Game Mastering Through Stress

Here you are running an amazing series of sessions in your favorite role-playing game… and then work calls. Then you get an email from a project that isn’t going to get funded. Classes start, the laundry needs to be done, your kid decided throwing up is the best bedtime plan. STRESS happens, we all know it. The question becomes, how do we deal with it and keep enjoying our hobby? It’s not easy, particularly as we get older and pick up more responsibilities. I don’t consider myself a grognard in personality, but I’ve certainly been playing RPGs for quite a few years.

In the old days, it was easy to play 2-3 games per week because that was all I had going on. This is a lie, the more I think about it. In truth? I was working 70-80 hour weeks when I was in my early 20’s and gaming was my outlet; it was the thing that kept me going. Stress was present then just as it is now. So, in my experience, stress is something that we’ll deal with while we are running games. Sometimes, this stress is directly related to the games we are running. More often than not though, its external stress that bleeds into our sessions.

1 – Tell Your Players

If you are experiencing stress, tell your players. “Hey everyone, I had a pretty rough day at work today, do you mind if we focus on some cathartic combat tonight?” “I’m sorry its taking so long for me to get my head in the game tonight, my son kept me running around today and getting him to bed before our session just didn’t happen. Give me a bit to really get going.” I’ve heard things like this and said them. Statements like these are helpful to helping me know how to pace things as a GM, and I personally think it helps my players understand where I’m at while running the game. Sometimes they will want a heavy RP session, but if I can’t handle that? It might be a good night to run a side session/mission or even switch up games to something that fits the mood better.

2- Take A Break

The worst decision I ever made was trying to run a full campaign during Grad School. Off and on I had run some Pathfinder during my undergraduate degree and didn’t have a lot of issues. Keep in mind, I went from the Army, to undergrad and then straight into my graduate degree as an adult in my late 20’s early 30’s. That game was over Skype though, and to be honest, I was not as focused as I wanted to be and it hurt the campaign. I should have taken a break from running and just played in a few games. Then, in Grad School, I tried to run a Changing Breeds game, and play in a D&D campaign. I couldn’t do it. There were too many things going and my brain was overloading. I tried to introduce a few new players, and I think I spoiled their experience with role-playing games. That’s not what you want, and I was clearly not in the head-space to keep going. It won’t hurt to take a break, focus on one-shots, and just chill if you have a ton of stuff going on. No one will blame you.

3- Unwind Through The Game

One of my favorite ways to reduce external stress is to find ways to incorporate what is stressing me out into the games I’m running. For example, I once worked for a person I detested. I create a character that was them in my mind, and gleefully watched my party destroy the stand-in monster. I have no idea if this is psychologically healthy… it might not be. In the end though? It really helped me deal with that person. Every time I saw them, I’d chuckle in my mind as I imagined the player characters hacking and slashing them in game. When I’m having other stress points, I try and devise ways to consider approaches to dealing with them through game play. One character, described in this blog post, really helped me break out of a serious bout of depression. They were confident, capable, and had a solid relationship life. That helped me to imagine what I would need to transform into that type of person. I think it worked.

4 – Play, Don’t Run

This advice is a little different from taking a break, but it has some similar functions. Have one of your players take over for a little while. A night, a campaign, whatever. I think it can be fun to ask a player to take over running for a single session, give them some basic ideas that fit your meta-plot and see what they roll out with. This can be stressful for some GMs, so it can’t hurt to just let someone else run something for a few weeks. This can help you get your brain back in a place that is healthy and ready to help construct the role-playing challenge you like to create.

I’m sure this will seem like basic advice. Nothing I’m saying here is revolutionary, but I’ve found its helpful to remind myself on a regular basis. A lot of this is useful to keep in the back of your mind to address the stress before it destroys your game and your love of the hobby.

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

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

How Not To Be *That* Gamer: Five Easy Tips

Remember back in the mists of time when you were just learning to play a game, hunched over a table at your Friendly Local Game Store? Trying to absorb the reams of information your friend was pouring into your brain? When you didn’t know what a con save was, or a bluff check, or a dump stat? Maybe this is the first time you had ever learned that dice came with more than six sides, or that there was more than one LOTR-type elf.


Remember when the know-it-all world-weary grognard ambled by and told you everything your friend was telling you was wrong and there is Only One True Way/Edition/Faction? Remember the crushing look of defeat on your friend’s face, and how that one person soured your affection towards the game?

Remember when you really, really wished you could jump in the TARDIS, distract yourself with a phone call, take your own place at the table, and tell that person to take a flying leap into the Pit of Despair?

That happened to some people near and dear to me this week – and someone needs to bring this up, so we as a community can stop this travesty from happening. New players are the lifeblood of our culture, and we have GOT to stop inflicting our own pet peeves and biases on new people, so they can enjoy developing their own.


Here’s a brief checklist of how not to be *That* Gamer:

 

Point the First: If you see someone explaining a game to someone else, and the party of the second part looks confused – mind your own damn business. Let the person doing the explaining do the talking, unless you know them. In that case, ASK IF YOU CAN HELP. Do not, repeat, do not, just assume that everyone wants to hear your opinions.


The one caveat to this follows: If it is a game you love, if there is a natural break in the conversation (Point the Second will address this), you can politely say “Oh, you’re talking about Warbling Mongooses! I love that game! It’s really fun. Welcome to the community. I’m *Name*. Let me know if you’d like a game or if you have any questions.” Then walk away unless invited to comment more – but wait for the invitation.

And for the love of spice, remember to introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than being approached by a random person that you will likely run into again, but you can only remember them as “that guy in the Metroid T-shirt” or “that lady with the purple hair”.

If you mention this game, and I can hear you… I’ll probably say how much I love it. It’s an awesome game.

Point the Second: Do not interrupt someone explaining a game to a new person, particularly if your interruption involves some obscure bit of trivia that is not relevant. This creates a lot of confusion and, frankly, makes you look like an ass.

Example: “Oh, Warbling Mongooses? You know, in the second errata of the third edition, they ruled that female mongooses can only warble in the contralto register on the second Thursday of a month without an R in it.”

 

If there is a natural lull in the conversation, you can politely (that word again, I know) ask if you can contribute something to the explanation. Be prepared to accept “no” as an answer.

 

“Hey, I heard you guys talking about Warbling Mongooses. New player? That’s great. You’re lucky to be starting now, the rules are so much simpler after the second edition – no more twelve hour game sessions! After you’ve learned the basics, let me know if you’d like to play a game or two. Always glad to meet new people.”

Be positive or be silent.

Take Notes Folks

Point the Third: So, the grizzled veteran (GV) and the eager young convert (EYC) are sitting at the FLGS table, playing a hand of Warbling Mongooses – and the new person looks like they are getting the hang of it. DO NOT walk up to the table and start pointing out how the new person (or the veteran, for that matter) are playing it wrong.

 

WRONG:

GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: (as GV is opening their mouth to correct their student) Oh hey, you can’t play that, it’s the wrong phase. Contratenors can only be played during waxing crescent. You shouldn’t be playing contratenors anyway. Mezzosopranos are so much better! I’ve got a wicked Mezzosoprano deck that just beats faces all day long. Oh, by the way, if you play that baritone in the next move and follow it up with a second tenor, you’ll win in the next turn.

RIGHT:
GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: *silence*

GV: No, wait, you can’t play that during this phase. See the moon phase icon on the card? You have to match that to the indicator on the table.

EYC: Oh, right. Yeah. My bad.

*Game continues*

 

Most people learn best from one source at a time. If you aren’t that source, wait until you are asked for assistance or a natural break in the game to add a comment. No one likes to be told how to win – part of the joy of gaming is figuring out your own win conditions.

 

Point the Fourth: So the EYC has become a convert to Warbling Mongooses, and you see them playing with their GV mentor. They are doing okay but still making some mistakes, maybe not playing with an optimal deck. You are at your FLGS and see them playing. You approach the table, and:

 

“Dude, that deck sucks, and contratenors are always weak against basses and contraltos. You should be playing mezzosopranos and second bass against that match up. Have you seen my deck? I’ve put like $1,000 and ten years into my deck! It kicks so much ass! Make this play and this play and this play and you’ll win right now.” *

 

*Change the subject of the sentence (sub a particular faction of minis in a popular war game in for the Mongooses) and this is a faithful transcription of what I heard. I wish I was exaggerating.

 

Shut up. Shut up right now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use your love for a hobby as a brandishing weapon about how much disposable income and free time you have. Go home and rethink your life if you think this kind of behavior is even marginally acceptable.

 

Repeat after me: Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once.

 

Instead, after the game is over, you can walk up to the table, introduce yourself, and offer to help.

 

“Hey, I’m *Name*. Saw you were playing Mongooses and having a little bit of trouble – that was a tough match. I’ve been playing for forever and I might have some extra cards that could help you out. Interested?”

 

Again, be prepared to accept “no, thank you” as an answer. Sometimes people don’t want help. It’s not your place to ram it down their throats. That being said, I have never seen a sincere offer turned down. Often, the new player will ask the person making the offer for advice or suggestions. Voila, there’s a bit of camaraderie to add to the community. Good for you. You get a gold star and/or a cookie.

 

For new players that tend to be a bit on the defensive side (like me): This is the time where you get to mind your manners as well. If someone is legitimately offering to help you, not trying to wave their more-gamer-than-thou card in your face, the least you can do is give them a polite answer.

Unrelated Clouds

Point the Fifth: Thou shalt not condemn anyone’s choice of faction – or means of choosing a faction – especially when they are just getting started! There’s no faster way to crush a tendril of interest than to be told everything they find intriguing is bad or stupid.

 

We’ve all heard of the, poorly named, “girlfriend method” – where the person picks their faction (or equivalent, say, their Commander for M:tG) based on what they think is pretty.

 

There’s not a damn thing wrong with this. In fact, my gaming mentor specifically mentions this method to all people he introduces to his gaming drug of choice. It’s simple logic: you’re going to have to be looking at them while you are playing them, so you might as well choose something you find aesthetically pleasing.

 

Most people get into a game by choosing a faction they loved (or one that was handed to them), using it to learn the game, and then upgrading to a “stronger” faction when/if they decide to become a more competitive player. For example, I learned to play Commander using a prebuilt 2013 Commander deck that I would never willingly choose to play again. Now I’ve built my own and I love it, despite its flaws.  

 

They may never progress beyond a casual player, but they at least will enjoy looking at the models/cards they have chosen. If they ask for advice, and they might, especially if their mentor/teacher shows that your opinion is worth listening to – then you can provide your opinions in a constructive way. “I really love playing contraltos/sopranos, because I love tricksy combos, but if you want a more aggressive, straightforward deck, you might want to look at…”

 

No one, and I mean no one, decides to walk into a game store and become a world-champion player of anything the first time they play it. Let the neophytes choose their doom in whatever manner they choose. It’s no skin off your nose.

 

Bonus Point the Sixth: Compliment a game well played, or a clever play, or a well-painted miniature, or a cool playmat. Say something nice to a new player; don’t cross the creeper line. When you are meeting a new player for the first time, be friendly, offer a compliment, but nothing you wouldn’t say to a stranger on the street.

Also Unrelated, but a cool picture

For those of you in the socially awkward demographic, an example:

 

“That’s an awesome *insert fandom* T-shirt/hat/lanyard/patch!” “That’s a really pretty playmat!” “I haven’t seen that variant of that model before – that’s cool!”

 

These are okay. Any comments on a gamer’s appearance that you wouldn’t say in front of a judge are NOT okay.  Just keep that simple rule in mind and you’ll likely stay out of trouble.

 

Also, as a side note: remember and respect personal space. You’re at a FLGS, not squeezed on a Tokyo subway. Give people room to breathe and to not feel like you are cornering them or pinning them against a table. Be aware of your presence.  

 

I know this sounds like a lot of “mind your own business”, and that sounds antisocial. It’s not, really. You want new players to feel comfortable in your gaming locale of choice, and it can be intimidating as hell to be in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. If that new player walks into a store to laughter and people having fun, gets greeted by smiles and open acceptance – well, a good first impression works wonders, as they say.

 

Remember, everyone was new once. We should always be open to inviting new people into our hobbies and our gaming dens – and we need to police our own. If an LGS isn’t welcoming to new players, or tolerates behavior that ostracizes players, vote with your feet and your dollars and go somewhere else. We are all responsible for our community and the members within it.

 

May all your 20’s be natural,

 

Georgia

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

X-Card and Fade to Black Mechanics

*Trigger Warning: violence, and clowns

Crack… slurp… slarhp… shoooweekk

As I creeped down the hall, I couldn’t close my ears. The sounds surrounded me, like a bag thrown over my head. I had to step around the corner, I had to face this thing. Yet, the longer I waited the longer I felt like I had a chance to escape the horror I knew would be on the other side. I knew what I was stalking, I knew what my chances would be that those sounds were just… chicken bones.

As a player, I reached out and tapped the X card. I knew what the description was going to be, we were hunting down a killer clown and the description of the sounds were bad enough. I couldn’t handle a deep description that I knew the Storyteller was about to provide. The ST saw me, nodded her head and shifted the narrative. The clown ran out from his hiding place, and we fought. When the fight ended, she gave an overview of what we found and excluded the gorier details based on the discussion we had about descriptive preference before we started playing.

X–Card

X-Card

What is the X card? The X Card was created by John Stavropoulos. It’s a mechanic that allows players to opt-out of something in a scene that is uncomfortable. Even the Game Master/Storyteller can perform this edit if a player is adding description that they would prefer not to engage with. This is a great mechanic for convention games, and that is where it sees the most use. In a public game its less likely that you’ve had significant conversations about needs, wants, and gaming interests, so the X card helps to control the game content in an easy to understand way. Now, some folks worry about this mechanic being misused by players hoping to avoid in-character consequences for their actions.

From my experience with similar mechanics, I usually ask a few follow-up questions if I think someone is trying to take advantage of ANY situation or mechanic in an unhealthy way. I don’t ask these questions in an interrogative way, just in a clarifying way. “I’m happy to edit the scene, which elements would you like me to remove or cut out? Is this a player comfort concern or a character comfort problem? How would you run this in a way that you would be comfortable? I think we can work together to make the scene work for everyone.”

Fade To Black

This is one version of what I consider, Fade to Black mechanics. These are mechanics that support player enjoyment and safety. Fade to Black is a movie trope that cuts away from horrific elements. These elements are known, there are enough hints that explain what is happening, but they are never stated explicitly, to ensure that viewers do not have to see something particularly heinous. In some ways, there is more positive emotional impact from keeping certain elements off-screen, and this is true in games as much as movies and TV.

Fade-to-Black

A great article was released today that talks about using consent strategies in LARP, and I think these are wonderful and can also be used in table-top environments. In the end, we want our players to keep player, right? Working with things like the X card will help us to build our community which means more gaming!

What Fade to Black mechanics have you used?

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

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

Is She Hot? The Question Female Gamers Dread

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

 

Question: What Does Your Character Look Like?

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

 

Real Question: Is She Hot/Attractive?

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

 

Perils of Attractive Characters:

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

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

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

 

Freedom of Unattractive Characters

darkestdungeon.com

Ragin Jane Scarlett, the Woman With No Neck

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

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

 

Attractive/Unattractive Characters and LARP

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

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

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

 

The Answer: It Doesn’t Matter!

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


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

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

Into the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

From the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

torg

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

 

The Setting

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What made it different

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

living-campaign

Living campaign

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

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

what-made-it-different

The multi-genre setting

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

 

Innovative rules system

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

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

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

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

 

Drawbacks

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In Conclusion

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

OFF LIMIT THEMES? SOCIAL CONTRACT – PART 5

kult

Kult is a controversial Swedish RPG

Welcome back to the final installment of this series. If you have been reading each of these much thanks! The topic for this week would not be the last thing you discuss with your group , but will  be discussed multiple times during this whole process. So, the topic I want to cover in the final article is how to have these ( sometimes very intense)  discussions and make sure that the GM is able to run the game they want while respecting any boundaries. Again , as I always say , please comment and let us get a good discussion going!

 

Topics

No, I am not going to list topics that are controversial here. Most of these would be self evident and,  most of the time, the ones that players may have an issue with are ones that may not be so easily identifiable. With that being the case , it’s more of a way to have a discussion, make sure that every player is heard , and the best time is had by all.

The most straightforward way is to open this talk up is to put it out from the get go is to s imply ask your group what topics or themes they don’t want to have present in the game.Be prepared that a lot of people will simply answer that they can’t think of anything that would offend them that needs to be left out. Trust me on this , everyone has something that they don’t want to be included in a pen and paper RPG. The job of the GM is to make sure that they DO answer you.

In my experience ,  the best way to do this is to let them know they can reach out to you privately via text,  Facebook , or other means away from the group , and let you know what they don’t want to see in game. Even in the most close knit groups , people don’t like to be the reason for not having something included. Normally , for my current groups , any time I am running a game (even after all these years) I state the same thing “If anyone has any topics, themes or other things they want left out of the game please let me know. You can do so here or reach out to me privately. I won’t share what is discussed and I won’t say who does or doesn’t reach out to me.”

Surely you may say  ‘Scott , you don’t have to do that every time. Especially with your home groups. They have already answered this before”   I thought that way too friends and I was so very wrong that it taught me to always ask this very question. My group actually has a rotating roster of GM’s , which I have mentioned in previous entries here , and as such , sometimes a good chunk of time may go by before I run a game for my group.

In addition to this people change from day to day , not to mention from year to year. This means that a topic or subjec t that may once have been ok, could now be an issue. It’s just a polite and considerate thing to ask. Let me explain this in context of a story . Out of respect for the people mentioned I am changing names of those involved.

fire

A few years back , I was running a particular splat in the Chronicles of Darkness world. I had worked with the players on making the characters , and as such I mentioned , as I always do , “If anyone has any topics, themes , or other things they want left out of the game  please let me know. You can do so here , or reach out to me privately. I won’t share what is discussed , and I won’t say who does or doesn’t reach out to me ..None of the players mentioned anything at the table, and no one reached out to me afterwards

We come to the game and , after making the characters, we had one character who had a very graphic scene in their backstories. Now I do want to make it noted this didn’t happen in game it was completely in the backstory , before the game even began. So, with all that being said we start the game. Towards the end of the session in an attempt to bring the PC’s together I corner them and make it so that they are not able to leave a room they are all in.

One PC at this time starts to lash out , and is very adamant  in getting out of the room. Explaining to the player the reason  behind the scenes backfired, as they felt the group as a whole,  and this included me, were attacking them and making them feel like they didn’t have freedom of choice.

We ended the session shortly thereafter. The next day  I reached out to the player and asked what the issue was to make sure that it didn’t happen again. What they told me was that the graphic act that occurred in the other players backstory made them uncomfortable and they felt like that was going to happen to them when they were not allowed to leave the room during that session.
This was not at all my intention of this scene
  and was not anything close to the feeling I was trying to invoke. I assured the player that this was not my intention. Building off of this , I asked why they didn’t mention this topic being off limits at the beginning of the game when I asked the group  and    said “it didn’t occur to me as something that would come up.”

That last statement should be repeated  “it didn’t occur to me as something that would come up.” This is why i always ask. Always. Also, this goes to show you that no matter how much you give people the ability to speak up , they still may not until the are directly confronted with a topic or issue.

Compromise

compromise

So we have a discussion going. That is great.How do we make sure that all parties are equally heard?  Well , that is where compromise comes in. This,  from time to time, will mean that we have to drop a theme or plot thread if absolutely needed. However , let’s not jump to such  a extreme conclusion right  off the bat.

This really becomes a bit of a negotiation in which you will have to use active listening to ensure that both parties (GM and Player) are on the same page. Ask the players what themes they want to avoid. Once they have provided a list ask followup questions in regards to those themes.

“Ok, I’m hearing you want to avoid sexual assault and violence in this game, keep in mind some of these elements are part of the Vampire world, do you want to avoid these completely, or do you want to avoid those interactions with your character?” “Just my character, I’m fine if they happen off-screen with someone else.” “Ok, I can work with that, how do you feel about feeding as a scene we run occasionally?” “Well, I’d like to avoid that usually, but I think my character would try and find willing victims, so if we did run a scene like that I’d like to have consent be important.”

The important thing to remember is during this entire exchange you want to get active consent. This means getting a firm yes from a player. If there is any wavering, be prepared to listen to concerns and if needed remove the theme. If you can’t get active consent, you can present the themes as you play, and then ask again before we delve fully into a scene to ensure a player is comfortable.

When I last ran a Vampire: The Requiem  mini campaign , I had a player who was very against having to roleplay out the scenes were their character would feed. The player decided that, to get around this, they  would have a herd , which in Vampire means they have a group who is willing to let the PC feed off of them.

I explained to the player that I would not make them roll out every single feeding , however I did mention to them that at times I wanted to have them try it out , as feeding in Vampire is a core part of that mood and theme the game presents.I asked that they allowed me to do at least the first feeding for them to set a tone. T  and over time got more acclimated to roleplaying out the feeding scenes.  I still didn’t have it at the forefront as I did with other players , and at times did push back on the player to still play out the scene  as per the rules Herd, just gave him a bonus on feeding ROLLS it didn’t give him a guaranteed to feeding with no issues.

The above example shows active listening. It shows that I addressed the players concerns with feeding and made sure to set an expectation with the overall theme. This also shows getting active consent during the scenes we would run with this player. I would downplay more of the sexual violence of the feeding while still playing up the theme of being a monster.

 

In Conclusion

So, that will wrap up this topic and series. I again appreciate anyone that took the time to read even part of these , and for those of you who read all of them through , thanks very much.

The contract that is made in a gaming group is very interesting and rewarding. By having these discussions , you will see your games become enriched for the better. As mentioned , please let me know thoughts or any questions and let’s get a discussion going.

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

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

WHO’s THE GM? SOCIAL CONTRACT 4

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

tabard

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

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

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

Judge

judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameworld

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

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

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

Prepping for the game

prepping

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

Let’s discuss that, shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a true “railroad” game.

cthulu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-10-15-11_24_22-valorcon-2016-exhibitor-sponsorship-guide-pdf

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

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

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

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

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

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

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

uptown-theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

games

So many games so little time

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

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

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

What game are we going to play?

 

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

Fantasy

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

Sci-Fi

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

Horror

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

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

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

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

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

paranoia

One of the pricier gems of my collection

Cost of the Game

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

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

Please take your time….

Please take your time….

 

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

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

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

Prep time for both GM and players

work

This is a lot like work!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

charcter-creationCharacter Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

picard

Make It So

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

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