REVIEW OF HUNTER THE VIGIL

Hunter Vigil

I have always loved tales of the supernatural and many a night have been spent reading horror novels or sitting wrapped in a blanket before the TV watching old black and white horror movies. One of the staples of such books and movies are the monster hunter; from professional vampire killers like Van Helsing or some poor man or woman who are thrown into the world of the dark and paranormal in search of the monster that stole their lover. If we expand beyond the black and white movies we have technological ghost hunters, like Ghostbusters, to government agents investigating strange cases, as per the X-Files. Monster hunters have always been fascinating to me as they are the David that stand against Goliath, from medieval tales to modern computer games they are the last hope for the lost and the innocent and they fight an uphill battle against the creatures of the night.

 

The very first book I read for classic World of Darkness was the original Hunters Hunted and I loved it, as such my joy was great when White Wolf in 1999 published Hunter the Reckoning, probably my favorite of the classic World of Darkness games outside of the big three. However while Reckoning is a good game there was always something missing from it, for me. In Reckoning you play men and women who themselves have powerful supernatural abilities and easily rival the critters they fight against, as such it lacks the feeling of frailty and danger I always got from watching my black and white heroes hunt vampires in old wind-filled castle ruins. In 2008 though came the game Hunter the Vigil for new World of Darkness, recently renamed Chronicles of Darkness and while I will not say it is better than Reckoning, I will say it is closer to the stereotypical monster hunters who have nothing but their wits and a few knacks to take on the legions of evil and protect mankind.

 

SETTING AND CONCEPT

 

Hunter the Vigil is set in a dark version of our own world where supernatural beings such as werewolves and vampires are real. The game has the players take on the role of monster hunters who risk their lives, minds and frequently souls, to hunt and kill the creatures of the night. Some take on the paranormal critters alone, while others join groups and orders, and all have their own reasons for beginning their vigil; from devil worshipers that hunt supernatural creatures to steal their power to Catholic exorcists out to save souls in the name of God. Within this game you can create all types of characters, from a X-Files type mystery game, to wacky urban fantasy like Ghostbusters, and deep personal horror stories of loss and pain. In all the stories though, one thing stands clear, there are monsters out there and they are all faster and stronger than you are, your chances for survival are small and yet you and others that take up the Vigil might be the only hope humanity have left.

 

HUNTER ORGANIZATIONS AS A GM (ST) TOOL

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One of the things I really appreciate in Hunter the Vigil is the plethora of organizations and groups the player character can belong to. In this game White Wolf dropped the five plus five system they had used for earlier games and instead introduced a tier system that allows ST’s to customize the level of support and equipment available to the campaign’s fearless troupe of player characters. From nothing at all with tier-one characters who have only their specific cell of monster hunters to rely on, to tier-three where the group has world-spanning organizations at their back and might be able to call in an air raid on some poor vampire’s resting place. With the support of such an order though comes responsibility and just as while the Compacts and Conspiracies, which the hunter organizations are called, might back the player characters up in their missions they will also demand loyalty and nail errant hunters to the wall for failure.

 

The Compacts and Conspiracies system is actually a very nice touch as not only does it allow you to customize the power level of your game but also allows you to customize the tone. There are conspiracies that really are a vast private army so you can get more or less a military campaign story and then you have the typical religious hunters that go after monsters with crosses and holy water. One downside is that these organizations do not always play well together, scientists that try to nab monsters to conduct experiments in the name of progress might not go well with the before mentioned typical Hammer horror vampire hunter so the game does require that the group sit down and decide together what sort of game they want and what organizations will be used. But, if this is done then this game offers vast possibilities for a unique monster hunting experience.

 

SIMPLE SYSTEM, PERHAPS TOO SIMPLE…

 

I do not know how much there is to say about Hunter the Vigil’s system as this game has yet to get a Chronicles of Darkness second edition. It uses the Chronicles of Darkness version of the Storytellers system. The basics are rather simple, you have nine attributes, which are the core aspects of your character, these mark out how strong he is or how smart she is, these stats go from one to five with one being as bad as it gets and five being world class. Further, you have a number of skills, which also go from one to five and you simply combine the two stats most suited for what the character is trying to do and roll that many dice, all die that land on an eight or over are a success and the number of successes determine how well you succeed. There is some more nuance and you also have various equipment and powers in this game called Endowments, as well as ways to customize your character with things called Merits and Flaws, but the above is the basic mechanism for rolls in this game.

 

Now the simplicity of Hunter’s system carries with it both benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side it is far easier to focus on the narrative during an intense scene when you do not have to drag out a calculator and do more math than a collage level final exam to figure out if you managed to push your bible into that damned vampire’s mouth before he made you lunch, or if you managed to dodge that pesky sorcerer’s blast of fire and now are ready to pump her full of lead, but at the same time the simplicity means there is not much in the way of nuance. The dancer with 5 in Dexterity and a first aid class giving him 1 in Medicine have just as much chance to pull off surgery as the old ace surgeon with 1 in Dexterity and 5 in Medicine, which can be annoying at times. However, with an ST that puts the logic of the game world before the numbers on the dice the Storyteller system works pretty well and it is fast, even in a scene with a lot of actions and many characters involved. The game never gets bogged down with dice rolling which allows for the story to flow smoothly and the tale being told to always be the central aspect. Which is the goal of any World of Darkness, or in this case Chronicles of Darkness, game.

 

ENDOWMENTS, WHAT MAKES VIGIL DIFFERENT FROM EARLIER HUNTER THE RECKONING

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Hunters are not defenseless in Hunter the Vigil however, they do have so called Endowments, little tweaks and powers that might just give them that little extra they need to survive, but this is far more like Abraham Van Helsing’s charms and prayers, than Buffy’s super strength and agility.

 

Endowments can be anything from minor magic powers to science fiction style weapons to strange artifacts. My first Hunter the Vigil character, Pilar, had a magic spindle with unbreakable thread which could then be used to secure a monster once caught, the drawback…for there is always a price, was that the thread was spun out of her own life force. And that was it, that was all Pilar had to defend herself against the things that go bump in the night.

I personally think that the Endowment system is the best part of Hunter the Vigil as it makes sure your character is not helpless against the creatures he or she is risking their lives to take down but at the same time they do not overpower the hunter. The game is still about regular humans vs the horrors that stalk mankind, and as such the game will include far more research, planning and trying to figure out how to take the monsters down than a heads on confrontation that is not likely to end well for the hunters, and to me that is what a game about monster hunting is supposed to be.

 

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO PLAY?

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Here is where Hunter the Vigil has a bit of an issue. New World of Darkness was originally based around buying one core book and then the various games in the series were templates to add to this core system. This meant you needed the New World of Darkness Core book. (Not the new Chronicles of Darkness ones that is the second edition and we have no new edition of Hunter just yet though converting it to the new rules should not be that hard.) Then you will need Hunter the Vigil’s core book and preferably either the core book that deals with whatever critter your hunters will be going after or at least the supplement for Hunter concerning that type of monster. That means that if you want to start playing Hunter the Vigil and have none of the new World of Darkness books then you need to acquire three books to get what you need to get going and that can get expensive, unfortunately White Wolf continue with this method of publishing Chronicles of Darkness, which if anyone is confused by the two terms are the second edition of new World of Darkness, so the problem will not go away anytime soon. If you have some of the books in question or have been playing another game of the line though, then picking up Hunter the Vigil is well worth it if you enjoy stories of monster hunting that are like old 1950’s horror movies or shows like the X-Files.

 

CONCLUSION:

 

I could say a lot more about this game but with a limited amount of space I think I will keep it to saying that a lot of fun can be had with this game. The system is simple but fast, the setting is pretty good, though as with all the Chronicles of Darkness entries I am left with the same feeling as I read though the core books, good…awesome game, but what do I do with it. There are few plot hooks ingrained into the books themselves. I would not say this is the best of the Chronicles of Darkness games but it is a good tool to create a fun game of monster hunting.

 

The core book as with all the games of the same line are a beautiful, hardbound tome with beautiful art that draws you into the setting, the same with most of the supplements for this game. Hunter the Vigil is currently out of print but it can still be found fairly easily and hopefully a second edition is right around the corner, so start your Vigil, and venture into the dark, dangerous streets of Chronicles of Darkness, it is well worth it.

Anja is a woman from Norway. She has been interested in gaming most of her life. She lives with her husband and cat. She enjoys making characters and writing fan-fiction, erotic fiction, and small pieces about Neo-Paganism.

 

EMBRACING MINORITIES IN GAMING

Like many of us, gamers, I have been playing role-playing games since I was twelve years old.  Unlike many of us, I am Latino and my first GM was black.  From early on, race and ethnicity have played a large role in my gaming, either consciously or unconsciously.  A few years ago this topic came to the forefront for me when my GM at the time started a game about the Irish mob.  Race and ethnicity had been coming up frequently in my life, but when I heard about this game, I frankly got very bored and somewhat dejected.  As I saw it, this was yet another story about Europeans and their problems without representation of other minorities. This topic came to a head recently, when friends were running a 7th Seas one shot, and that same sense of boredom at the setting washed over me, yet another eurocentric game.  As I look back, I can think of the overwhelming number of white players and characters in my groups.  As a geek and ex-goth I have met and played with countless white people as these subcultures are centered around European cultures.  It’s not that I wasn’t welcome, these people were and are my close friends, it’s that I wasn’t counted.  

 

drow

Drow – From Forgotten Realms

As a player, I know of many games, but I will admit to not knowing the full gamut of games out there and all their varieties, so I focus in this essay on the games that I know, and the games I know are popular.   Off the top of my head I can think of two games, Shadowrun and White-Wolf, that paid any attention to minorities.  Everything else I can think of gave lip service to any ethnicity except chop-socky Asian stereotypes (giving particular looks at Ninjas and Superspies, 2nd Edition AD&D monks, and the Akashic Brotherhood books).  And often, when the players did try to embrace these other cultures, the characters were white-washed caricatures.  Medieval fantasy role playing games are particularly bad culprits of euro-centrism, as their definition of medieval is specifically exclusive of any other culture.  The best (or possibly worst) attempt to create diversity were the Drow in D&D.  My wife has a

andvari

A Runestone with Andvari (maybe a Svartelf)

particular issue with the Drow because she sees them as playing in blackface.  I see it differently, because I know based on history the Drow aren’t trying to be black people, they are just a race that happens to be black based on Nordic myth.  My issue with the Drow is that instead of trying to expand beyond European folklore, the authors invented a new race, notably the only one of color, that fits within their eurocentric world.  To make matters worse they are all evil except the one heroic Drow who decides to embrace the mainstream morality and culture.  It’s not to say that the authors imagined non-whites as evil, but as a minority player, this was a message I received. 

 

My favorite system to play are the Old World of Darkness (OWOD) games, mostly because I like the pathos inherent in the games.  OWOD, in the 90s, was one of the first games in my recollection to really take any consideration of non-European ethnicities, and they did it badly.  But, they did it, and they gave a real attempt to go beyond pure stereotypes.  The Werewolf books integrated a Native-American style animist philosophy into its core principles and it included African characters with the Silent Striders.  The Mage books attempted to recognize Hindi religions with the Euthanatoi (aka Chakravanti).  The Mage Book of Shadows introduced the Ali-Batin, Arabic mages based not on any sort of extremism, but on the Islamic Golden age of the 10th through 12th centuries.  Even the Kindred of the east, as chop-socky as it was, delved deeper into Asian mysticism than just about anything that had come before it.  I reiterate, these weren’t good, but they were a start.  I felt at home, in a sense, because in this system I existed implicitly.  

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I could have asked to exist explicitly in these worlds but that would not have been possible.  I grew up in a very diverse area.  I lived with people of all ethnicities in Washington, DC.  I don’t know how to feel normal without a massive amount of diversity around me. From ethnic, to political, to sexual, I had all types of diversity around me.  As a foreigner I spent my early years travelling back and forth from Venezuela, and though I want to say I identify more with that particular culture, I don’t.  I do identify as Latino but I don’t carry that sense of patriotism, that love of the land, that I see in many other people have for the native country.  So for me, representation, however bad, was enough.  It was a start.  It attempted to create a world in which I exist. I’ve heard from others that they’ve known people from somewhere in the world that were offended because these games didn’t get their ethnicity right.  Grapevine hearsay aside, I’m okay with this.  We are not going to get these games right, particularly not on the first go around.  And it’s going to be particularly difficult to get any one culture completely in a short fictional summary of text.  We are playing a game of course correction; we try to hit a target, miss, and try again.  As the 20th anniversary edition of the old White Wolf games comes out, they work to get create better representations.  http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/144495/Vampire-20th-Anniversary-Edition-The-Dark-Ages

 

I focus on the White Wolf games as the best example I know, not to put them on a pedestal as the best example in the industry.  Part of my particular emphasis is that I do not know of any other games with a global reach.  I’ve seen Mage fan movies in Catalan.  I’ve met a surprising number of native Portuguese speaking players, particularly Brazilian.  I’ve run into Greeks, Bolivians, Mexicans, Chinese, Blacks, and Muslims that play these games.  This is impressive to me. But enough fan-boyism.

 

I understand where this eurocentrism comes from: white privilege.  I despise that term, not because it’s not accurate, but because it feels slimy to me.  Yet, that’s exactly what it is.  The majority of gamers I’ve played with are white, and have identified with the British Isles or Nordic countries.  If I had a dollar for every Nordic rune or Celtic knot I’ve seen I’d have enough to buy me a couple of new next gen consoles.  Even the minority players I play with have a hard time playing characters that aren’t white.  We are inundated with white-washing in our media and have come to accept it as normal.  Whites in the US are the cultural rulers, and as such in a position of power, whites as a group are not bothered by the lack of representation of other minorities.  It’s not that the individuals don’t care, they do in their individual lives, they just haven’t had examples of players or characters from other ethnicities in their midst.  We need examples of games that include other ethnicities as central points, not as villains or stereotypes, but as proper representation that the world is larger than what we have seen and experienced.

 

There is a very similar, parallel issue, which is women in gaming.  I’ve run into many men that won’t play women, and vice versa, as well as players that will not stray outside of their own culture.  These players claim this is somehow a defense of that other culture or gender, that they don’t want offend or misrepresent.   I am calling this behaviour out as ethnocentrism, fear, and laziness.  Ethnocentrism in only being willing to engage in something the player already knows.  Fear as in retaliation or rejection for stepping outside the box.  Laziness for an unwillingness to explore and research other cultures.  The cure for this is courage and compassion.  Courage to be willing to explore unknown cultures and courage to be wrong.  The compassion is to open up your heart and mind to seeing other cultures and ethnicities as human.  Investigate a new culture, seek people out from that culture, learn as much as you can about them.  You’re never going to get the whole picture, but the effort of trying to approach something outside yourself makes you more compassionate in real life.  

 

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Image by African History,  Yoruba Practioner

I challenge anyone has never gone outside of their particular box to pick a culture for their next game and make a character from it.  I have done this, my most notable example was a gay black practitioner of Yoruba, specifically Angolan Yoruba as opposed to the Vodou or Santeria offshoots.  I had played multi-ethnic characters before but this endeavor helped open my eyes.  This character was about as distant from me as I could think of, or so I thought.  The experience was eye-opening, not only learning how Yoruba spread with slavery into my own country, but also how other-ing it was to be gay and black in a room full of white people representing European countries.  I was fortunate to have a very good storyteller that was able to run with it.  One of most poignant experiences I had was that other players continuously forgot that my character was black.  The notion of someone who didn’t look like they did was so foreign they couldn’t keep it in their heads.  One of the best surprises I received was realizing that another player in the Irish mob game decided to play a black Vodou practitioner, a player that very much would have otherwise expected to play a white Irish character.  I don’t take credit for influencing him, but I would like to think that playing my Yoruba character touched someone somehow.

 

I don’t mean to malign anyone by this article.  This is not a pointed finger at white people, but a pointed finger at ourselves, whatever ethnicity we are.  As gamers we have the power to become someone else, anyone else, let’s flex this power.  We have a powerful tool at our disposal, role play, that allows us to become someone else for a bit, to walk in someone else’s shoes. I want us to all realize that we are a broad diverse people, that we have so much richness in culture to draw from.  It’s okay to explore and play any culture, European or otherwise.  We should be acknowledging that the European myths from which our games come from are a tiny part of a broad vast world, and that we no longer live culturally isolated.  Let us realize that we are again and again playing the same song, and excluding many of the people whom we love in our external lives.  Let us realize that we are people living the same struggle, and that the struggle of others is interesting.  Let us realize that by exploring we create compassion within ourselves.  If you are a game writer ask yourself about who you are representing in your games.  If you are a player, ask yourself whom in your life do you want to know more about.  Allow yourself to grow.

Miguel Ludert is an artist and software developer, originally from Venezuela, then Washington DC, then Richmond, VA, and now Seattle, WA.

A CASE FOR QUEER CHILDHOOD HORROR IN THE WORLD OF DARKNESS

Changeling

Tell me if you’ve heard these before. “I liked Changeling the Lost so much more than Changeling the Dreaming because they got rid of all the childhood garbage.”  “When I read Changeling the Dreaming, I turned and ran and never looked back.” “Changeling’s a fine game I guess, but it doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness.”

I have seen or heard every statement above when WoD players talk about Changeling the Dreaming.  I am a long time fan of Changeling, and specifically I am a long time fan of the horror themes inherent to the game.  In truth it can be the darkest setting in the line, but the themes are difficult to approach for a variety of reasons.  Some of those reasons are tied to how the game was developed, but some of the problems have to do with the perspective players bring to the game.

Changeling the Dreaming fundamentally speaks to a distinctly queer experience.  No, I do not think Changeling is exclusively queer, but I think the horror of the game is particularly resonant with the lived experience of queer gamers.  I do not know if this was intentional on the part of the developers, but I want to take some time to really dive into the horrors of Changeling through my experiences as a gay man, and how I feel these experiences show up in Changeling.

There are a handful of moments in my life that I think about when I think about Changeling.  When I was in 7th grade I was at the counter of a small kitch store with my mother in front of a cashier than I am now quite certain was a gay man.  A box of rainbow rings sitting next to the register caught my eye so I picked one up and asked what it was.  The cashier told me they were gay pride rings and I dropped them like my hands were on fire.  I don’t know how the cashier responded (I can’t imagine well), but my mother awkwardly tried to tell me I shouldn’t react that way, while at the same time obviously not wanting to be angry because she wanted to cultivate empathy in me, not shame.  As much as her reaction was the right one, she didn’t understand why I dropped them.  She hadn’t spent years on the playground with me, and she didn’t understand the fear of the slurs being true that only really exists when they are.  Until I finally started dating guys I never thought about that moment, but it lingered in high resolution in my mind.  Now it defines how I understand gay men before they accept who they are.

 

I had that dream again.  The one where I tower over all the bullies on the playground.  I’m also blue, with horns and . . . it’s a weird dream.  I didn’t have it while I was asleep though.  I had it on the playground.  Steve was getting it again for taking all the toys apart and trying to make them better.  Chuck was leading the chant, and it was the same insults the kids always used.  Geek, Dweeb, Tinkling Tinker, Queer.  My vision went red, my skin went blue and I swung.  I was huge.  I towered over them.  They couldn’t possibly win. . . Except they did.

 

Steve and I both ended up in the dirt, filthy and bruised.  I got up first and tried to help him up but he smacked my hand and started screaming at me.  Why did I stick my nose in his business? They would have been happy to just scare him if he’d played along, and then I butted in.  His cheeks were red with tears and rage.  For a moment I saw two red spirals twirl out of the flush on his face.  I cringed back and closed my eyes, trying not to listen to him screaming.  I don’t want to be this anymore.  I don’t want to care about him.  I hate myself.

Victor

When I was in high school I fell for my first boy.  I mean, I’d crushed a few times before that, but I always found a way to convince myself it was something else.  I can’t say we “dated” or that he was “my boyfriend”.  His parents were Pentecostal.  That was just never going to happen.  Not in any way that normal people get to have boyfriends or girlfriends.  We fooled around though.  Did the sort of things 16 year old kids do with each other that their parents like to pretend “kids” that age don’t do.  I loved him as much as a 16 year old is capable of coherent love.  It was messy though.  His relationship with his adolescent sexuality was complicated and capricious, and as hard as it was for me to accept liking boys because of the children I’d grown up around my entire life, I knew I could never understand what getting that from my family was like, so I was ok with it.

Then his parents found out.  Not about us specifically, but that he liked boys.  I wish I had learned about conversion therapy in a book or from the news in college like most people.  I learned about it from our mutual friends when I found out why he wasn’t living at home any more.  I am forever grateful his parents never knew we had messed around, because when he finally got home after months “at camp” I was able to see him.  We joked about his stories.  Made fun of the idea of all the boys at this camp being forced to bathe together. They wanted to stop him from being gay right?  Clearly they were morons.  We didn’t joke about the majority of what happened though, because he didn’t talk about it.  He wasn’t quite the same as before.  It wasn’t until years later that I really wrapped my mind around what that “not quite the same” really meant.

http://www.lydiaburris.com/

(http://www.lydiaburris.com/)

 

I sit in my dorm room thinking about Steve and Chuck.  It’s been a long time since I traded blows with Chuck on the playground, but for whatever reason here I am thinking about it.  I know now I wasn’t just dreaming that day.  I can be tall now, huge beyond measure, and Steve isn’t just some kid who’s good at putting things together.  I’m a Troll, Steve’s a Knocker, and laughably enough Chuck’s a Redcap.  He doesn’t smell out other Changelings to torment anymore.  Now he eats the fear of the assholes who made him afraid enough of his blood soaked dreams to turn on his own.  I shouldn’t relish the nightmares he dredges up in those wastes of skin.  I’m a seelie Troll.  I’m honorable, respectable.  Not every Autumn Fae gets a happy ending though and I can’t help but think he’s due a little payback.

 

Every other Troll in the court might shove their unseelie legacy down when it comes knocking, but I understand what that simmering hatred that locked me away from my chrysalis does to a person, and I understand what it drove Chuck to do.  So when he feeds, he’s feeding for every Changeling he smacked around as a kid, and I savor his feasts almost as much as he does.  It’s just one of those truths about being a fae in this world you don’t admit in polite seelie company.

 

My phone chimes.  It’s Steve.  He’s back from his break with his family.  I can’t wait to tell him what happened in court while he was gone.  It was an epic summer.  He’s living off campus now, and I thought it was going to be awesome.  I’m standing on his stoop waiting for him to answer the door and I can tell something’s wrong.  When the door opens I see what it is.  His face . . . the spirals on his cheeks that glow a deep candy cane crimson when he works are grey and dull.  His seeming is there . . . kind of, but I wish it wasn’t.  The mists are kinder than whatever I’m looking at.  He’s happy to see me, but everything is wrong, and I don’t understand what’s happening.  We go downstairs into his workshop and it’s immaculate.  No knocker has an immaculate workshop.  He’s building something and he sits down to start working on it again as if I’m not even there.  I watch him counting holes and rows on a prototype circuit board over and over again.  He’s counting exactly 3 times before putting his circuits in and I uncomfortably lean over him and joke, “whatever happened to the kid who always knows where to put the wire?”

 

He looks up at me and smiles, “Yeah, I was a pretty sloppy kid wasn’t I?  But after the work I did for my dad this summer I know that if it isn’t perfect it isn’t worth making . . . right?”  

 

Changeling’s themes aren’t only queer, but the horrors come into deeper, more vibrant contrast when you are.  The Nephandi of Changeling wear psychologists outfits and tell you you’re wrong, and the hardest part is the people telling you to listen to them aren’t motivated by some Wyrm tainted Bane curled up deep in their gut.  The people telling you to listen to them are your parents, and girlfriends, and family.  They are telling you to listen because they are afraid of you.  They are afraid for you, and most painfully they love you.  So they can’t just sit by and not do something.  In the worst situations they are just like you.  They are victims of the world around them and that’s the very thing that makes them so dangerous.  Most people don’t understand that experience.  It’s easy to see childhood silliness in Changeling if you don’t look too deeply, or if you’ve never taken a knife to your own ability to love because you’re more afraid of what the people in your life might think than the loneliness that haunts you.

I’m a gay man, and the words above are about my experience, but I will say I’ve seen these themes even more starkly and painfully when I hear my trans friends speak about their lives.  This rabbit hole is so much deeper than I can ever pretend to illuminate and for that I am uncomfortably grateful.

If you’ve ever found yourself saying Changeling doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness, or that it’s full of silly childhood themes, take a second and think about it a little more carefully.  I don’t ask that you dive in and drag the horror out of the game.  It’s a game after all, and no one should tell you what should or shouldn’t speak to you. Instead of saying the game doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness though, I just ask that you take a second to be appreciate why you weren’t able to see that horror and be grateful it doesn’t belong at your table.

 

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.

HOW PLAYING A HERO SAVED MY LIFE or HOW I WENT FROM LIVING IN MY CAR TO GRADUATE SCHOOL

Ruinil

Miniature of Ruinil Alam

I’m sure some people are going to think the title of this article is hyperbole, and in some way it is, because I have no idea where I would have gone without gaming. There is a strong possibility I’d have slipped into a serious depression and not be here today.

Grigori Piedrich - Tzimisce

Grigori Piedrich – Tzimisce

In my teens I found role-playing games and they became my regular hobby. Partly because I had dreams that I would travel the world and do great things and gaming was my temporary surrogate to those goals. However, High School was a period of toxicity for several reasons. One, I suffered through some anger management and depression problems that I really failed to address effectively. Two, I got stuck in a toxic relationship that I was too unwise to remove myself from. Now, I don’t blame my fellow co-dependent any longer, because I had the agency to remove myself from that situation, but I didn’t and it helped to make things worse for quite some time. Throughout that time, I gamed pretty regularly, eventually playing table-top games twice a week with a group of friends who hung out with the gaming club in town. On top of that, I would travel to LARPs in the region at least once or twice a month. Eventually I’d run several of these as well.

Gaming was my constant outlet for creativity. Though I wrote, and read, gaming was where I realized my dreams and generated plots and solutions to various conundrums. Usually these games were White Wolf games or Dungeons and Dragons (3.0 and 3.5), and we played a few random home rule worlds as well as testing out a bunch of other games here and there.

Eventually I found myself playing villains, people that were cruel, angry, and prone to revenge and actions I deeply found abhorrent. That being said, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to think of playing heroes, all the characters I made were flawed in ways that showed some of my deeper issues. I remember being borderline grumpy, angry, quick to snap at my closest friends at a moment’s notice and the characters I played were equally sullen and interestingly prone to failure.

Between 2002 and 2003 things started to change. A new friend at gaming club introduced me to a D&D setting he wanted to run called Birthright. Birthright is a

Not Osric, but from that era

Not Osric, but from that era

lower fantasy setting where there are extensive rules for running kingdoms and smaller sovereign lands. I initially played Osric Illien, a Mage-Noble who was desperately out of his league. He was intelligent and charismatic, but he was one of the least powerful regents in the area. He made terrible choices, and was slowly on a slide into evil and probably would have eventually sold out the rest of the party. Thankfully, he died.

That character was killed in a pretty freak situation and I was initially pretty devastated. However, my friend Jeremy was a pretty wise friend and he had some suggestions to helping me bring a new character into the game. He also was wise enough to see that playing villains was helping me wallow in my misery. Here I was working up to 2 dead end jobs, not traveling, not adventuring like I had expected to be doing in my life. I’d always dreamed of seeing the world and due to a series of terrible choices, I wasn’t. I was stuck in the area of my home town, where I’d never expected to be much longer than my last day of High School. I was stuck in a dead end relationship, wallowing.

At least until I created Ruinil Alam. Ruinil was a roguish character in the vein of Westly from The Princess Bride. He was the heroic nephew of the cruel ruler of Alame. At first, he was a low-level freedom fighter that worked to usurp the Duchy from his uncle. After a few weeks of play, he succeeded and though he wasn’t at first welcomed by his people, he changed their mind with his dedication to their success. Ruinil was first, happy. He was motivated to do great things, he liked other people, and he was driven to make the world around him a better place. He also, eventually was killed. However, due to his passionate nature, the love of his NPC wife, and his dedication to a goddess, he was given life once more. This is not a common occurrence in Birthright; resurrection was not a spell most clerics could cast. This story helped to motivate me, to give me a spark of the spirit I was missing.

San Diego

One of the few photos I have from San Diego, that’s me on the right, my brother on the left

Half-way through that game, I ended up having a massive break-up with my ex and I finally decided I needed to change my life. Ruinil inspired me to strike out and do something crazy, as well as the support of a friend that knew I needed to get out of the situation I was in. So, I moved from New Hampshire, to San Diego California. Sadly, when I arrived, I didn’t have a place to stay as my brother who was supposed to take me in was himself living on someone’s couch. So, I spent the next few months living in my car. Though I didn’t get to play Ruinil at a distance very frequently, I did connect with my GM a few times and it was good to get back in his head during this situation.

Having made this crazy change, I knew I’d have to make a plan for making further changes. I decided that I wanted to travel the world, and get an education. So, though it went against a lot of what I liked doing, I decided to join the Army. I knew that I would eventually get the GI Bill, and be able to use that money to get a degree. I also knew that if I chose my MOS (job) correctly I’d get a chance to travel. It took me another 2 years to get everything taken care of, but I eventually joined the US Army in July of 2006. It’s been almost 10 years now since I joined the Army, (I left in 2011), and I can say looking back that it was the mental shift I had playing Ruinil that really pushed me into make the changes that have brought me where I am today.

My first duty station was South Korea. I met my wife there; she’s an Englishwoman who was teaching children English (learn from the source, right?). From there we chose to go to Germany, and I got to travel a lot through Europe, and eventually drive all the way from Uppsala in Sweden, to Bavaria in Germany. I left the Army, got my Bachelor’s degree in 2 years, then my graduate degree in 2 more. In my last semester of my undergrad we had a wonderful little girl. Now having completed my school work (all using the GI Bill), I’ve decided to pursue the activity that helped drive me toward success, gaming.

Gaming is something I believe can change the world, person to person, in small ways and in big ways. I see the Inclusive Gaming Network, Keep on the Heathlands, and Reach-Out Roleplaying games as steps in tying so much of my life together. I’m tying my education, my passions, and my goals to help make the world a better place through a few integrated projects.

You all can thank Ruinil Alam for helping make all this happen.

House

Grand Masquerade – What ELSE To Do

Hey everyone!

 

Enjoying New Orleans and the Grand Masquerade? I know I am!

However I do plan on leaving the hotel at some point this weekend, and I figure I would share some of my interesting finds as a first time visitor to the city. I have never been here before, so all of these recommendations are just from what I could find online. There are lots of other places other than what I’m listing here, but these are the ones that seemed the most interesting and required no more than about 15 minutes of walk or trolley ride from the main hotel in most cases. Directions to any of these places can be found by a very easy Google search of the name of the shop, restaurant, attraction, or bar.

If you aren’t at Grand Masquerade this weekend, consider seeking out similar places to these in your home town. Locally owned restaurants, specialty stores, museums, and other local curiosities can really be fun places to go, even in your own home town. Reach out to your other locals and find somewhere interesting to go this weekend.

midnightboheme at pixabay.com

If I covered 1/4 of the French Quarter, would it be the French Sixteenth?



CASUAL FOOD:

  • Daisy Dukes – Open 24/7, delivery is available, they have a bit of everything, it’s barely two blocks from the hotel, and it is not expensive. These people will know my name and face by the end of the weekend.
  • Country Flame Restaurant  – About a block and a half away, they have Mexican, Spanish, Cuban and Latin American food, and they deliver.
  • Merchant – This coffee shop is close, about two blocks away. They serve fresh made in front of you crepes and good coffee, as well as some sparkling bottled natural fruit drinks.
  • Addiction Coffee House – This was a tie for the closest coffee shop I could find, less than 2 blocks from the hotel, and it doesn’t seem any more expensive than Starbucks, and it’s local blends.
  • Jimmy J’s – NOT Jimmy John’s, but a tiny little cafe about three blocks away. A good place to pop in for snacks or a full blown meal.
  • The Ruby Slipper Cafe  –  Open for breakfast and lunch about 3 to 4 blocks away, this will be a good place to trek to for an omelette as that seems to be their specialty.
  • Salt n’ Pepper – About a 5 minute walk away, here is the Indian place for all of you. I am a bit of a spice wimp so Indian food is not for me, but I know so many people who like it that I found a place just for them.
  • Mona Lisa – About a mile from the hotel, Mona Lisa is a moderately priced Italian joint. I’m not a big Italian food fan, but this place also makes custom pizzas so really anyone can eat here as long as you’re not avoiding carbs.
  • Angeli – About 15 minutes away, Angeli does delivery as well as is open until 2am for all of us vampires in the area.
  • Croissant D’or Patisserie – 15 minutes away by trolley, this one is a cute little bakery and it’s open at 6am, so those of you who stay up all night can pop out for a quick snack before sleeping all day.

 

UPSCALE DINING:

  • Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak – This one is only a bit more than a block away, an American style steakhouse. Dinner jackets required for men, this place looks very fancy. Ventrue only.
  • Cafe Giovanni – 3 blocks from the hotel, this is the upscale italian joint for the trip. Vampire the Masquerade players will appreciate the name of the business for sure, and sometimes there are even opera singers in the lounge. Be sure to dress appropriately in business casual, like a good Giovanni.
  • Broussard’s – An upscale French and Creole style restaurant located about 3 blocks from the hotel. This place will serve nice upscale versions of what you would consider local New Orleans fare.  You will need to make reservations, and dinner jackets are preferred.
  • Attiki Bar and Grill – 5 Minutes from the hotel, this Mediterranean seemed very interesting. They have a full hookah bar and sometimes feature belly dancers. They are open until 4am, so have fun being a well dressed (business casual) night owl here.
  • El Gato Negro – About 15 minutes away, this is the fancy Mexican restaurant for all the Lasombra out there, they make fresh guacamole at your table and have a ton of gluten free and vegetarian options, so if you have dietary restrictions and want to go eat fancy, this is a good place for you. Business casual dress, so no jeans here.

 

SHOPS:

  • Boutique du Vampyre – This was an amazing Google find. It’s all vampire themed accessories, props, jewelry, and more. It looks so amazing, and it’s only half a mile from the hotel. I am definitely going there before my big game on Friday to do last minute shopping.
  • Southern Candymakers – This one is about half a mile from the hotel. It’s one of those candy shops you see in most tourist towns, but if you’re like me you have a need to go in these places when you are on vacation. I personally am curious about their sweet potato candy.
  • Papier Plume Stationary – A little over half a mile away near the VooDoo Museum, this place carries lots of stationary tools. Interested in getting that letter writing trend started back up in the Underground Theater? This would be a good place to go. I loved that myself, and I’m hoping they carry sealing wax because I want more.
  • Cigar Factory New Orleans – While I don’t smoke, I know that quality makes a difference, and by all accounts this place is quality. They’re about half a mile away and make everything locally from what I can tell, so cigar connoisseurs enjoy yourselves.
  • Brass Monkey  – This one is about 5 minutes away at 407 Royal Street (I included the address on this one because Google will put you in Shreveport which is a few hours away!) It’s an antique kitsch shop and I am all about these. I can spend all day in here, and I’m very excited to take home a little piece of history.
  • French Market – Located on Jackson Square about 15 minutes away, this is an open air stall market with food, accessories, and more. There is a lot of stuff here and I’m excited to browse.
  • World Famous N’awlins Cafe & Spice Emporium – About 15 minutes away by trolley, this one is going to be fun. It’s a small cafe and place you can buy some of the spices they would be cooking your food in, so if you order something delicious you buy the spice blend they used. I’m excited to get some new cooking spices here.

 

ATTRACTIONS:

  • Audubon Butterfly Garden – About five minutes from the hotel, this is a cute butterfly garden and insect museum. There is even the opportunity to eat a bug if you’re feeling brave, which I am not.
  • St. Louis Cathedral – About ten minutes from the hotel, this is the oldest continually active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the US. The current one was built in 1794, but the original is 70 years older!
  • Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans – Only open Friday and Saturday from 11am to 3pm, this is a museum of 200 years of Irish history in New Orleans. It’s located about ten minutes from the hotel in the French Quarter.
  • Audubon Aquarium –  On the riverfront about 15 minutes away, this aquarium has region specific exhibits, and you get to feed parakeets! I am most excited about going here, because I love going to aquariums.
  • 1850 House – About 15 minutes by trolley, this house is furnished with art and furnitiure from the period, the 1850 House showcases a middle class home from the most prosperous period in New Orleans History.
  • Jackson Square & Cafe du Monde – About 15 minutes away by trolley or walking, I only have one thing to say about it: beignets. Seriously. Jackson Square is a great place to people watch and browse the shops nearby and Cafe du Monde is famous for their coffee and their beignets.
  • VooDoo Museum – About 15 minutes away by walking or trolley, why would you not go to a VooDoo museum while you’re in New Orleans? It’s a good place to learn about why it’s so popular even now and how it got that way in the first place.
  • Adventure Quest Laser Tag – This one is a little far from the hotel, about 15-20 minutes by car, but it is worth it if you like this kind of thing. Featuring laser tag, bumper cars, mini golf, an outdoor maze, rock climbing, and a huge arcade, if you want some family fun this is the place to go
  • Audubon Zoo – About a 20 minute drive away, this is a pretty neat urban zoo. Plus, if you play Pokemon, it’s got around 30 pokestops!

 

BARS WITH LIVE MUSIC:

  • Carousel Bar and Lounge – It’s a bar that is built onto a carousel, and it actually spins! They have live music most nights, and it’s only about a block over from the hotel!
  • 21st Amendment – Another bar with less moving parts that features live jazz most nights, and it’s also only about a block away from the hotel. It’s got a mobster, speakeasy vibe and is named after the amendment that introduced Prohibition.

 

SPECIALTY BARS:

  • Patrick’s Bar Vin – About two blocks over from the hotel, this is a wine bar, but they do serve a few cocktails and a few beers. It’s clientele is apparently mostly locals and the owner is there most nights and friendly. The tourist reviews I could find really liked the calm and inviting atmosphere.
  • Bourbon “O”  – This one is about a half mile away, and is located in what claims to be the most haunted hotel in New Orleans. They have a seasonal menu that changes often so it’s a mystery what they will be serving when you get there!

 

There are a TON of other places that I didn’t list on here; I didn’t even cover Bourbon Street! Hopefully this gives you a fun starting point to branch out to other places and enjoy yourselves out of character this weekend as well. I look forward to seeing you all in different places around the city, if I can ever bring myself to leave Daisy Dukes, Brass Monkey or the Grand Masquerade hotel. You’ll probably find me out of character at the gaming hall most of the time, losing at board games. Look for me in character at the Grand Conclave event for Underground Theater, I’ll be the one wearing dragonfly jewelry and slightly ridiculous heels.

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

IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE PT 2: PVP VS CVC

Generally when we are role-playing characters in conflict, we aren’t also having conflict with the players.

 

Jensjunge at pixabay.com

Unless you take your Witcher cosplay VERY seriously.

 

Notating the difference between the use of “Player versus Player” and “Character versus Character” is very important to maintain a healthy gaming relationship with those around you, especially those that your character comes into conflict with. These articles aim to help you conquer one of the topics that is the most harmful to out of character interactions: the language you use. If you missed part one, you can find it here. Today we will discuss the the difference between the phrases “character versus character” and “player versus player” or PvP and CvC for short.

 

Player versus Player (PvP) and Character vs Character (CvC)

Think of a videogame that you play against another person, like Street Fighter or Mario Kart. In those games, you the player is playing against the other player. Your avatar in these games has no motivation or thought driving them to their actions other than your thumbs. No one else wins if you win, and no one else loses if you lose.

Nintendo & nazo-gema.deviantart.com

Except Luigi. He always wins.

Videogames are a perfect example of Player versus Player, or PvP for short. In a video game you are a Player, and the other person is a Player. You as players are using your own skills and abilities in a contest to see who comes out on top. In a LARP setting, the opposite is true. In LARP it is not Player versus Player, but instead Character versus Character. Your character Taylor is fighting Janet’s character Kara. Would you go over and actually injure Janet? If not, then you the player is not fighting Janet the player. Taylor the character is fighting Kara the character. The reason it is important to refer to character’s competing as CvC instead of PvP is that we as players are not competing with each other.

Using the term PvP to refer to your character’s conflict with another character can be harmful to the out of game perception of what is going on. People who are not you or the player of the character that your character is fighting with could perceive it as you the player not liking the other player involved. It can lead to hurt feelings when someone finally wins, as sometimes CvC actions can lead to the death of one or more characters involved. Using the term CvC helps keep that perception from happening and helps separate the negative emotion of the loss so that way you can speak to the player afterwards to make sure everything is okay out of character.

Recently some LARPing organizations, such as Underground Theater, have begun using CvC to describe times when characters fight with each other, and it has been very helpful in reducing hurt feelings and miscommunication issues related to the scenes. In a recent game one character kidnapped another character. The scene went smoothly and after the game the two players were laughing and shook hands, smiles all around. These two players used a combination of possessive and objective language throughout the night, and made sure to frame the conflict as CvC instead of PvP. Both contributed to the general good mood after the game.

 

Be Respectful, Get Respected, Have A Good Time

unsplash at pixabay.com

Only imagine those as beers if you’re 21+

 

Language is the most important tool you as a player have when interacting with other players. It can make the difference between leaving your game with a new friend or the other player leaving the game and not coming back. Remembering to use your words as a barrier between yourself and your character can help soothe bad moods and make interactions positive for everyone. Using CvC instead of PvP can also reframe the situation and separate it from the negative in character feelings.

When you respect other players through language, you get respect in return. Treat other players respectfully and you may make a new friend, even (especially?) if your character just murdered theirs and left them in a ditch somewhere.

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

IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE PT 1: SUBJECTIVE, OBJECTIVE, AND POSSESSIVE LANGUAGE

No one likes to be told they are stupid, or mean, and no one wants to feel like someone hates them. It usually results in feeling somewhat like this:

PublicDomainPictures at pixabay.com

See also: Me when they cancelled Firefly.

 

The way we speak in relation to our games is important. Being mindful of tone when speaking out of character can drastically improve your experience in both areas. Being sure to use the right terms and tone of language out of character can help make stressful situations go smoothly and leave everyone involved happy. On the opposite side of that, using the wrong tone or words can turn a neutral situation into a stressful one for everyone involved. Taking the time to pay attention to how things are said will be beneficial to you. These articles aim to help you conquer one of the topics that is the most harmful to out of character interactions: the language you use. Today we will discuss the language should use to clearly separate your character’s thoughts and feelings from your own when discussing them with other players.

 

Subjective, Possessive and Objective Language

Here is a quick English lesson to start this section out. Subjective language is when you use I/we to define the subject of the sentence. “We should eat ice cream” uses subjective language to convey the subject is the self, or a group including the self. Possessive language uses my/your to define the subject, such as “My shoes match your jacket.” Objective language defines the subject with his/hers/theirs, and refers to a subject that isn’t the speaker or the listener, or a possession of either of them. “His dog is cute” would be an example of objective language use. Using the correct language is important to managing out of character relationships, and we’ll be going over some examples below. In the examples below, your character will be named “Taylor” and the other example player will be named “Janet”, with her character being named “Kara”.

 

geralt at pixabay.com

…and now, for advanced math. I hope you studied!

 

SUBJECTIVE:

Let’s say that your character Taylor absolutely despises Janet’s character Kara, and you wanted to talk about the situation with other players. If you use subjective language, you’d be saying “I hate Kara” which could make Janet think that her character wasn’t any good and she may stop playing the character or the game as a whole. Even worse is saying “I hate you” when talking to Janet directly. If Janet didn’t know you were talking about your character, she could take this as you meaning that YOU the player hates Janet the player and that could leave her feeling upset and make her dislike you as a person.  Even in situations where Janet is clear that you are speaking about your characters, the fact you are not taking the time to make the distinction in your wording may make her feel like you don’t care much about the distinction.

 

POSSESSIVE:

If you were to use possessive language, such as “Taylor hates Kara” then Janet the player would be much more receptive to the conversation, and that would lead to a much healthier dialogue between the two of you. By speaking with possessive language to refer to your character, their thoughts, and their feelings you create a barrier between yourself and your character. Having this barrier lets people know that you as a person do not dislike them and allows players who play even the most bitter hateful rivals in game be civil and cordial out of game. Referring to your character’s opinions this way also helps you as a player keep those opinions separate from your own.  That separation is both necessary and healthy, especially if you play for bleed.

 

OBJECTIVE:

Objective language can be tricky because it needs to be used in addition to possessive language. “I think his character is not very smart” is a combination of objective and subjective language. Phrases like this could still lead that other player into thinking you as a person think that his character is dumb, and possibly lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Using objective language with possessive language clearly defines the meaning of the sentence, for example “Taylor thinks that his character is not very smart.” In that sentence you are saying that your character Taylor thinks that another player’s character isn’t very smart, and that is all.

 

Clear and concise language reduces the chance for hurt feelings.  Remember to use possessive language when referring to your own characters thoughts and feelings, and you will be seen as a much more mature and respectable player. Look for part two tomorrow where we’ll be discussing the differences between the phrases “Player versus Player” and “Character versus Character.”

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

LARP & THE SOCIAL DEFICIENCY

Despite the social, shared experience that is Live Action Role Playing, the social aspect sometimes falls short.

Awkward

 

I started gaming as a late teenager, first in AIM chat rooms in a friend’s D&D campaign, then moving on to weekly tabletop games at a local store. Boy, was I awkward! That guy who raises his voice a bit too high when laughing, or seems to not quite get the flow of conversation? Yeah, pretty sure that was me. It took me some time to improve, but I credit gaming for a large part of that success. It gave me an environment to watch how other people interacted on a typical basis, and emulate them. I got to act out characters, help in group decisions, and come together to craft wonderful stories.

 

LARP taught me social interaction a bit differently, given its much broader scope: the first event I played in had dozens of people playing monsters or their own character. The game I play in now averages over 40 attendees a month, and the largest LARP event I’ve been to had almost 400 players in one night! Through LARP, I learned more about personal display and expression on a larger scale, as player and storyteller. I learned to act and reign in emotions better. I’m not the only one, either. My game has other players who, over years of playing, also improved their ability to relate to and get along with others. If that’s beneficial, I’m really happy for them.

 

Even if you don’t care about the social skill-building aspect, just having friends you regularly see, and spending time together, generally makes us feel good. The stories we make are fun! Character improvement is fun! Practicing your acting skills is a kind of fun! I can’t think of another experience quite like Live Action Role Playing, which is why I’m disappointed when the social aspect fails its players.

 

Let’s imagine these scenarios from a LARP game:

  • You’re taking a bit of a breather after finishing a scene. Coming back to the main room, you notice that someone’s been sitting on the couch since the game started.
  • The game has ended, and the players are giving a nod to who they thought displayed great role play. Good role players get extra experience. You hear a lot of familiar names.
  • An event happens, and it seems that like usual, a certain group is going off to deal with it rather than you.

 

Are any of those scenarios familiar? I’ve seen them many times myself. Some players appear to be waiting around forever, or are just bored, but we might be unsure how to approach them or we’re busy. Nods for experience, going to the same players, could just means those players learned how to get attention, have good friends, or are superb actors. It’s the same with the last case: players who know how to form their parties and participate will get a lot of the hooks. Games may have an equalizing factor – our abilities in real life don’t need to have anything to do with our characters’ – but they are not egalitarian. Social systems, too, are played and gamed.

 

Split the party

Get Everyone Involved

Why does this matter? Because some people constantly feel left behind.

 

I still see myself as the awkward kid who never quite grew out of it. I still struggle with joining events, getting myself noticed, or keeping my energy up in large groups. I know I’m not the only one out there who finds the social aspects difficult, even if the game can be a lot of fun. Sure, everyone shares responsibility to improve themselves and fit in, but there’s only so much one person can sometimes do; our internal resources are limited.

 

It’s not as if there’s a single cause for this situation. There are plenty of active players and storytellers who try to extend plot and scenes to those who don’t participate as much, but keeping track of everything and everyone is a tough job. At the same time, there are also plenty of less active players who don’t want to make as much of an effort to be active in the game. Maybe they’re less invested for personal or historical reason. Cliques will also happen anywhere we have people – you can try to stop them from forming, but that won’t happen.

 

That said, I wonder if something could actually be done on a larger scale. I’ve seen increasing numbers of LARP organizations, and individual games alike, make strong statements of various inclusivity in their policies. It looks like a trend of increasing acceptance and diversity. If we understand that LARP is an intrinsically social activity, and we want to be inclusive, what do we do with people who have more trouble on the social part? We could put our foot down and say that some people just aren’t a good fit, but that’s exclusive. Maybe those of us who aren’t as easily social come because we harbor a hope of improvement, as at odds with the systems as we are. Maybe it’s our only outlet, or only way of keeping up with our friends. We’re not here for real life!

 

Could there be a more systematic approach to fair inclusion and participation? Do we want our games to just be games, or acknowledge and further develop the aspects of personal development? I’m not sure. I can imagine the push-back from people who fear the game becoming less about gaming and more about support. Even so, I think it wouldn’t be impossible to have an organization promoting conscientious behavior to its players, a “best practices” kind of deal.

 

For those of us who are a bit less comfortable but still having fun, I hope we can at least have the conversation.

 

Ariel is a player and former head of a World of Darkness LARP, as well as an officer of its parent organization, The Garou Nation. He enjoys trying different game systems ever since he encountered his first rulebooks at the age of 13. In the rest of his time, he works on many projects ranging from computer tech and language learning all the way to Queer media, when he’s not trying to find the best bowl of ramen outside of Japan.

PLAYING PAST THE NUMBERS II: OBSERVATION

How many of us have gotten in trouble wNew Haircutith a friend, family member, or significant other for not noticing something? Whether it is dishes in the sink, a full trash can, or a new haircut – may the gods have mercy on you if you didn’t notice.

LARPing is a game of make-believe, and the best players go out of their way to preserve immersion and make things feel real. So if your honey will get irritated because you didn’t notice a change they made, it only makes sense that players may get irritated if they put a lot of time and effort into doing something that was designed to be noticed.

I’m not saying you have to memorize every detail of every player you come into contact with, but make note of obvious things. Every item and piece of clothing we bring into a LARP situation should carry significance, because we chose to bring it into that world of make believe. 

A change in primary color worn might signify that the character has undergone a change of their own. More jewelry, less jewelry? Maybe they came into money, or were robbed. Someone who usually dresses like they rolled around in a Goodwill reject dumpster suddenly shows up in a suit? Definitely a thing to notice. 

Caitiff Clan Pin

Yep, Caitiff Clan Pin… Buy from By Night Studios!

There are more subtle things too. In Vampire: The Masquerade, each Clan has a symbol, and players frequently wear pins or something similar that show their clan symbol. If you see someone /not/ wearing their pin, and they always have before, it may show that there is a possible rift, or they wish to temporarily dissociate themselves from their fellows. 

(There is, of course, the caveat that someone may have not been able to find all of their bits and pieces, or had something happen to their wardrobe. A quick out-of-character explanation should solve that mystery fairly quickly – and if they say that their character would appear as normal, roll with it.)

There is a sweet satisfaction that comes from being the first to catch something subtle, to see another player’s eyes light up that /someone/ noticed their extra effort. There’s also the mental high that comes from pulling a Sherlock and putting together the clues to unlock another character before anyone else does. Disclaimer: you may put together the wrong pieces and get something entirely wrong, but it’s still fun.

If you decide to hone your observation skills, I have a few tips for you:

Notice one characteristic about a character, and mentally label that their primary characteristic. I recommend something semi-prominent, such as a clan pin, gang badge, or a piece of jewelry that looks really obvious.

Take note of the whole package, and how that primary ties in. If that primary doesn’t really seem to jive with the picture as a whole, choose a One of these thingssecond primary, but make note of the first. We’ve all watched Sesame Street. “One of these things just doesn’t belong here…”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, in or out of character. “I love your new hat, my dear; was there a special occasion?” “That’s an epic jacket, where did you find it?” This can double as a fantastic way to break the ice with a new player or a new character.

Look at yourself before you walk into the game. See if anything stands out, positively or negatively. Are *you* conveying the message you want to convey? 

This is a skill that is definitely more useful in an in-person role-playing scenario, because we lose a LOT of context in online interaction, but subtle changes can be visible there with a touch of extra effort.

Challenge yourself each game session to try to notice something that others don’t, or test your fellow players by changing something and seeing how many take note. You can thank me later.

Stay shiny! 

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.

ECLIPSE PHASE AND THE TRANSHUMAN PHILOSOPHY, OR, HOW I STOPPED FEARING DEATH AND LEARNED TO LOVE NANOTECHNOLOGY

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The term is getting thrown around a lot these days and when I write the words a lot I mean a lot.  Transhumanist groups all over the world have seen their numbers swell over the last five years, an example being the Singularity Group, a Transhumanist group that went from 400 members in 2011 to over ten thousand by 2014.  The idea of “beyond human” has found itself coloring the cultural landscape in music, movies, television, novels, and especially in gaming.  At first these change were small bits and pieces of what is an all-encompassing philosophical movement.  Then Posthuman Studios in 2009 dropped Eclipse Phase on our collective gaming culture like a unknown hip-hop artist dropping the mic after proving themselves in an epic rap battle.  The team at Posthuman integrated and deftly arranged Transhuman philosophy into and around every element of EP and created a game that is in the same vein as Shadowrun, forcing deeper thinking about the gaming experience from both a mechanical and setting perspective.  Now in the uncertain future, which all gaming companies get to enjoy, in an industry that much like amateur theater is more a matter of passion than profit, the question becomes what is the direction of EP as the Transhumanist movement itself slowly saturates and bloats beyond the bounds of philosophy and into the realm of faith and cult-like attraction?

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Philosophy is Fun

Let’s take it back to basics; what is philosophy?  What is a philosophy?  Why is Transhuman philosophy, at least initially, the truest descendant of those original Grecian deep thinkers?  Start with the word: philosophy, the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.  The word itself is made of two; philo, “to love”, and sophos, “knowledge”.  The first word, philo, has layers of meaning, being of the same literary family tree as phyle, “a race or tribe”, phyein,”to bring forth, produce, or grow”, and physis, “nature”.  What is the Transhumanist movement but a collection of “tribes” all trying to “grow” more powerful so as to control “nature”?  More so than any philosophy in history Transhumanism fulfills the faceted meanings of philo.  Being a member of the movement doesn’t bring riches; followers love the promise of the movement.  A golden apple of, if not immortality, then extended lifespan and health that no human being has ever enjoyed and expansion of the mind to match.  Of course minus the necessary transition of death required by many other golden apple offering organizations who will remain nameless.  I’m sure we can all think of a few off the top our collective heads, hm?  Or wait, maybe there is a shuffling the mortal coil price of admission?  We’ll get to that later.

Sophos, knowledge, in Ancient Greece men who so debated and argued over the meaning of life and everything were referred to as sophists; teachers who used rhetoric and philosophy to teach arete, excellence, to paying noble students.  If the previous sentence sounds like a set-up for a winding downward path of corruption and misunderstanding than you’re paying attention.  A modern day sophist is considered a charlatan, a hack, a cunning master of words who uses clever but ultimately fallacious and deceptive arguments.  Yes, that’s right, a con man fleecing retirees in Florida has as much in common with a sophist of ancient Greece as the modern philosophy teacher.  They are two sides to the same coin.  Did I mention ancient Grecian sophists were also the first lawyers?  Thanks, Greece.  

It is in this respect that I feel Transhumanism cements a place as the truest spiritual successor to ancient Grecian philosophy.  The Transhumanist movement offers a bright shining future filled with reason, logic, intellectual pursuits, and wonderful advanced technology.  It also offers existential threats to both the continued prosperity of the our species and our very sense of self-preservation.  Both of these futures are painted in golden words and clever arguments.  One is classic sophist and the other modern and the movement has started to mix the two arguments freely.  

“Wait,” you said while finishing that last sentence because you think I can hear you through the magic of the internets, “isn’t this a gaming website?”.  You are correct!  Eclipse Phase brings this murky complexity into the table-top arena and through the games we play and the campaigns we run forces us to face the questions of Transhumanist and Posthumanist thinking while laying the groundwork in the very bedrock of the mechanical dice system.  Posthuman studios has created a game that from page one of character creation gently reaches under our chairs and elevates the conversations at our gaming tables.  

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Buy the Book

There are effectively two characters being created.  The hardware; the body: whether bone and blood or steel and circuits; and the software: the mind, skills, and memories of the player character.  The software is, in contrast to our experiences with computers, the permanent element of your character, while the hardware, in true Transhumanist fashion, is disposable and replaceable and upgradable like that cherry keurig in your kitchen.  You can get a bedeviling assortment of enhancements both biological and mechanical for your body but never forget that you’re only stuck in it until you finish the payments… though, get the Gap insurance just to be safe.  This is a pure idealist view of a bedrock technology for a Transhuman future that borders on posthuman.  The idea of the mind and body as something that can be uncoupled is perhaps the easiest to understand concept at the center of Transhuman thought, and more importantly, is one of several fulcrums for playing Eclipse Phase.  The body is a housing and with proper technologies for uploading, recording, and processing human personalities it may be abandoned.

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Word Creator


As a player this will be one of the most difficult things to accept on a deep instinctual level as ironically the ideas of libertarian politics and individual liberties can be quirky and the popularity contest of a post-scarcity economy; which isn’t actually in Eclipse Phase; can be complicated, they are rooted in ideologies we can interact with in the real world.  However, to abandon your body and not feel a deep loss when being uploaded away is an instinctually difficult idea to grok.  FYI; “grok” is loaded into all spell checkers; that’s a big “W” for Heinlein.  There isn’t anyone who can predict with any accuracy what would happen to a mind without all the support biology of a million years of evolution connected to it.  Remember above about golden apples and transitions of death?  When a computer moves a program it copies it first then deletes the original.  Two whole and complete instances of self would exist and for those few moments be the absolute same person having the same experience. The entire experience would be so far outside our own reference points as to do unknown damage to the psyche.  Thankfully Posthuman Studios agrees and included insanity and Stress points as an alternative type of damage and health in addition to the usual physical indicators of health.  

The idea of sanity and more specifically the relation between perception and reality is another core tenet of EP and an important “big question” part of Transhuman thought.  The world of EP has folded what a modern perspective would call virtual into the the physical world.  The idea of technology so closely integrated as to be genetic means the street of virtual advertising that you can’t without the proper implants becomes reality.  A city block, gray and tan buildings four to five stories tall, the thin skies of Mars overhead.  There are crowds of people all moving along chatting but there’s no noise other than feet and mouths.  However, with the proper implants, the street is lit with a dizzying array of animated signs for business.  Holographic greeters stand outside door ways offering sense memories to sample products and digital menus with encrypted coupons to take home and order with later.  The ears are alive with soundtracks being offered like radio a number of HD channels from private casters to a particular storefront offering a soundtrack with their commercials subliminally layered underneath.  The clothes of the people are alive with neon art, short animations advertising a new popular band or movie.

Should you want more information about that popular band or movie the image itself acts as a hyperlink to the movie’s launch site or the band’s fan page illuminating the integrated instant access to information.  We in the modern day have some understanding of what it’s like to always be plugged in, connected to a vast resource of information.  However, the tenets of Transhumanist thought call for a deeper integration of this access.  An almost subconscious access, your implants; a solid state hard drive, networked cellular sized processors operating inside a shell made of your cloned neural cells, a multi-band high speed wireless connection made of micro-line that grows along your cardiovascular system.  Imagine your virtual half offering up information and data without prompting as you take in the sights.  Even downloading small sense memories, another person’s actual memory of doing something or experiencing something that they’ve digitized into a small file to be added to your own sense memory.  As you integrate other memories then the questions arises of identity.  What is identity in the face of the moldable nature of mind and awareness?  

What is the value of self in the face of neural uploading?  The first time the mind is uploaded, assuming from a healthy human, there are then two of that person existing, staring at each other through their perception of the world and both wholly formed people.  The two would be identical people for only the briefest of moments and then they will be ever so slightly different.  The in-setting laws and sections in EP about that moment is one of the most complicated sections of the entire line of books and is one of the most complicated ideas of Transhumanist thought.  The process of “forking” involves rolls to prune the neural structure of your characters duplicate and allows a purpose built version of self minus any distractions like sense of self or memories in the case of beta forks.  The much more complicated; re: fully realized duplicate; alpha fork is the more legally, philosophically, ethically, and spiritually dangerous concept.

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Probably the Wrong Kind of Fork

This is where Transhumans falter in the philosophy and EP expresses it beautifully as few if any can agree on the moral and ethical nature of the above situation.  Is it suicide to transfer your consciousness, to upload a copy of self away from your birth body?  Is it a murder/suicide pact between your self when a fork is sent to collect information returns and is reintegrated into the “original” or does the fork demand the “original” integrate into the fork?  Which is the legal entity known as that person?  Who has legal precedent and who is the true person?  EP handles this by providing every major answer in the characters of every major power in the solar system setting of the game.  The Jovian Republic says there is a soul and if you’ve left your original body you are not human anymore.  The Scum Fleets encourage experimentation of self that sound more like a John Carpenter movie than the well reasoned choices of an advanced species.  The Martians focus on survival and let others tackle the big questions.  The Titanians actively explore the concept in academic settings while Extropians enjoy the full width and breadth of the technological advances but don’t clamour for the extreme experience the Scum pursue.  There are more and more and more factions, clades, tribes, clans, hypercorps, small city-states (village-states?), and ever more exotics forms of community. Like flipping through the pages of a book they are each different in their approach and reaction to the neural freedom of technology.

What does this do to the psyche?  The far reaches of Transhuman technology create monstrous abominations that chant “long live the new flesh” while charging to break the body while their very appearance breaks the mind.  A mind already ablaze and saturated with this constant input of sights and sounds that must be actively managed.  A mind that isn’t tethered to a body and may also roam fully into the digital world of restaurant menus and subliminal advertising.  How does this affect an originally “normal” human mind?  The Stress point and insanities system of Eclipse Phase reflect the downside of this morphic freedom and by reflecting the darker side of the malleability of mind they embrace all of Transhuman thought.  The rolls for resleeving, the adjustment periods, and all the bonuses and flaws of switching bodies is a fundamental element of Eclipse Phase and this neural freedom is key element of Transhuman thought.

The idea of a “mind” as software creates interactions with the environment not possible in other games and dangers that simply can’t be found outside of EP.  The mind can be transferred to newer and/or better bodies but is also a target for psychological invasive memes, malware consisting a bad case of schizophrenia where the voices give you specific instructions to leave the back door unlocked at the bank, even whole other personalities with separate skills ready to take over when needed most.  In this element of EP the Transhuman thinking at it’s core shines very brightly indeed. You must have faith in the process upon which you embark because after it’s done your mind will be humanely wiped from the meat like quietly putting down a old dog.  

Transhuman thought asks massive questions about the mind and Eclipse Phase brings all those questions and the underlying technologies to you as a player in a variety of combinations.  Just like the neural and morphic freedom that Transhumanity strives for the world of EP offers a way to play and approach these massive questions from any angle.  Is the mind the soul?  Do we have a separate element of ourselves which make us that can’t be transferred?  Is there really a difference between real and virtual?  Can a human be duplicated and if so are both the original?  Can a mind be programmed, firewalled, infected with a virus, and upgraded like a desktop computer?  Is there a point where the you that exists isn’t the same that existed?  

Those are big table breaking questions and they won’t be answered in this article or in the Eclipse Phase setting so…good luck with that?  The next time we meet we’ll dive into morphological freedom, the technologies and philosophical concepts behind re-sleeving, morphs, biotech, nano-tech, and the point where artificial and natural becomes very blurred indeed.  We’re going to be with Eclipse Phase for a while really exploring the ins and outs of the Transhuman heart that beats at the center.