THE STORYPATH SYSTEM IS AWESOME: BACK SCION’S KICKSTARTER!

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Image by Onyx Path Publishing

KICKSTARTER LIVE NOW

Scion is a game that puts the players in the role of descendants of Gods. This is a game of cinematic story, fast moving and epic.  From ‘lowly’ heroes, to demi-gods, and eventually reaching godhood, characters in Scion strive for apotheosis while battling the reawakened Titans. In the original game, there were 6 Pantheons, and in the 2nd edition there will be 10. There is potential for further options as well in later books.

thor

Thor

Aesir – The Norse Gods

Deva – The Hindu Gods, Kami – The Japanese Gods

Manitouk – The Algonquian Gods

Netjer – The Egyptian Gods

Orisha – The Yoruban Gods

Shen – The Chinese Gods

Teotl – The Aztec Gods

Theoi – The Greek and Roman Gods

Tuatha de Dannan – The Irish Gods

 

Each of these Pantheons is connected through the power of a shared Story, a Fate that connects them with one another. Their offspring, the Scions, are not all direct descendants in the 2nd Edition, but they will be connected through this supernatural Fate that binds them. Some of you who are familiar with the Proto Indo-European diasporic root nature of some of these pantheons may wonder why they aren’t the same beings? (PIE or GTFO). The game defines them as Incarnations that exist separately from one another, they have a different existence, perhaps your characters might rise to become a different Incarnation of a similar god? So how does is this going to work?

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About a month ago, the Storypath System Preview was released by Onyx Path Publishing and I’ve been perusing the PDF for a few weeks. I then got a copy of the preview in beautiful printed form while I was at Grand Masquerade. This new system is going to be used for both Trinity Aeon and Scion, and though I am way more excited for the return of the Trinity Universe… Scion looks amazing as well.  For anyone that was previously familiar with Scion, the Storypath system makes some adjustments that seem like they seriously enhance and evoke the style and themes of Scion. The first thing to notice in the System Preview is the Core Mechanic.

core-mechanic

Borrowed from the Storypath System Preview

The Core Mechanic should be familiar to anyone that has played a White Wolf game, but it has changed a bit. That bit of change makes for a very cinematic dice mechanic. You roll a dice pool of d10’s, Attribute + Skill (familiar so far), 8’s and higher are successes (7’s for Novas and Demigods). Now, here is the adjustment: you have a target amount of successes for your action. The preview shows 3, if you fail, but don’t botch you receive a consolation which is an action that drives the story even if it wasn’t what you intended. If you succeed by getting the exact amount of successes, then you do what you wanted to, and if you get more you get to add Stunts to what you were trying to do. Very cinematic, very story driven, very modern game design that encourages failing forward and cinematic success.

200px-docsavageThis Core Mechanic has waves throughout the rest of the basic system. If you fail, but don’t botch, you collect Momentum, which you can save up to use Skill Tricks. These are cool cinematic effects that a character can add to their action. The diving two-footed kick while shooting down a row of bad guys? That’s probably a Skill Trick that cost some Momentum to pull off. The Storypath system is designed to be flexible for scale though, if you want to play Superman 4-color style Super’s you can do that, or you can play gritty detective tales that evoke The Shadow, or Doc Savage.

Here is something about the Storypath System that actually I might be more excited about than I should be. Initiative. Initiative is something I’ve struggled with in most games. It feels clunky no matter how you do it, but I think the Storypath System has something fun that will make it stand out. First, your Initiative is based on the Attribute + Skill pool you plan to use in that first round. This stops the dumping of stats into Wits and Dexterity that we’ve seen in earlier systems based on similar rules. Then it gets fun, the player that goes first, chooses the next player in initiative order, that player chooses the next person, and so on down the line. This encourages some collaboration, and talking about what each person will be doing. The last person to go, is the first person to go in the next round, and so on until the combat is over. Pretty cool, I’d have to play this a few times to see if it is better than what I’m used to, but it sounds better on the surface.

There are a few other neat mechanics presented in the Storypath System Preview, and I recommend checking it out, it’s free. Now, what isn’t free, but you should be excited about anyway, is that Scion 2nd Edition is having a Kickstarter that is LIVE NOW. So, you might be asking why that is exciting? You read to this point, so I’m assuming you at least have some interest in role-playing games… if you don’t… welcome to the site?

It is exciting because Scion is a great game, and the Storypath System is going to breathe new life into great games that I don’t think have got their due from the gaming community at large. Scion is well designed and interesting, and Trinity Aeon is one of the greatest worlds I’ve ever had the opportunity to tell stories within. Are you ready to begin an epic journey? Will you make your story last? Will you become a Legend, a new great Myth?

Josh runs this site and would love to talk to you about games. Email him at admin@keepontheheathlands.com

4 WAYS TO EFFECTIVELY USE THE HUMANITY ROAD/PATH/RULES IN VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE

Content Originally Appeared at High Level Games

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Vampire: The Masquerade is a horror game; even if every game played isn’t about horror, the fact you are playing an undead parasite on the side of humanity is something that is horrific. That being said, the humanity/road/path rules have not always been cut and dry and that makes things a little difficult to use them effectively. In most of the VtM games I’ve played, most storytellers have ignored the rules or used them sparingly. I don’t think any of them disagreed with the concept, but they did get frustrated with remembering the hierarchy of sins and understanding when and how a roll should be made. Some also understood the horror side of the game, but didn’t want every session to be about the brooding horror and so they would sideline these rules to focus on other awesome aspects of the game world.

Here is a short list of things I think help make the rules easy to use.

1) Make your players learn the rules too.
I know that the Storyteller should know the rules, but this is one of the rules that your players will need to spend some time with. Your players should learn what the hierarchy of sins looks like and why it exists. You should take 10 minutes to talk about what the Path Rating each player has really means. If it is high, why and how will that impact their role-playing are great questions for them to consider. Also, discuss the basic purpose of Conscience/Conviction, Self-Control/Instinct, and Courage. Players need to read this section of the book a few times, and don’t be afraid to start a session with a short-refresher training. Encourage your players to ask for appropriate checks. If they are thinking about draining a human because that person made their character angry, encourage the player to roll a Self-Control check to see if they follow-through, particularly if they have a high Humanity rating. If the players start suggesting such rolls for themselves then you are headed in the right direction.

2) Oh, if I go down in Humanity I can kill everything!
Sure. Let your players do this if that is the direction they think their characters would head. Then make them regret it. Remind them of the power of their Beast. Describe scenes to them differently; focus on the primal hunger inside them by making even basic human interactions a game of fight or flight. If they had an activity their character loved doing, find ways to make them realize that activity no longer holds appeal. Try adding Beast Traits, or other physical markers of their separation from humanity. I’m not talking about doing this every time they lose a dot of Humanity, but it is a good thing to add in every now and then to make the transition down into wassail worse for the character.

3) How about I switch to a path/road then?
Again, sure… then remind the character that such a transition takes time, not only time, but a true role-playing dedication to acting inhuman. Paths are alternative worldviews created by Cainites to help them try and reconcile their base natures with the Beast. The Path of Night does not simply allow for a player to act “evil” at will. Adhering to that path requires a dedication to thinking as that character, making choices that would fit a philosophy in line with that Path. For characters on a path or road (depending on which rule-set you are using) that player must spend the time reading about that path. I recommend that player also create a sub-set of rules alongside the hierarchy of sins. This rule-set are parameters of how their character understands the Path/Road and how that affects their behavior.

4) Know when to Roll and when to Role-Play
In my experience, most WoD players know when to role-play their Path/Road/Humanity rating, but very few know when they should be rolling their virtues or rolling their path rating. This is in some-ways a recap of number 1 on this list, but it is focused more on the ST. Know when you should let your players role-play out a loss of humanity or regain it without rolls. If you think a roll is justified to make the decision the player is making stick, do it. This applies to path rating as much as it does to Self-Control. If a player on the Path of the Beast needs to roll Instinct to see if they chase after prey, even if that prey is inside Elysium, ask yourself if a role or a roll is the best way to handle that situation. I’ve personally seen Courage rolled the most, because I think most players and storytellers can get their minds around fear and a roll to see if they are affected by supernatural or ‘natural’ derived fear.  Self-Control and Conscience are very similar, find times they are appropriate and story-driven to force rolls, and then encourage effective role-playing of the effects.

It can be awesome to role-play vampires as supernatural heroes, but you are missing something special about Vampire: The Masquerade when you do so. VtM is a horror game for a reason, darkness lurks behind every human action, and the creatures that lurk in that darkness are truly monsters. Don’t make every game depressing, but don’t be afraid to drive home the inhumanity of your characters every now and then.

MORPHOLOGICAL FREEDOM IN THREE EASY STEPS

Genetic engineering is one of the oldest human technologies dating back some 15,000 years.  Yes, you read that correctly; I hope. Mesolithic was the era and the descendants of the wolves to first scavenge off the refuse of human communities were the target.  While the exact series of events are debated, the fact is, around that time some bloodlines of wolves became accustomed to humans and eating what humans provided, overcoming one of the most crucial barriers between “wild” and “domesticated”, the acceptance of humans as the provider of food.  Once this happened, the breeding of wolves into dogs and the hundreds of varieties that we know today really took off and arguably the most successful partnership between two species began.  

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From Joyfuldogs.Uk

The modern golden and sweet corn was engineered from a grass, yep, grass, called teosinte in the Americas about 7,000 years ago.  The modern corn plant couldn’t possibly survive on it’s own in the wild and is a decidedly vulnerable and ill-fitted for survival plant.  Think about it, ever seen corn in the wild?  This plant however has become a centerpiece of our diets and our industries; the debate as to whether this should be the case won’t be addressed here but is something you should look into.  Seriously; educate yourselves, people!  

maize-teosinte

Starting an article focused on morphological freedom; the freedom of sapient species to alter and change their physical bodies as they see fit to do so; with dogs and corn may seem a bit odd.  These two facts establish a baseline of fact; the human race has been modifying other species of both plant and animal persuasions for millennia and getting upset because we’re more efficient at it now won’t change what is an expression of our fundamental nature; adaption.  Except we’re not adapting ourselves, we’re adapting everything around us.  This is the seed that has grown into the fear and loathing of human modification and postnatal physiological alteration; that’s a fancy way of saying gender reassignment surgery.  

Oh my people, you’ve stepped into it now as the trap snaps shut with Eclipse Phase, transhumanism, and a current politically hot issue coming right at you, so let’s do this.  The idea of changing our bodies brings out more resistance in humans than the idea of altering ourselves mentally if the prevalence of mind-altering drugs both legal and illegal is any indicator.  Why is this the case?  Primal instinct.  Our sentience and sapience is a new edition to this gene code carrying transport that is our bodies and seemingly we have far less of a reaction to adjusting our mental performance while the idea of transgender makes the skin crawl up your spine.*(Editor’s Note, thankfully, not everyone has such a reaction.)  As a note the reaction your baser instincts have doesn’t make you a bad person; what you choose to do with that reaction determines the kind of person you are.  

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The history of Eclipse Phase doesn’t record when the first political shots were fired in the battle for morphological freedom, but if it’s the same as our own reality then I can understand the desire to hide that it was over bathroom usage.  The result of that inevitable war is the rampant morphological freedom to be found in the game books as the selection of bodies or “morphs” continues to expand.  This continuing growth of selection makes absolute sense from all angles; the Hypercorps would offer varieties of the same morph, much like a modern car lot would offer a selection of the same model with small adjustments and modifications which would create a multitude of choices, never mind the cosmetic choices.  Would you like a body with cat eyes?  Perhaps you’d care to see that model in the neon pink fur?  We used a sea coral gene line to create the fluorescing effect in the fur which actually has a cellular nature similar to fish scales but we were able to maintain that soft RealFr™ feel.  Let’s discuss terms; lease or buy?

inevitable

Because why buy when you know you’ll want to replace that body after a few years when you become bored with it?  Or the new model arrives with gecko pads for an incredible climbing experience?  The advertising would feature a neon pink cat like morph dangling from the cliff face of Olympus Mons while Roar by Katy Perry plays in the background.  Also, consider that manufacturers wouldn’t build these bodies to last knowing that you’ll want a new one, whether a year later or ten, and Posthuman Studios has acknowledged this beautifully with the Planned Obsolescence trait. While most commonly associated with the Ruster morph, this should be a trait we see in almost all high performance morphs, especially those sold by Hypercorps.  The same logic that powers the light bulb industry would most definitely power the morph manufacturing sector.  While a morph that lasts a hundred years with minimal effort can be manufactured there isn’t a profit in a consumer base that’s only shopping on a centennial basis and so the corporations continue to their religion of profit in all things.  So surely the anarchist outer system filled with free-thinkers, post-scarcity economics, and readily available means of production have created an environment where a single body can last and is more importantly socially acceptable and even encouraged?  

If you squint you can see Katy Perry

If you squint you can see Katy Perry

Unlikely, friend; as the ever expanding need for new experiences in the face of eternity will fuel a constant desire and even need to upgrade, expand, alter.  There’s little difference between the scum barge filled with sapients changing bodies in a constant desire for new experiences and the kids purchasing the latest iPhone because it’s the latest.  They’re both craving the new, the different, and to feel they belong to a group not like any other.  The consumer mentality is a weakness of humanity and doesn’t dissolve into the background because there aren’t corporations to take advantage of it.  While the books of Eclipse Phase and the adherents of transhumanist thinking would have you believe that “mom & pop” and “grass roots” would be the best descriptions of their post-scarcity economy, the reality is the scarce resource in a post-scarcity economy would become reduced down to fundamentals; time and knowledge.  The specialized skills and services and techniques used in the production of goods would become the most highly valued part of any exchange.  The reputation system in Eclipse Phase demonstrates that beautifully and, if anything, is simpler than what would be the reality.  

The technological level painted by Posthuman Studios doesn’t allow for subsistence economics or desperate survival in the face of unavailable staples like food or water; the technological level presented means that all basic and necessary survival items, like food or water, are readily available to all.  In order to make a setting where getting your next meal is important you would have to remove the technological level and this has an impact on economics as well.  The skill of a talented chef is more valuable than the ingredients they are working with.  What is important to the chef however is a bit different; more knowledge to increase his own skills, a more productive morph, better enhancements for tracking the goings on of the kitchen, better multi-tasking software.  The economy would become a series of specialists offering valuable one-of-a-kind items and mass produced boring items of dubious quality.  For the first time, quality would overpower quantity as the primary motivator of profit and nothing would be more valuable and profitable than morphs.  A product that is literally the experience of life with the additions of improving quality of skill and performance in the areas most profitable to the owner has no analogue in our modern day; the value cannot be calculated.

This is real...

This is real…

The transhumanist philosophy uses morphological freedom as a supporting pillar, a primary tenet of the philosophy.  While there’s this seeming assumption about medical advancements that will defeat aging, overcome cancer, and prevent all illness there’s seems this underlying drive, need, for true morphic freedom.  There are a number of hurdles and concerns to be overcome for this to come to pass.  Our minds operate with our bodies, our minds rely on the chemical messages and sensory data of our birth bodies and sends commands with so much ease to our various organs because both body and mind grew together.  A process that creates a vast amount of integration, a perfect homeostasis between mind and body which is the result of and part of the process of our evolution.  In essence we would need to learn every trick that evolution has developed through trial and error over hundreds of millennia in order to fulfill the transhumanist desire and we’ve only just barely begun.  The technological underpinnings for such ease of transference of an adult mind are mysterious and distant and Eclipse Phase doesn’t focus on the technology and instead focuses on how the human subject is reacting to something. That is something Posthuman does very well; bringing the focus back to the human face.

The face of that human and in fact all of humanity in the Eclipse Phase universe is one constantly shifting between the wildly variable morphs that have become available.  The societies that cover the solar system are where those who refuse to change their bodies are the strange and the weird, a far cry from the modern world where the idea of gender has created so much furor that you can hardly hear the few reasonable adults speaking.  This is the ideological battle that’s commencing with the modern age as the first skirmish and Eclipse Phase as one possible outcome.  There are centuries yet before we even come close to the morphological freedom that Eclipse Phase enjoys, if it’s even possible, but the potential for such is grandly done in Eclipse Phase.

 

Next time we’re bring neural programming, morph engineering, and the endless human need to meddle together and talking about uplifting non-sapient species.  Yeah, ethics!

reprotech

  Ewwwww…gross.

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.

Invisible Sun, a Study in the Tension Between Accessibility in Price and Design

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Life is a pure flame, and we live by an Invisible Sun within us. – Sir Thomas Browne

The quote above is credited by Monte Cook games as an inspirational source for their new game Invisible Sun.  Invisible Sun is a highly experimental RPG that includes elements of board gaming, formalized rules for downtime sessions, and rules for engaging players with different playstyles in a variety of ways.  The board game elements bring a tactile experience that has been less prevalent in RPGs since the industry moved away from the miniature figure and occasional terrain inclusion of yesteryear.  The board game elements also allow more complex role playing systems like multiple percentage roles for determining randomized effects to be handled though simple dynamics like drawing cards from a deck.  The game includes a beautiful resin statue meant to display cards that impact game play so everyone can see them, and the first stretch goal was a spell and artifact grimoire that includes spell cards for every spell in the book.

When I first saw the kickstarter for Invisible Sun I was at first excited, then disappointed, then excited all over again.  It took me a while to figure out exactly how I felt about this whole RP experiment. The problem is the lowest pledge reward is $197.  Yes, you read that right.  One hundred and ninety seven dollars, and that pledge level doesn’t include the majority of the stretch goal material.  For the past several years I have been increasingly concerned about the trends in game development that make it difficult to bring new players into the hobby.  Some of these issues are related to how difficult it can be to dive into modern role playing games with any kind of mental processing challenges.  I started thinking about these issues in earnest largely because of the first post on this blog, which focuses on the challenges of role playing with memory issues.  Other barriers to role playing are purely financial, which is an increasing problem in the 20teens.  The books just seem to be getting larger and larger, with each edition being more expensive than the last. With a few exceptions we have not really seen any tools to break these games down into more systematically manageable, and affordable pieces.

Comparison of the most recent Vampire the Masquerade LARP and Tabletop books to the most most recent editions released from the original White Wolf era

Comparison of the most recent Vampire the Masquerade LARP and Tabletop books to the most most recent editions released from the original White Wolf era.  The modern books here are the thinner basic print quality.

The one fairly high profile aid designed to streamline the process of juggling rules mid session are the spell cards Wizards of the Coast published as part of the D&D 5th Edition line.  In the last year I’ve seen a few companies follow WotC’s lead on spell card inspired products, and at this year’s GenCon I saw a few companies experimenting with tools and game design that break away from the tables, charts, and expansive RP tomes that currently dominate the gaming market. Those experiments were not the norm though.  The majority of what I saw at GenCon still leaned towards heavy, ornate, leatherette bound special editions with little in the way of gaming aids.  Even a few small indie publishers were still defaulting to this format, despite not having an established brand to back up their price point.  When gaming aids were available they were generally being produced by third party companies for extravagant prices.

So when I saw Invisible Sun announced I was phenomenally excited, and when I saw the price the day the kickstarter went live my heart fell.  Several people expressed concerns about the price in the kickstarter comments.  The game devs responded, saying that this was a premium product, and that part of why they are aiming for such a luxury experience is that their last few game products were specifically targeted at affordability, so they felt like this was a good time to aim for a different segment of the role playing market.

I decided to check and see what “affordable” really meant.  I was incredibly surprised to find the Numenera Player’s Guide pdf was only $7.99 and a hard copy was only $19.99.  This book is advertised as including all the rules necessary for a player to make a character, and generally get up to speed on the setting and core rules.  I haven’t seen a price point like that on a major game line since the 90’s, and being primarily a World of Darkness player I’m used to the go whole game or go home design philosphy.  It was very refreshing to see a product priced and designed for players who know they will never need GM materials.  After seeing this I decided to go back to the Invisible Sun kickstarter and take a second look at what was being sold for that $197. As it turns out that price tag covers a lot of game material, and it left me wondering how that actually stacked up to what it takes to get started with a traditional role playing game.

As a baseline I decided to compare the Invisible Sun box to the price point for running a decent Dungeons and Dragons 5th Ed. campaign.  I’m not counting the D&D startup boxes, because they really only give you enough to decide if you want to purchase the rest of the game.  Assuming you need at least 1 Player’s Guide, 1 Dungeon Master’s Guide, and either 1 campaign book, or the Monster Manual if you’re going to create your own campaign, your initial book investment would be $150 MSRP (I know Amazon is less, but let’s assume you want to support your local game store).  A basic Chessex Dice set is $4.  So we’re right around $154 with no game aids.  If we add in a wet erase mat, a few miniatures, the Arcane spell cards and 1 set of healer class spell cards we overshoot that $197 initial purchase cost handily.  Given what is included in the Invisible Sun Black Box this seems like a reasonable comparison.

Just to make sure D&D wasn’t a one off example, I looked at some of Onyx Path/White Wolf’s products.  The World of Darkness 20th Anniversary core books cost between $50 for a relatively moderate quality print on demand text to $115 for a premium print on demand copy of Mage the Ascension 20th Anniversary, and are not available with free shipping or any kind of Amazon discount.  Chronicles of Darkness has a similar price point since you need the core rule book as well as one of the specific game texts such as Vampire the Requiem or Beast the Primordial to really run a full chronicle.  While that may seem to provide a slightly more affordable point of entry than D&D to run a reasonable World of Darkness game, you generally need more than one copy of the book as during combat players often spend a lot of time hunting down exact rules for their actions so they are prepared on their turn.  There are spell cards available for some of the games in the Chronicles of Darkness lines, but not all of them.  A comment on a recent Onyx Path blog indicates they are going to begin to release similar products for the World of Darkness 20th Anniversary line, but these cards are not yet available.  So at many tables multiple 500+ page tomes are a necessity, as are far more dice than are ever needed for Dungeons and Dragons.  Again, we have very rapidly overshot the $197 price point of Invisible Sun, and we have far fewer game aids available to help make the play experience more accessible.

The primary problem with the Invisible Sun model is that with other properties players will likely pick up the extra dice, copies of the player’s guides, spell cards etc. for themselves.  With Invisible Sun everything is wrapped up in a single product, and while Monte Cook Games has encouraged players to split the price, generally people are going to be less likely to do that if they don’t own the fruits of their expenditure, and no collector is going to be comfortable breaking up an Invisible Sun Black Box.  There is now a player kit priced at $36 thanks as an Invisible Sun stretch goal, but that is an additional expense.  It doesn’t help mitigate the initial $197 hit.  Ultimately the game is incredibly well priced for what is included, and breaks much needed ground on accessible game design, but is less financially accessible than most games on the market because all of the expense is front loaded in a single purchase.

When all was said and done I did end up funding Invisible Sun.  I am still frustrated that the 15 year old me that bought his first copy of Vampire the Dark Ages after much scrimping and saving would have a difficult time investing in my favorite properties today, and would certainly not be able to make the dive into Invisible Sun. However, I am also aware that by the time I was done with high school I had spent well over $197 on my World of Darkness collection, and it was in many ways a less comprehensive assortment of role playing resources than what is included in the Invisible Sun Black Box.  I also remember far too many games with players who ended up leaving the hobby behind because navigating arcane texts, and tables filled with endless numbers kept them from truly enjoying the process of role playing.

Invisible Sun may not open role playing to a new generation of 15 year old geeks waiting in the wings of their local gaming stores, but it unquestionably breaks ground on making role playing games a more accessible experience. As long as Monte Cook is focusing on creating products at all price points, the innovations that work in Invisible Sun have a very real chance of making their way into more affordable game lines.  Hopefully over time these innovations will spread well beyond the scope of Monte Cook’s games and find their way into a variety of role playing products across the industry.  We can do more to make games that everyone can easily enjoy, and despite the sticker shock I honestly believe Invisible Sun is only the beginning of a trend in thinking about game design in radically new and elegantly accessible ways.

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

hunterlogo

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?

http://i.ebayimg.com/images/i/351133440220-0-1/s-l1000.jpg

 

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.  

koe

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.  

 

yoruba-ritual-face-painting-by-laolu-featuring-dapperafrika

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