5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HORROR IN MAGE: THE ASCENSION

Article Originally appeared here: High Level Games

 

Horror

 

Games set in the World of Darkness were all designed as horror games. Mage though, Mage is a game that doesn’t immediately set off the horror music in your mind. Mage instead reads like a game of hope, of a search for Nirvana. Like the rest of the WoD though, Mage is a game embedded with horror elements. Sure, it’s a different kind of horror than the personal horror of Vampire: The Masquerade or the ecological and rage filled horror of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, but the horror is still a core concept within the game. Horror in Mage is often about the questions left unanswered. In a search for enlightenment, the secrets one cannot find answers to are some of the most horrifying elements.

  • Control – The Technocracy might come to mind at first; the technological organization that believes it has to control ‘sleepers’ so that it can bring the world to ascension. This sort of control boils down in the books to long detailed and scary descriptions of mind wiping and personality manipulation. On top of that, Control is an actual ‘thing’ within the Technocracy helping to lead the world to… somewhere. Control is not only the purview of the Enlightened Citizen though. Concepts of control seep through Mage in subtle ways. The Order of Hermes believes that they control the forces of the universe. They believe that they should be the ones to herd humanity into growth and enlightenment and that they will eventually find the formula to bring the world back to the height of their power, the Dark Ages. Every Mage struggles to control the world around them, to show how their version of reality is true. Control and the lack of control permeate the WoD for Mages, and stories done well around control or a lack of control can be deeply terrifying.

 

  • Paradigm and Consensus – The world is what we make it and for a Mage the world can literally be what they imagine. Or, it would be if consensus reality didn’t hate those who try to change the foundations of that reality. The Mage has to have a paradigm, a worldview that their magic is crafted around and through. This worldview can include everything from a hacker’s excitement over the connections we make through the internet, or the ceremonial magician that believes blood, symbols engraved on the floor, and incense can help them make connections with Hell. For the first group, they may think they are making connections with other people, but what if they are simply making an opening for monsters that inhabit the digital web? What happens when a Mage sends himself physically or in astral form into the web? Can a computer virus kill them? Do trolls cause them physical pain with their attacks? What does the Mage believe? Do they think they can be killed via the internet? We’ve all heard stories about people addicted to games that die of heart attacks at their computer… that explains why he died perhaps… and it fits our consensus of reality much better than the fact he caught a virus meant to harvest data and is now harvesting something else.

 

  • Paradox – This ties into the last point. Paradox is consensus reality slapping a Mage for thinking they can remake the universe in their image. Paradox can appear as a shift in luck for the Mage; the things they once did with ease no become more and more difficult. Paradox can appear as a literal hobgoblin to destroy the mage. Paradox is the boogeyman for even the most static of Technomancers. Paradox is the universe pushing back; it is the power of the sleepers en masse. Does that mean the sleepers are truly asleep? Maybe they are tapping into a more universal avatar, a connection to the universal awakened entity? A good storyteller knows how to encourage her players to get their Mages to bend reality, and slowly reminds them that they are not as powerful as they think… maybe they aren’t the ones in control of the universe… oh there is that control thing again…

 

  • The Universe has Secrets – Whether it is the Deep Umbra or deep in the ocean, the universe has secrets that it is trying to hide. Reality hides deeper evils than we might ever know, but the Mage is seeking ascension, so they tend to trip right over the tentacles curling around the world as we know it. Do the Nephandi truly control the Technocracy from the inside? Are the Euthanatoi actually empowering the Abyss with their interest in Entropy? What about Ether, does it exist? What is it, if it does? The Universe has secrets and it is trying to hide them but they slip out into reality and even the most dedicated of Void Engineer crews might not be successful at destroying every deviant that pops up. A good storyteller never reveals all the things hiding in the shadows of the World of Darkness, and in Mage that can be hard. Mages are seekers of truth and may run headfirst into the darkness. That drive offers a perfect opportunity to show them a tiny glimpse of the creatures hiding in the dark.

 

  • Magic is dying – For the traditions; they believe the lifeblood of the universe is being drained away by stasis. Magic no longer powers the world in the way it once did. For the Technocracy, the world isn’t being locked into stasis; it is instead being ordered and brought to a greater state of enlightenment. Who is right? Is the very essence of dynamic reality being funneled into a state of greater good, or is it being destroyed by forces that seek to bring a halt to everything? Or even, is the world being slowly deconstructed from the inside out by forces of entropy and the Abyss? An Akashic performs their katas every day for years, and one day, it fails. Her actions no longer change the world in the way they always have. Do they seek a new way of doing things? Or, do they feel the creep of fear from their lack of ability to do what they have always done? Maybe magic is dying, but what is taking its place? Maybe if magic isn’t dying, it is instead the hope of the mage that is dying or already dead.

THE CLOTHES MAKE THE CHARACTER

Have you ever looked at someone walking down the street and thought about how they look like they should be a character in a video game?

Credit to Unsplash on Pixabay.com

This guy gives cloth collection quests, obviously for those awesome jackets.

In a LARP set in the modern day, or just  one that uses modern day styled clothing, it can be hard to make a costume that stands out from your everyday wear without breaking the bank. Buying nice clothing for your character can be a good way to costume, but not every gamer has that kind of budget. Luckily for those of us not as rich as our characters, there are easy ways to make a costume from everyday items without taking out a second mortgage.

 

Dress Differently Than Normal

Wearing clothes you as a player wouldn’t normally wear can go a long way to making an easy costume.

lightstargod on pixabay.com

Left: European X-Men recruit Right: California New Age Hippie

If you play a particularly feminine character, consider wearing a skirt or clothing with a more feminine cut such as a flowing blouse. If you often wear your favorite color blue, consider dressing primarily in other colors for your character. If you primarily wear graphic tees from your favorite rock bands, consider playing a character that would choose to wear clothes that fall into the “business casual” style of dress or a graphic tee that you wouldn’t normally be caught dead wearing. By wearing different clothing than you do in your day-to-day life, you will create a new look for the people that you game with which shows that while you might be in jeans and a graphic tee, you are clearly dressed as a different person.  If you choose to costume this way, make sure you are consistent, and try to stick to the same general themes.

 

Wear Something AWFUL

This sweater is ugly, and that is great for a costume.

thriftingnightmares.tumblr.com

Grandma’s 1987 Mardi Gras Jacket

 

Think of the clothes you see at the thrift store that no one ever buys: the bright red corduroy pants, the tacky Christmas vests depicting Santa’s flight, and the poofy, gold sequined 1976 formal wear. All of these seem horrendously ugly and not something you would wear in 2016, right? Hideous clothing like that is exactly what can make a good costume! Hawaiian shirts, brightly patterned sports jackets, plaid kilts with denim jackets; all of these things are visually unique and make your character stand out in a way that still remains comfortable for you as a player. You may have to swallow your pride  to be willing to wear the outfit to and from your event, but rest assured that visitors to your games will be talking about “that jerk in the denim overalls and a trilby” on their way back home.

 

Accessorize!

Accessories add finishing touches to an outfit, and can really help differentiate a costume from an everyday outfit.

ministajazz at pixabay.com

That’s one magical outfit! …I’m so sorry.

 

Accessories come in many forms and can help flexibly flavor your character’s outfit. Jewelry such as piercings, rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets can add flair and help portray your character’s personal style or their wealth and status.  Trinkets also make common gifts, so a simple ring can represent deep connections or secrets to those paying close enough attention. Doing makeup and styling your hair for the character can be another great way for the character to express themselves and help you really get into their headspace, since your own reflection will be altered. Something as small as wearing eyeliner and lipstick and putting your hair up can drastically change your appearance! You can sometimes find a friend who is skilled enough to put makeup on for you if you lack the know how, and there are tons of tutorials online that help you achieve certain looks, from film noir dame to goth rocker and everywhere in between.

 

Have Fun and Get Wild

The right mix of clothing, style and accessorization can transform you into your character quite easily. You can go from this:

sabinemondestin on Pixabay.com

Joanna Smith, who works in an office downtown

…to this:

sabinemondestin on Pixabay.com

Roxy Wake, who sings in a club uptown

…in just a matter of minutes! Swapping out your personal look for your character’s style can keep  you in character and make your character memorable in a positive way in the minds of other players and characters at the game. You may even discover that some of the things you pick out for your character to wear end up transferring over to your personal wardrobe once the character leaves play, or even  discover how good you look in a certain color or style of clothing.

Remember these tips next time you costume and don’t forget to look awesome!

 

Anna is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats, and another that’s kind of mean but loves her anyway (probably). She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

STORYTELLING SPOUSES AND CURIOUS CATS

I can’t really remember what I was doing when I walked into the living room to see my husband going through my dice bag, but I do remember asking him what the hell he was doing going through my dice. It was the second time that week, and it was starting VtM Diceto get bizarre – not to mention annoying. His Vampire the Masquerade dice had gone missing and so naturally he’d been turning the place upside down looking for them all. As a fellow gamer, my dice bag had naturally come under suspicion, twice. The first time, I’d let him get it out of his system, yeah sure, knock yourself out and look in my dice bag. But the second time, it irritated me because it was like he thought I was secretly squirreling away his VtM dice for some nefarious purpose.

I wasn’t, but all of that is pretty much beside the point. No, the point today, dear friends, is that living with another gamer – especially the Storyteller of a game you’re playing in – comes with its own set of shenanigans.

Telugu_RIPI’m a curious sort, and as much as people say that curiosity kills cats, I’ve always found enough satisfaction in pursuing my curiosity to keep me coming back. Over the years, this curiosity has led me to geek out over the most
obscure things (and even learn some weird dead languages in order to do so). It was what made me move to a bunch of different countries when I was younger, and has led to some of my most cherished adventures.  When that curiosity met gaming though, it sort of morphed into a kind of ‘arms race’ in our home. It’s really not my fault that I’m something of a natural detective, and well, if my husband leaves the various gaming books outside the bathroom that he’s using for research for the various games he’s running (that I happen to be playing in), it’s totally not my fault if I take note of that and do a bit of reading, right?

 
Not that I’d use that knowledge in-game though, it’s just that curiosity thing again.

It’s like when I’m at a store and find a game book we don’t already own that I suspect *might* be relevant to the story. Our local gaming place has a “no smelly person’s” rule, it’s nice…you know, to just stay and read a while.

And it’s not like I remember everything I read anyway; or much of anything I don’t write down; or read a few times.

Even so, my husband has gotten wise to me and has started putting his research books away again. From a housekeeping perspective, I’m considering this a score (even if it is a setback for curiosity).

Then there are the conversations about games in a more general sense. These conversations are so frequent at our table that I wouldn’t be surprised if our 2 year old daughter thinks that Nephandi are a bunch of assholes she might one day come across in the world. I love these conversations, they help me to learn the game and remember what I learn. I also really like discussing in-game possibilities and bouncing ideas off my husband for future games; which brings me to my next point…Mr_Burns_evil

Sometimes in these conversations, I obviously stumble across something plot-related to one of the games we’re currently playing. I say “obviously”, because it’s really not that common that my husband starts laughing maniacally and tenting his fingers like Montgomery Burns. He gets this look of utter glee on his face, and that cackle – well, that lets me know I’ve hit pay dirt. I don’t even think he has control over this reaction, to be honest, it just kind of comes out; bubbling up out of his mouth like some kind of geyser of megalomaniacal delight.

 
If there’s one thing my husband loves, it’s building his stories and being (mostly) in charge of the chronicle he creates. And while it might seem like I’m some kind of planet X-type wrecking ball in all of this, I’m really not, because if anything, I think we’re getting to know each other even better through gaming (both in and out of game). Given how many friendships (and relationships) are forged around gaming tables, this is hardly surprising. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been gaming (at least on a regular basis), it’s that it’s not just about dungeon-crawling tomfoolery or exploring new worlds and paradigms, more than that, it’s about the gamers as people themselves.

We live in a weird era. We all inhabit Facebook as though it were a village and think we know people well for them posting photos of dinner or their most random of random thoughts. But we don’t, and if we don’t take care, it’s all too easy for our online friends to become little more than self-generating content for a website that keeps us all hooked for hours on end. We’re missing the human, and it just so happens that a good way to get it back is found in pretending to be something (often) inhuman with a bunch of friends and a shitload of dice.


Cat Heath is a newbie gamer who is developing a love of all things White Wolf (Classic WOD). Although a long-time student of folklore, mythology, and the occult, Cat resisted getting involved in gaming in any major way despite the best efforts of her husband – Josh Heath of Reach-Out Roleplaying Games. However, more recently the laughter and pieces of story floating from the gaming table drew her in and she’s found herself getting sucked in. Naturally her husband is rubbing his hands together with glee. Cat can be found online at http://seohelrune.net where she writes about those more occult topics, and is currently working on putting the final touches to a couple of books.

MY 5 TOP ROLE-PLAYING GAMES – JUSTIN’S PERSPECTIVE

DevonShire
When I was asked to write for keepontheheathlands.com I first thought my old friend might not remember how acerbic my writing style could be.  I then thought I don’t have an opinion or insight into gaming and its related interests that someone might find interesting.  I have, however, realized that my old friend likes my acerbic writing style and that I have been gaming for over two decades and yes, I do have a thought or two about gaming the pastime, gaming the industry, gaming as art, and gaming people.  So here I am trying to string together a series of sentences that you; the endlessly consuming hordes of internet travelers desperate for an endless flow of content; might find entertaining and perhaps a little bit illuminating.

 
In the name of manners and taking the first step in our newly birthed relationship I’m going to introduce myself with that most time honored of internet traditions the “Top 5 List” article.  You can get a feel for my gaming preferences, likes, and dislikes, while I can learn to read the inevitable comments both in favor and against my deeply held favorite games without weeping at my keyboard.  Seriously though; keyboards do not like being wept upon, apparently all keyboards are allergic to human tears?  Which seems ridiculous to me; it’s like saying all keyboards are allergic to coffee and we all know that can’t possibly be Ack!  I kn0ck3d myne cof33 O g@wD ZweXienntsszzdl…

 

Dungeons_&_Dragons_5th_Edition_logo5.  Dungeons & Dragons by Wizards of the Coast LLC has been around for ages and could pretty easily be considered the big daddy of gaming in North America if not the whole western world.  We all in one way or another have been influenced by D&D either by playing it ourselves or playing games created by those who have.  It could even be said that every game developed in the western world is a reaction to this gaming juggernaut.  While my tastes have evolved over the years there’s something delightfully simple and direct about saving the princess of fancytowertown from a reliably evil villain while murdering hordes of his or her minions and never a doubt in our minds that we are the good guys.  No you nevermind about the forty year genocide we’ve been committing against the goblinoid races.  They’re bad… it says so in the book. (Editor note, this is a topic we will address in a series of articles in the future)

 

MnM-logo-wordpress

4. Mutants and Masterminds by Green Ronin Publishing on the surface checks the boxes for every four color comic trope you care to name and several you
wouldn’t care to name; for example the total lack of black superheroes until the late 60’s. Now to distract you from the political commentary; hey look!  A fantastically flexible rules system that literally lets you build any kind of world you care to!  The M&M rules set allows for the creation of space marines, alien monsters, classic monsters, time travelers, soldiers in WW1 trench warfare, survivors of a crashed plane in a land ruled by dinosaurs and talking apes, and a host of other possibilities.  That’s not to dismiss the deceitfully deep setting that Mr. Kenson and Co. have put together; a city that so easily is compared to a certain gleaming Polis of the Metro persuasion where in lives a rather strapping undocumented immigrant.  This setting can be played at its surface level of “Bamf”s and “Ka-pow”s but leaves all sorts of doors open for deeper commentary on the necessary blindness of such a “perfect” society.

 

Eclipse Phase3. Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios LLC is a game so deep, so layered, so mind-bending that the game is almost impossible to play as intended with less than an engineering degree and a working knowledge of philosophy, computer programming, and orbital dynamics. I love it.  This game creates a credible future for our solar system and illuminates all of the worst fears of technologists and futurists the world over.  We’re talking next level nightmare scenarios which include neural viruses uploaded into your brain via a weird image file attachment to an email, nanotechnology that rewrites your body against your will and while you watch, and suicide bombers whose entire cellular chemistry has been altered into that of a single megaton bomb.  The subtlety and cunning necessary to survive the universe that Posthuman have put together makes the goblin race invaded fantasy city fancytowertown seem like a relaxing vacation in comparison.

Everything about this game, from the rules to the setting, forces player thinking on a level that most of us don’t commonly experience.  The premise of the game puts characters immediately in the gray area between classical good and evil concepts as Firewall agents.  The measures of your success is how few people died during this or that adventure and the idea of ultimate evil is dismissed by a kaleidoscope of motivations ranging from survival to so advanced the human brain is physiologically incapable of understanding them.  Yet the corrupting influence of things like ideas and ideologies is baked directly into the rules system such that even trying to understand the motivations of some of the more powerful entities in this universe can reactively alter your brain into a sleeper agent for said entities.  The added bonus of multiple layers of reality with physical and virtual realities opens the door for any number of genres and stories to be told and that’s something I can always get behind.

 

2. World of Darkness by White Wolf Publishing is both immensely expansive as a world and setting but tightly focused in story driven games and campaigns.wodlogo_348 The smooth system, simple character creation, accessible ideologies of the various factions, and the classic monster flair makes for an easily approachable game to new nerd and grizzled gamer alike. The WoD has become a true rabbit hole of a universe where in there is always another secret to unlock, a deeper layer of reality to comprehend, and deeper understanding to achieve.
While at first glance this setting seems intent on a gritty “real world” setting the added layers of virtual realities in Technomancer enclaves and the endless options the spirit world provides creates a literally endless universe of possibilities for players and gamemasters alike.  In this game we are all storytellers and those stories can range from tight dramas about families and loyalty to insane adventures in the deepest realms of imagination.  Don’t be afraid to look into the abyss; it has beautiful eyes.

A note before I reveal my current all-time favorite game.  The idea of a perfect table-top game is a tricky one.  As we age and experience the “reality” of our own lives our tastes, preferences, and opinions change as more and more information is compiled into these wonderful processing machines we call a brain.  Our inner lives expand as our outer lives chart a course through time so my number one game is my number one game for this current version of myself.  The version of me gaming ten years ago had different priorities and tastes while the self that will; minus random wolf attacks or a late night duel with a demonic tanker truck on a lonely highway; in ten years’ time have different priorities and tastes.  There are only two things about a human life that are set in stone; birth and death.  Everything else is a result of before and a precursor to after.  I just made a really big philosophical statement in a Top 5 article.  Here’s my number 1 you clever apes.

 

Shadowrun-5-Logo1. Shadowrun by Catalyst Game Labs stands the test of time like few others. I’ve watched this game grow from the angry punk ripped jeans seed of the 80’s into the Chinese style suit dystopia of the 90’s adolescence to the chrome and grime nanotech realism of the early 21st century young adult incarnation it currently enjoys. The mechanics are brutal and all-inclusive; there isn’t anything you can’t attempt with this rules set in this setting.  This has been my go-to game for close to a decade and the endlessly twisted surprises keep vibrant what could easily have gotten stale ages ago.
Every part of the world is represented in this setting from the slums of Lagos to the glittering high rises of Seattle.  The very idea of what’s real is bent with virtual, spiritual, and physical worlds layering on top of each other in an ever deeper connectivity.  No other game delivers that sensation of something amazing on the horizon of time like this one.  The dazzling array of factions, nations, tribes, gangs, crews, crime families, and religious movements offer every avenue and option of story.  The clash of ideologies for the soul of humanity as our abilities outstrip our understanding has gifted us gamers with a world so rich it’s like having a third piece of cheesecake with strawberries while drinking a chocolate frappe.  The giddiness of this game leaves you shaking with anticipation for what’s next.  So chummer, I’ve dropped some wiz pay data on you shaikujin; now slot, run, and buzz.

 

What are your top five?  Anything good?  Comment below and let us know if I dissed your favorite game by not liking it as much as you do.  Better yet, comment below if you think I’m brilliant in my choices and you want to reinforce this list as the superior choice.  ‘Cause that would be awesome.

Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.

 

PLAYING PAST THE NUMBERS: HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR ROLEPLAY WITHOUT MATH

Good news, everybody! You can, in fact, improve your role-play without having to spend precious XP.

In most gaming systems, there’s an oft-ignored facet of our characters: Archetype. Sometimes it is a “prestige class”, UT Headeror a caste, like Exalted, but there is always a bit of something that we usually just choose for mechanical benefit. In my current LARP, the Underground Theater Vampire: the Masquerade, it allows for a willpower retest when you are in a challenge where you are pursuing your Archetype.

What exactly is an Archetype? Carl Jung identified them as universally understood symbols that are common to all cultures. All cultures understand the concept of a mother, or a hunter, or rain. It is basically a short way to describe your character in her most basic form. To paraphrase the late Sir Terry Pratchett, if you cut your character in half, what word would be written in the middle?

Jung

Carl Jung

Archetypes span the entire length and breadth of the human experience. Some of them are good and noble and pure, and some of them are most definitely not.  Some of them are more relevant, especially if you have a Gamemaster/Dungeon Master/Storyteller that is paying attention. “Trouble Magnet” or “Curious” are simple, and pure catnip for sadistic GMs. Others, like “Architect” or “Royalty” are a bit more nebulous, but can be great fun, especially if your other primary characteristics, like clan or caste, clash slightly with the Archetype.

Instead of just choosing whatever Archetype seems to be the most mechanically beneficial, I urge everyone to start with an Archetype and build a character around it, rather than the other way round. Despite the fact that this is actually an instruction during character creation in many games, I have found that it is frequently overlooked in the mad dash of making a character.

CrownWith your Archetype in mind, you can look at each situation you encounter and approach it through the lens of that perspective. For example, my Vampire character has the archetype “Royalty”. She looks at things through a lens of noblesse oblige, and this has opened so many avenues of role-play for me, because she truly thinks she knows what is best for the greater good in most situations. She doesn’t have the most impressive social score, and she isn’t a clan that is known for their sociopolitical skills, but through diligent and immersive role-play I have gotten her to have a powerful position that, on paper, she is not really qualified for. It adds a whole level of dimension and verisimilitude – I have to dance harder and faster to keep her from being found out. It takes a challenging play and turns it up to hard mode.

This results in my very favorite kind of roleplay: the kind where mechanics are secondary to the story and the interaction between characters. In my entirely biased opinion, I think this is the best kind of roleplay, the kind that feels most real and the kind that will leave echoes throughout a campaign or chronicle. If you can learn to embrace your archetype and let it flavor your roleplay experience, it will add that extra dimension, that je ne sais quoi that can make a character truly memorable.

Watch this space for the next in my occasional series of ways to improve your RP experience without having to move dots on the sheet.

 

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.

GAMING WHEN YOUR BRAIN SHITS THE BED

So, I’m kind of a newbie gamer but I already know that I like it. I love the imagination, the collective story building, and getting to know both mine, and the characters of my co-players. Gaming has become a feature of our household schedule now – we play every week – and I’m more than fine with that because it’s fun. I look forward to it.

The only problem for me though, is trying to play with memory issues.

RPGs are games with homework in that you have to learn the world in which the game is set as well as how the game is played, and for a new player, it can be kind of overwhelming. For a new player with memory issues though, it’s especially daunting.mage

Let me give you an example of what I mean by ‘memory problems’. We started a Mage game, and I read most of the core-book within a couple of days of us deciding to start the game. Within another day, I already had a character fleshed out and had written a backstory. In other words, I did what the newbie gamer is supposed to do – I read and I got invested. However, two days after that, I couldn’t tell you anything about what I’d read in spite of having multiple conversations with my husband and a co-player about the game. Had I not written the weird fan-fiction thing about my character, I probably would have forgotten her backstory and why I wanted my character to be who she is.

When a lot of us think of memory problems, we tend to think about full on amnesia, or the senility of old age. What we don’t often think about is that, like most things, memory problems are better visualized as being on a scale of mildness vs severity, and they can be the result of multiple medical issues – not just senility.

I have Hashimotos Thyroiditis, which means my body attacks my thyroid. It’s degenerative, and eventually I ended up with an underactive thyroid. No, scratch that, a very underactive thyroid. I gained weight, I was exhausted all the time, felt cold all the time, and even grew this super sexy goiter (it wasn’t, but I’m being sarcastic here). Those are the things I kind of expected though, what I didn’t expect was how that shit would affect my brain. I mean, who would think that hypothyroidism was associated with some degree of memory loss?

I certainly didn’t, but it’s something I’m living with now, and it’s something I’m having to learn to work around when it comes to gaming.

So, how do I do that?

First of all, I taknote_taking_headere notes about everything. My character sheets are just full of notes about things like what however many dots in whatever sphere means in terms of what I can do with it, or important game mechanics that I keep forgetting. I’ve had to move into notepads now because it’s faster to reference than pulling out the books and more courteous to other players in-game.

  Secondly, I’ve found that I tend to retain information a little bit better when I take the time to discuss things I don’t remember so well with my husband or friends. This sounds like a no-brainer, after all, everyone remembers reviewing information for school exams, right? Same principle, it’s just most people don’t need to do it to the same extent as me before games. I don’t think most people are like, “Fuck, what’s the fucking Tellurian again?” as other players are filing in through the door because their brain has just gone straight up blank. Or maybe they are, at least the crew I play with don’t seem to be.Tellurian

But as simple as these tips sound, they wouldn’t be possible without the kindness of my co-players and their understanding of my issues. They get that I often forget clan/tradition names, that I often can’t remember ‘the story so far’ at the beginning of a session, and that I’m going to be doing a lot of writing. They also put up with my discussions – well, I think they enjoy that bit really though. I’m very much aware that their understanding and tolerance is what enables me to play, and like I said before, gaming is something I enjoy.

Friday night gaming has become something I look forward to during the week, and although I may sound like the weakest player ever, with a few adjustments and the help of other players outside of game, I’m actually getting pretty good at holding my own.

 

Like any newbie player really.

 

Cat Heath is a newbie gamer who is developing a love of all things White Wolf (Classic WOD). Although a long-time student of folklore, mythology, and the occult, Cat resisted getting involved in gaming in any major way despite the best efforts of her husband – Josh Heath of Reach-Out Roleplaying Games. However, more recently the laughter and pieces of story floating from the gaming table drew her in and she’s found herself getting sucked in. Naturally her husband is rubbing his hands together with glee. Cat can be found online at http://seohelrune.net where she writes about those more occult topics, and is currently working on putting the final touches to a couple of books.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF KEEP ON THE HEATHLANDS?

castle_keep_1

The Keep, it’s blog, the various projects already with pages and other projects forthcoming are about creating a place for gamers to acknowledge gaming’s strengths, weaknesses, and identify opportunities for growth. That sounds pretty damn pretentious, but I’m going to go with it. Basically, I want to do some of what others are doing with the people that contribute to our goals offering their own perspective and spin on gaming in general. At the same time, I want to address issues and ideas in gaming from a perspective that recognizes that we can do better, in general, with being welcoming at our tables.

With that in mind, here is how we plan to focus on these goals. We are going to write a blog, with the goal of encouraging and inviting a diverse group of gamers to participate in our conversations. If you would like to write for us, please reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter. (I’m still getting our email server set-up correctly)

Beyond the blog, we have two projects that are already in motion in one way or another. The first is the Inclusive Gaming Network. The Inclusive Gaming Network can be found on Facebook and Twitter. We are using that network to encourage the discussion around inclusion in gaming. What do we mean by this? We mean we want PLAYERS to be accepting of diversity at their tables. This includes people on the QUILTBAG spectrum and our gamers of color. At the same time, we want people to realize that we are not pushing people to explicitly change how their game characters or stories are run. We want players of all types to be encouraged and supported in this hobby. Some people enjoy ‘adult-themed’ games that address issues of racism, sexism, and violence. We support that, because we support gamers playing games that they enjoy playing. At the same time, we want to provide support to Storytellers and Game Master’s that want to explore those sorts of topics, but want to ensure their players are not made uncomfortable. This also includes providing support to players that DON’T want to play those sort of games, but their GM’s don’t realize they are going too far. There is a careful balance here, and it does boil down to communication, but once the communication has begun, we need effective language to talk about these ideas effectively. We are hoping to be helpful in facilitating those discussions.

So, that last paragraph is a bit long-winded. Excuse me for that. That being said, I have a lot to say about the goals and benefits of the Inclusive Gaming Network. I’ll be talking about that more in the future, but I wanted to give a brief description of my vision now so people know what they might be getting into.

That brings me to Reach-Out Roleplaying Games. This is really something I’m most excited about. RORPG is a project that will have at least one core product and several awesome modules. The goals of this project are to develop a core handbook that will allow gamers and Game Masters to integrate non-violent methods of conflict resolution and stories that tackle conflict from different angles into their games. I’m all for dungeon crawls where enemies are not super 3 dimensional. That’s cool, and it totally has a place for all gaming groups. That being said, game masters and players also want the option of deep, immersive, and thought-provoking games that give them challenges and experiences that might not otherwise have. We are going to develop modules that incorporate elements of the handbook, for a variety of games. Love Pathfinder? Awesome, we’ll write a module for that. Love D&D 5th edition? Cool, we can do that too. Fate? World of Darkness? Savage Worlds? Sure, we are working on options for those and other games too.

RORPG has an element of education and social justice thought process built into it. I’m sure some people will have an issue with both of those elements. I’m ok with that. Let’s discuss it, let’s deconstruct it, and let’s make it better. This is not going to be created from the angle of an Edu-tainment product. It’s going to be a fun, enjoyable gaming experience that might help people play the way they want to act. This has been powerful for me in my life. Playing characters that exemplify how I want to be, is how I changed my life. I’ll save that story for another day, but truly, faking it till you make it, or for me, playing the character I wish I was, really changed my life. Social justice is something I think we as gamers should be able to understand implicitly. We spend hours, months, weeks, years of our lives living in the shoes of other people. I think we can incorporate some realistic challenges into our games that help us deepen that understanding. I do not want this to be preachy though, and will endeavor to avoid doing so. If you catch me making that mistake, please tell me and I’ll listen. I might still disagree, but I’ll listen.

I’ve shifted from We to I in this post. That is slightly unintentional but it is something to address. At the moment, Keep on the Heathlands is currently a 1 person project with support from others. As time goes on, I will look to create more We, more people helping and developing ideas and products for the page.

Here are some things on the horizon:

Web comic: I am currently talking with a friend about hosting, writing, and developing a web comic for the page.

Regular Columnists and Posts: I’ve already asked several folks to write for the Blog and some of them have said yes. I would like to encourage others that are interested in the mission of the Keep to reach out via Facebook or Twitter if they would like to write for us.

Podcasts and Vlogs: I’m going to be doing either one or both of these things to help discuss some of the ideas of the page, gaming in general, and the products we are developing.

Please leave comments at the bottom of the page or on Twitter or Facebook.

HOW TO MAKE GOBLINS MORE THAN CRAZY BADDIES

goblins

I’ve always liked Goblins. For some reason they were one of the races in Dungeons and Dragons which I always had a soft-spot. Perhaps it’s their small stature, I’m also short. Perhaps it was that they were always perceived as strange, hyper-active, or outside of the majority of societies in the main settings for D&D? I’m not sure, but something about goblinoids always intrigued me. I scrambled at the chance to make a Goblin character whenever I was given the option and I was happy when 3rd edition made it easier to play ‘monster races.’ Even better, for my love of Goblins, was a fully realized identity and depth of character background provided by the Eberron Campaign Setting. In Eberron, goblinoids are presented as once having a great empire that spanned the primary continent Khorvaire. They were no longer an imperial power, but they were present throughout the main story world, and they had carved out their own new nation in the wake of the Great War. Goblins are shown as protagonists and antagonists, they are rulers, servants, warriors, bards, poets, and historians. Basically, Goblins are living breathing character options.

So, why does this matter?

Keith Baker gave us an opportunity to see Goblins as more than villains, to see a world where things were not black and white, even if an alignment system exists in the game. Goblins are usually weaker than the player options usually presented and they often one of the first villains a D&D party has to face. That makes them boring to most players. The players sweep them off the table and forget about them. However, this dehumanizing element is not a great way forward. Goblins and other races can be used by Game Masters in a much more effective way. These groups can be brought into a game in a way that a shows respect to them and does not make them insta-villains or mooks to be killed without thought.

Here are a few ways to help do that, focusing on Goblins.

Give them a name: Instead of just calling them Goblins, call them the Darguul. Instead of calling them Goblin 1 and Goblin 2, they could be Karshuuk and Darmar of51gJBcGwaxL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_ Clan Harchuuk. Giving them both a name for their people and individual names makes them more real, it makes them have a back story. Why are they the Darguul? Why do these two belong to this particular clan? Are all Goblins in clans? Do they have a history and clan structure that you can use in the future? All of these questions derive from the use of a name and they can help provide depth immediately. Even if you never flesh these characters out more than that, you’ve given them a little bit more life than you might have otherwise.

Describe them: Well… duh, right? This is a game played in the imagination of course I’m going to describe them, right? Sure, any good Game Master is going to describe her characters effectively. However, I’m talking about deep description at key moments. “Their long ears are tingling, tight to their heads. Their eyes are squinted and their mouths upturned with teeth exposed. You’ve made a major faux pas at the banquet, but you have no idea what you’ve done.” Goblins, like humans and other humanoid groups are highly expressive. Unlike humanoids, they have long ears, and those ears, as anyone with a dog or cat knows, tend to be major sources of body language expression. Add onto that a fully intelligent cultural group of beings and you have the opportunity to create all kinds of cultural nuance and meaning around their ears. This is easy to add in, just another brief description, but it can truly sell their reality as a separate, interesting group of beings to play or have within your world.

They aren’t all evil: Have your characters run into an adventuring party of goblinoids, not as enemies, but as fellow good adventurers. This isn’t just about flipping stereotypes, but it is also about showing a more realistic situation. Not everyone in a community is the same, not every group of people are identical and most are trying to do things that make their lives and the lives of their families better. A group of Goblin adventurers would have just as much interest in spelunking the dungeon in the hope of finding treasure as a group of halflings and humans. Have the party meet with the well to-do traveling salesman who happens to be a Hobgoblin. The more you incorporate goblinoids into your world as real thinking living beings the more the party will start to recognize them as such.

This is just a surface level of ideas and methods to bring Goblins into your games. The goal, in the end is to use the aspects of the race in a way that is interesting and engaging for your players. One great way to do that is to let a player, make a Goblin character. Let them help you fill out the background of the goblinoids in your world and give the chance to really bring them in to full vivid color.

Images used are the property of Paizo games and Wizards of the Coast respectively, their use here is in no way an attempt to claim ownership of those images, simply to show homage to their use of Goblins in their games and stories.

3 WAYS TO HELP CREATE AN INCLUSIVE GAMING SPACE AS A GAME MASTER OR STORYTELLER

What do I mean by an inclusive gaming space? An inclusive gaming space is one where your players feel comfortable being there, engaging in the game, and having fun. This doesn’t mean the characters your players are playing always have to be happy. Hell, if we are playing mature higher level deep roleplaying games we know that sometimes our characters misery helps to drive a good story. A good story should not harm or hurt your players though and creating an atmosphere of inclusion at your table means finding ways to embrace diversity and be sensitive to the needs of your players. In the end, it comes down to this: know your players and be respectful to them as human beings. If a joke or a storyline goes too far, stop it, apologize, and debrief as soon as possible. This line will be in different places for different players and we’ll discuss some ways to keep on top of this below.

Set ground rules and follow them: Rules are essential to gaming, right? Every great rules lawyer can fight for hours over obscure rules in the books. Well, setting table rules is no different. These rules should be focused on player actions, words, and feelings, not character actions, words, or feelings. What are some examples of good ground rules? No sex jokes, no out of character comments on race or racism, talk about out of character conflicts as soon as they start, to help work through them, if something occurs in-character that you are uncomfortable with tell everyone (or just the GM) and the scene should end immediately. These rules should be discussed by the players and the storyteller before the game starts. They should be agreed on and added to if needed as well. A good storyteller checks-in with his players constantly to see what their characters are doing and how action is impacting them, a great and inclusive storyteller does the same with the players themselves.

Be Respectful of Everyone’s Background and Identity: Even when you are running a game at a convention or another public forum, you should try and have some understanding of who your players are. Take the time to ask questions, even 2-3 every session about the lives of your players. You aren’t doing this to interrogate them, but to be welcoming and helpful. If you know a player has had a bad week at work, give them a chance to work through some frustrations. If you know a player has experienced something traumatic in their background, be sensitive to stories that might remind them of that trauma and make their experience unpleasant. Again, I’m not saying you need to avoid difficult subjects in your game if that is what works for you and your players. I’m saying know them, be sensitive to them and make sure that the game you are running is the game that they want to play. This can include those that might not be playing, but hanging out around the table as well. You want to make your table a location to encourage the suspension of disbelief and to invigorate the imagination, being disrespectful has the opposite effect to that goal.

Make Your Characters and NPC’s Real: I don’t mean 3D print a model for all of your NPC’s… though if you are inclined in that direction I don’t see anything wrong with it. No, I’m saying make your characters real people; make them multi-dimensional with faults and goals and different identities. If you have an antagonist that is a woman, do not make her a stereotype. If you have an NPC that is trans, make them real, give them hopes and dreams and avoid the obvious jokes you think you might evoke at the table. The more you make your characters real, the more you respect the diversity at your table in every way. If you want to delve into issues of racism, sexism, and prejudice of all kinds in your game and your players are interested in doing so as well, do it, but do it with the goal of humanizing all creatures/people/monsters in the game.

Making your gaming table inclusive should not be a chore; it should be something that comes naturally to us. If we can empathize and imagine being magical beings and science fiction heroes, we should be able to imagine how it might be to be treated poorly for our identity in real life. Taking the time to respect and know your players and run the game that they love to play will drive more and more people into this hobby. If you have other suggestions on how to make your gaming table inclusive, please feel free to share them in the comments.

With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind’s Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook, is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the moment, and is an advocate for inclusive gaming spaces. He’s also a father and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.

Hello world!

This is going to become the front page for Keep on the Heathlands, a site dedicated to several gaming related projects developed by Josh Heath. Not much is going on yet, but there will be more coming soon.