

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I will do this with other aspects of the game, as well. If I wanted to run a plot where the characters have to kill an entire family (a possibility in the Medieval era), or a plot where children were killed, I would check with the players to ensure that such a plot would not be a surprise and would not cause any trauma related triggers. I ended up running a side scene with one player where I had initially planned to have his ghoul betray him. Both characters are young, both around 12, one a vampire and the other his childhood friend who he had ghouled. The ghoul felt his friend was putting himself in danger, and though he was betraying him, it was for his best friend’s safety. However, the emotional intensity of the scene between player character and NPC changed my mind. There was too much power in keeping their bond strong, in ensuring that no betrayal occurred. I knew some of the needs of this player, and I know a bit of his personal history and I’m glad we chose the route we did. This scene created a powerful resonance for my player, who thanked me for the scene later. There were still very dark elements of this scene, horror, danger for friends loved and loved deeply, but it didn’t cross over into a territory that would have hurt my friend.

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During Grand Masquerade, fans made it clear that they want more representation in White Wolf game products. They want sensitivity in dealing with dark storylines and themes, and they want players to feel welcome playing games in the World of Darkness. Particularly in LARP, because of concerns for player safety in the LARP community. From my perspective, White Wolf is listening, but I think we are in a sensitive era in the gaming hobby, and this has caused some strong emotion to boil to the surface. This emotion is not a negative thing. This emotion is a call for us all to take these concerns seriously and ensure that darkness is not simply inserted for some misunderstood shock attempt.

wod-gypsiesIn our recent interview with White Wolf, Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller of the new White Wolf, stated his interest in re-investigating one of the most controversial of books ever produced by White Wolf, World of Darkness: Gypsies. However, Martin’s comments about wanting writers to write about topics they know should illuminate some of his deeper thinking. He mentions perhaps calling the new book, Opre Roma. This is an alternative name for the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem and has been used as a rallying call by Roma movements for equality and representation in Europe. Some have expressed concern about rewriting a book that has a lot of negative implications and has been fairly accused of othering a people that have experienced severe and consistent discrimination.
That being said, if White Wolf can investigate the history of the Roma in Europe, using the lens of the World of Darkness to show their common humanity and to help understand how they have been persecuted over the years, isn’t this something that could be beneficial? I think we can see that there is value about writing what one knows, and if White Wolf can engage a writer or writers of Roma descent who are interested in producing a book that encourages understanding of the Roma, I’m all for giving it a try.

The World of Darkness has had 25 years to make an impact on role-playing. I think it has done so. I won’t say that White Wolf is the only reason that we now have deeper themes in gaming, but their emergence into the world of gaming 25 years ago helped to create the gaming landscape we have today. White Wolf is waking up from torpor, there are a lot of great ideas hiding in the darkness still and we have much to learn before we can step into a world that is more light than dark. For now, let’s strive together to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other by looking at the darkest element of our lives. Let us examine the darkness and find it within ourselves, and root it out.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

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

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 3: WHAT GAME WILL THE GROUP RUN?

Welcome back! Last weeks article! This week we finally cover the all-important question of what game the group will sit down and play. For me this mainly comes down to knowing the amount of player “buy-in” that each person is willing to give for the game. This buy-in will vary between each game. Some games require more than others. Each game has the same basic types of buy-in:

games

So many games so little time

  • What game are we going to run?
  • Cost of the game.
  • Prep time for both GM and Player
  • Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the game

Let’s break down each of these four points and see what each means in terms of buy-in.

As always I will give examples in italics with regards to my home groups.

What game are we going to play?

 

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this week’s topic on the Social Contract. What game will we play? This will depend on group preference. With so many genres and different styles to choose from it’s easy to get lost in the sheer vastness of games currently available. In fact, let me break it down like this. Let’s look at three generic genres and I will give a list under each for five types of games. The three genres we will use will be very generic but the games under each will vary, while still falling under the parent genre.

Fantasy

  • D&D (Pick your edition)
  • Houses of the Bloodedchoices
  • Burning Wheel
  • Within the Ring of Fire
  • Homecoming

Sci-Fi

  • Shadowrun
  • Era: The Consortium
  • Coriolis
  • Paranoia
  • Eclipse Phase

Horror

  • Wraith: The Oblivion
  • Kult
  • Sins of the Father
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Night’s Black Agents

Now I would expect most people (gamers) have heard of some, if not most of these games. However, this shows the multitude of options for games to choose from. D&D is an obvious choice and I could whip up a 5th edition character in about 10 minutes and a 2nd edition character in maybe half an hour or so (it’s been awhile since I messed with 2nd edition). So that doesn’t take much investment on my part to make a character. From a GM standpoint it isn’t a big thing to pull together a game either. Give me about 10 minutes and I can do a one shot session for D&D no problem. In fact, if I don’t want to do that, I can go onto Wizards of the Coasts’ site and get one directly from them for not much money.

Now on the opposite end, I would put Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel has one of the most interesting dice mechanic and character creation processes I have personally seen, and I am a big fan. For a lot of people, it can take a bit of time to wrap their head around how the system works. A character in Burning Wheel still takes me about 2 or 3 hours if I make them all in one go. More often than not, I will sweat over details and nitpick different aspects of what I can possibly do. From a GM standpoint, most of the time for a Burning Wheel game I can only sketch out a rough plot before my players have their characters made, or burned, in Burning Wheel parlance.

Also, an important topic is type of game. This not only covers what people find enjoyable, but also covers what people might be uncomfortable with. This is a delicate subject and one that may need to be discussed in private, however, these discussions must occur.

A couple of years ago I ran a Wraith: The Oblivion game at Gen Con. The game had a caution on that the game would contain mature subject matter, as it was taking place during the days leading up to the liberation of prisoners at Auschwitz. The players were recently deceased who had to keep their remaining family members safe until the liberation. That is very heavy in terms of theme and subject matter. It’s not for everyone. So please, make sure to discuss the type of game you want to play with your group.

paranoia

One of the pricier gems of my collection

Cost of the Game

When it comes to game cost in regards to buy-in, the real question at hand is how much will each person have to spend to play the game. Let’s be honest here and now though, in reality only one person NEEDS to buy the books. However, it will often better suit the group to have multiple copies of the book for rules reference.

In fact, Victor had a wonderful write up on just this sort of topic a while ago in regards to the cost of the recent Invisible Sun Kickstarter. http://keepontheheathlands.com/2016/09/13/invisible-sun-a-study-in-the-tension-between-accessibility-in-price-and-design/
In this he excellently breaks down the cost for modern gaming. I highly encourage you to read it. I’ll wait.

Please take your time….

Please take your time….

 

Okay now that you have read that, let’s continue. Most books will run about 60.00 US dollars. Add into this dice… which… you can never have too many dice.

Dice normally will run about 10-12 dollars for a standard set. Copies of character sheets and pencils are honestly very small cost and negligible. So at the very minimum, if each person buys a main book and only one set of dice, they are looking at about 75 dollars’ investment. Add in pencils and paper for copies and let’s round-up to 80 dollars.

Overall this is not much more than a video game these days. So I don’t see the need to balk at this. However, there is more to this really than just a main book and some dice. At least with regards to the buy-in aspect of a game.

Prep time for both GM and players

work

This is a lot like work!

The time from when a game is chosen and when it starts really is the time for the GM to get their story down on paper and make notes. This honestly can only be done to a certain degree. Most games recommend (and in the case of some, require) that you do a character creation session with all the players and the GM as a group. So, prior to this it is a good idea for all involved to read up on any pertinent details. The game world (if one exists), overall game rules and especially character creation rules.

Reading up on this is no different than studying for a class. You are learning how the game is run and how the system works. Now I can hear a lot of you saying that “can’t I just have this taught to me during character creation?”

Yes…you can and if your GM offers pre-made characters this may be an option to try a game out. However, when making characters for a game it is a good idea to know the rules at least as they pertain to your character.

A great example I like to give of knowing the rules as they pertain to your character is from Shadowrun. Shadowrun is a very crunchy simulationist system at its heart. As such, the different types of characters you can play use different rule sets. When running this game, I let my players know that they are responsible for knowing their character and the rules governing them. This helps speed up combat especially, and keeps the game moving overall.

So, take the time to read and learn the game. Do your homework, so to speak. Invest the time to know and understand the game system, the world, and special rules. I promise you will be happier for it in the long run. One thing I like to do is read up on character creation and mark down any questions I have for the GM during the character creation session. Simple things like this can go a long way to making the game more fun for you, the other players, and the GM.

For the GM prepping requires even more work. They have to know the system, and have to plan out how the characters are involved in this story. PC’s are the main protagonists in a story, so, it is important to have the story revolve around them. This means that the GM can honestly only do so much planning and prepping prior to running a homemade game as opposed to a published scenario.

All of this means that the GM needs to sit down with the players and be an active part of character creation. Doing so allows them to flesh their story out around the players and this is essential.

charcter-creationCharacter Creation

This is a special portion of buy-in. Different games have different levels of character creation. Some are more involved than others. The reason this is something to discuss is not every player wants to spend 4 hours poring over a character they may only play 3 or 4 times. So know what kind of time character creation can leech. Most games ask that the first real session of a game be entirely comprised of character creation. This is a great idea. It allows for the group to discuss what each other wants to play and to build off of that.

Discussion and dialogue is what this process is really about. From what race/roles each player will fill in the game, to defining parts of the game world, this process helps to make the players really feel invested in the world. Questions can be answered as well, both in terms of rules or related to character creation choices that will require GM approval.

Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the gameshared-duties

Finally, when speaking about buy-in aspects of a game, there is the discussion of how many shared or not shared duties exist when playing the game. This can take a couple of forms. The main concern is the amount of time a player will need to engage in a game each session.

Different people role-play for different reasons: to socialize, to escape from the mundane every day, to challenge themselves mentally, among many other reasons. This also can mean that not every player will be engaged during every scene of the game. Especially if their player is not in the scene, or center stage. When this happens, some players may start side conversations, pull out their phones, or use the time to take a bio break, or grab a snack. None of these are bad per se. However, different games require players to be more engaged on different levels.

From a D&D perspective this is easy, as the party usually with one another. Fostering a sense of duty to keep the party together is something that D&D does extremely well. Even when simply looking over the map and figures and trying to figure out the best way to approach the new room of the castle, players are all discussing and talking out plans. This is great.

On the other side of this is Shadowrun. Shadowrun combat can have different players in different places during a scene: from being in a physical fight, to hacking into a security system, or even doing spirit combat in the astral plane. This can take time and can (and in my experience will) will cause players to become disengaged.

Now neither D&D nor Shadowrun award XP for always being engaged. That is not a slight to the games, it’s just a fact. Yes, a GM could (and I think should) award good role-playing. It doesn’t normally happen, though. However, Let’s look at two other games that handle XP in a different way: Burning Wheel and Within the Ring of Fire. Both of these games use votes from the group to determine XP awards.

Burning Wheel asks for different votes based on who did the most work for the session, to who had a skill that was needed at the right time. It even goes farther than that, rewarding players to play up their Beliefs and Instincts. Doing so is an integral part of the game and one the drives the story forward. This also means that players have to be more invested and engaged in the game at all times looking for and making opportunities to play up these aspects of their characters.

Within the Ring of Fire is similar as it also uses a vote system to determine who is awarded XP. Here each person is asked to select one other player (not themselves) and explain how the exemplified their character in that session. Simple. Again this means that players will be having to pay attention to each other even when they are not in the scene.

So, how we have discussed what sort of game we are all comfortable playing and how much we all want to be involved with the game from a session perspective. We can move into our next question: Who will run the game? Normally, this will be determined during this step of the process, as the one who recommends a game usually will be the one who runs it. We will look at the process to decide to run, or not run a game. We will take a deeper look into planning a game and the GM’s role before, during and after a session.

As always, please comment and let me know your thoughts and let’s talk about things you feel I may have missed or that you liked. Until next week, may your dice always roll true.

picard

Make It So

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.