Credit: Dylan Coffey

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Health

Ask people why they LARP, and they usually answer roughly the same. The most common answer is their own form of “because it’s fun” or “because my friends do it” and both of those answers are great. Did you know there are actual benefits to LARPing in addition? Examining LARP shows there are many benefits to it that are hidden just beneath the surface. In this series of articles five of these hidden benefits will be expanded upon and detailed. For more information check out the other articles on EducationNetworking, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets.

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

While this article focuses primarily on Boffer style LARPs, being healthy is good for you in general!

Uh-oh…RUN!

In the dark of the cave Mal, Lucy, and Virginia blew the computer, allowing Capillary to escape the cave. Everything began to rumble and shake as the cave began to fall around them. The three hackers ran back to the main group as everyone ran for their lives.

The above scenario happened at a Boffer LARP I play called After the End (which you should come play if you’re in the Tennessee/Georgia area!). If it were a parlor LARP we may not need to physically run in real life. In Boffer style LARPs however there are situations where you’re going to need to actually run. Most people are going to be able to run some without being winded too badly. However if the person chasing you is much more fit, you get caught. If it is a long chase, you might run out of stamina. For people who aren’t very fit the running may prove difficult. Sometimes I even have trouble with running up and down stairs a lot, which can make LARPing out in the woods super tiring.

Many of my friends (and myself to a lesser extent) have begun simple or complex exercise routines in order to combat LARP fatigue. LARP itself can be it’s own form of exercise as well, and exercise can be incorporated into your LARP routine. We’ll be going over those topics below.

 

Exercise For LARP

Credit: Dylan Coffey

Wuxia Workout!

A lot of people that I know have begun hitting the gym to be in top shape for their Boffer LARP experience. They range from beginners at Couch to 5K to regular gym attendees to ones who have started their own podcast for more broad health topics (shout out to Ty and Sky!) and everywhere in between. Even something as simple as walking outside once a day can help you keep up your endurance for a LARP weekend. Many of the people I know exercising have already started seeing benefits in the relatively short time they have been exercising. They are less tired after intense weekends and are eating better and noticing muscle gain and fat loss. Exercising for LARP has begun helping improve the non-LARP life of many of my friends, and I think (if able) everyone should give it a try.

Exercise As LARP

 

Credit Niantic & Nintendo

#TeamValor

With the popularity of apps like Zombies, Run and plenty of other augmented reality exercise games, exercise is easily made into a game. Go out walking and catch Pokemon or capture bases for the Enlightened. Run from zombies, aliens, spies, ghosts and tour virtual facilities all while exercising. There is little stopping a group of friends from turning their progress in these apps into a LARP game. The Ingress and Pokemon Go communities are massive and global, and people take their teams very seriously sometimes!

Exercise In LARP

Anthem, Irving, and Vitez (characters at After the End) discuss the meaning of “feather in your cap.”

This picture illustrates a very easy way to incorporate a small amount of exercise into your LARP routine. Did you notice it? Did you know standing burns roughly your body weight in calories per hour that you do it? Anthem and Irving (who work out separate from LARP) are resting in the photo. Vitez, however, remains standing and does a small amount of exercise while having an in-character chat. Patrolling the borders of the site is another good way to add a little exercise to your routine. It also has in-character benefits too, because you help keep your town area safe.

For Parlor LARPs, you can walk around site while having a private chat.

LARPing can be tiring, but with some dedication it doesn’t have to always be. By choosing to exercise for, at, or by LARPing you will begin to see some serious benefits. Eventually you will look back on old character photos and be proud of how far you have come. Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets for more ways that LARP can benefit you!

Anna uses she/her pronouns, is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire or werewolf 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, console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats with three eyes between them. She can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.

Actually, It’s About Ethics in Media Consumption


Huge Discounts on your Favorite RPGs @ DriveThruRPG.com

Anyone who has ever been part of a subculture knows the bright red sting of controversy.  Sometimes the controversy is low stakes like the general fan rejection of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. Sometimes controversies go to the core of a community’s values like the ongoing controversy about whitewashing in Hollywood, and more specifically, to the likely interests of this blog’s readers, the continuing whitewashing of Asian characters by Marvel comics.

Boycotts

Over the years I’ve seen a number of calls for boycotts over these types of issues, and I’ve wondered how useful this tactic is.  Recently, I’ve heard similar calls within the role-playing community over a variety of events that have been litigated enough in the public square that I’d rather not discuss them here, but I do think it’s worth talking about the broader concept of “boycotting” work, especially work in a tightly integrated media landscape like the role-playing industry.

While many people find the idea of a dramatic boycott satisfying, how we make day to day media consumption choices within our hobby and why those choices may or may not have an impact on the industry has the potential to be a much more productive conversation.  Think of it like going on a binge diet, or trying to make long term adjustments to the way you promote health through food choices.  Binge diets do more harm than good, but holistically training yourself to eat in a healthy manner one step at a time is a path to healthy consumption habits. The same thing applies to the commercial choices we make.

Does that work for RPGs?

Role-playing games are unusual media beasts in a lot of ways.  With the exception of Dungeons and Dragons, which is in the hands of a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, RPGs are generally produced by small companies, and in many cases aren’t produced by their IP owners.  The majority of new White Wolf games are produced by Onyx Path Studios, or By Night Studios.  Chill is produced under license by Growling Door Games.  Shadowrun is produced under license by Catalyst Studios.  While there are also plenty of titles being produced that aren’t under license, several of the biggest names in RPGs are developed in this manner.  This complicates any situation where you want to use your economic activity to influence the behavior of a corporation, because it often puts you in a position where you may well be punishing a company you feel behaves in an exemplary manner for the behavior of an only vaguely involved IP owner.

So first let’s address the elephant in the room.  Trying to influence companies through consumption patterns gets a really bad rap because in many cases it’s a lost cause. Ethical consumption is all too often reduced to a marketing opportunity.  Free  Range and/or Pasture Raised chicken, Fair Trade Coffee and Chocolate, and any variety of attempts to patronize kinder, gentler, more labor friendly corporations tend to fall apart upon particularly close inspection.  It takes such massive bad press to impact the bottom line of most big companies that being seen as ethical is at best a matter of appearance and branding for most companies. So the question becomes, why bother?

Ethics?

Setting aside the issues with ethical consumption of non-media products, and even ethical consumption of AAA media, the situation is a little bit different in the world of the RPG. No matter what behavior you want to promote in the industry, it’s fair to say our dollars count for a lot more to a company selling a product like Numenera that had a mere 4,658 backers on its original Kickstarter, or even moreso, a game like Chill that had 793 backers on its original Kickstarter, than Kellog or Dell.  Losing a handful of customers hits most RPG producers in a way it just doesn’t hit the other companies we tend to give our money.

The impact of of our economic choices is amplified for those of us who choose to run games, as opposed to just play in them.  I’m going to be dropping cash on Exalted Charm cards in the near future because a close friend of mine chose to run Exalted and I want to have those cards during game. So, he has effectively made a sale for OPP without spending any money by running that game, and some of my fellow players may follow suit once my cards arrive. The question that has been nagging at the back of my mind is, given the influence we have, what choices will have the most positive impact on our hobby, and how should we interact with those who make different decisions?

Making a Difference

The first question is in many ways easier to answer, though it is far from simple.  The most significant way we can make a difference with the gaming money we spend is by focusing on supporting the creators and narratives we want to see flourish in the world.  Unlike consumption of things like food where we may or may not have the economic affluence to afford the most “ethical” options out there, the money we spend on RPGs is by its very nature disposable and we are not lessened by devoting some of that money to more experimental and inclusive media.  That might mean supporting something entirely new but somewhat traditional, like Ehdrighor because it dramatically expands the potential of big book role playing games, it might be supporting something completely experimental like Bluebeard’s Bride, or it might be supporting a company producing for an established product line telling inclusive stories in a more nuanced way than their lines have been known for in the past. Conscious engagement with these choices help us shape the gaming industry we will enjoy in the future, albeit in small ways.

The other question I posed above is a more difficult one to tackle.  In the past couple months I’ve seen several people upset at events in our community make personal decisions about who they would and would not give their money to and then openly shame others for making different choices.  Often those different choices were well thought out, and a reflection of different ethical priorities.  These choices were not based on willful ignorance or ethical laziness, and even if they were I have yet to see shaming someone for not sharing one’s values change a mind or even inspire greater thoughtfulness on an issue.  I feel that as our hobby grows there is a vital place for discussing our values and who we want to be as a community. While we will never be a monolith, that discourse is a vital part the growth of any community, and with events like the inclusion of game writers in the SFWA, and White Wolf pushing to produce more mainstream World of Darkness related media there is no question that we are growing. We can expect to face several of the same problems other fandoms have struggled with as they have moved out of obscurity and farther into the mainstream.  

Balancing Act

As that happens, it is important to engage with other fans who are thinking about these dynamics in good faith in the spirit of discourse, and not as though they are an enemy. Many people make an unfortunately meager livelihood producing the games we all love so much, and part of our ethical calculus should be the collateral damage of saying we’re going to pull back from supporting a given IP owner and every company that licenses from them.  Some people will care more about drawing a line in the sand based on corporate actions, others will care much more deeply about that collateral damage, and neither group is necessarily wrong.  If we choose to try to effect change through the media we consume then we should try to be aware of the good and ill caused by all our choices, and recognize that the choice to try to effect change through consumption is imperfect, and opinions on its validity will vary.  We should all go forth and be ready to be the change we want in the world, but know our view on that process is not a monolith, much like our community.

Crash Course in Terminology for LGBTQ People and Characters: 5 Things To Keep In Mind

Article is Reposted from High Level Games and Posted to Keep on the Heathlands with permission from the Author.

inclusivity

Since HLG is interested in promoting ways in which we can make gaming experiences more inclusive for all players, I’m here to teach you a thing or two about how to do that for LGBTQ folks. Step one is familiarizing yourself with terminology that’s often used to describe gender and sexual orientation. As I’m sure you’re aware, using the “wrong” terminology for a group of people can be quite embarrassing if you’re the one making the faux pas, and cringe-worthy if you’re a witness (think of grandma still referring to Asian people as “Orientals”), and pretty hurtful if you’re a member of a marginalized group.

Intentionally or unintentionally using the wrong terminology for a person in casual conversation is called a “micro-aggression” – it still causes harm, but is less severe than, say, housing discrimination. However, a steady stream of micro-aggressions combined with the threat or lived experience of physical harm is like “very small drops of acid falling on a stone” (Brown, 2008). Each drop may not do much harm on its own, but further weakens the integrity of the stone to the next drop. Micro-aggressions also exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems in marginalized groups; and as many studies (Haas, et al., 2011; Mustanski, et al., 2010; Almeida, et al., 2008; Bostwick, et al., 2014) have shown, LGBTQ folks have higher rates of traumatic experiences (e.g. sexual assault, physical violence, other forms of discrimination) and mental health problems than heterosexual, cisgender people.

So if you care about your LGBTQ players, perpetuating micro-aggressions at your table is probably not the cool thing to do. If you don’t, then perhaps go find another article. If you’re writing LGBTQ characters, you want them to be believable, which means getting into their fictional headspace. But, the situation in the LGBTQ community is pretty much a minefield when it comes to terminology. So here’s a fancy-pants guide from your resident queer lady gamer based off of American Psychological Association guidelines to help you through! Note: even after reading this article, you will probably mess some things up. The best course of action in this scenario is to make a brief apology and move on.

1). Use Whatever Terms and Pronouns Your Player Asks You to Use For Them.
If you’re writing a character, it’s probably best for you to use the “non-controversial” terms to describe them, especially if there’s someone at the table who’s LGBTQ. Read: don’t use queer or other “reclaimed slurs” as labels for your NPCs/PCs if you’re not of that persuasion in real life and LGBTQ players at the table haven’t indicated whether they’re cool with those terms or not. Having storylines around changing someone’s sexual orientation without their consent using magic (I’m looking at you, Fire Emblem), or including tropey “predatory LGBTQ” characters probably isn’t the best idea if your goal is to not perpetuate societal harms against LGBTQ folks in your games.

2). Dat Acronym:
LGBTQ stands for “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer” but there have been some pushes to change it around quite a bit (either by making it a double “Q” to separately denote queer and questioning, an “I” for intersex, a double “A” for asexual and agender, and a “P” for pansexual). I affectionately refer to it as alphabet soup for this reason. Personally, I think it’s fine as it stands, because transgender and queer are umbrella terms & encompass what people want to add. But, if you see the expanded version(s), now you know what these terms stand for.

3). Gender Stuff:
Now that we’ve covered what each thing in the acronym stands for, we’ll unpack the gender stuff. Transgender, like I said before, is an umbrella term, and encompasses people who don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. So brief review; sex and gender are two separate, but related, things. Sex or “biological sex” usually refers to chromosomes, primary and secondary sex characteristics, and gender is the set of societal expectations for behavior that we place on people based on their perceived sex. People whose gender identity matches up with the “biological sex” they were assigned at birth are known as “cisgender,” from the Latin “on this side of”; those whose gender does not match with their biological sex are called “transgender.” These are often abbreviated as “cis” and “trans.”

However, things with sex are not as cut and dry as you think they are! Occasionally, people are born with “ambiguous” sex; that is, they might have chromosomes of one sex, but the primary sex characteristics of the opposite sex. These people are known as “intersex.” Even among non-intersex people, the things that “make” us one sex or the other can vary greatly; women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have elevated androgen or “male” hormone levels but we still consider them “women.” The transgender umbrella encompasses people who want to pursue medical sex reassignment (sometimes these folks are called transsexual, but, this can be a loaded term for some), people who don’t identify with any gender (also known as agender), and people whose gender identity fluctuates (genderqueer or genderfluid). Side note: use of the singular “they” is now back in vogue (shout-out to the OG Bard, Shakespeare for the use of this); if you’re not sure of someone’s preferred pronouns you can always refer to them by the singular “they” to avoid misgendering them.

4). Sexuality Stuff:
The term “lesbian” refers to women (both cis and trans) who are exclusively attracted to women. “Gay” refers to men, (both cis and trans) who are exclusively attracted to men. Gay is also sometimes used by non-heterosexual women to describe themselves, but this use is less common. Homosexual is a bit of a loaded term because the APA used this term to define same-sex attraction as a mental illness. Some folks don’t have a problem with it and others do. Ask your players what they’re comfortable with, particularly if their character shares their real-life sexuality.

“Bisexual” (with bi meaning two) refers to people of any gender who are attracted to both men and women, but not every bisexual person experiences attraction as a 50-50 split; some bisexual folks prefer women 90% of the time and men 10% and anywhere in between. “Pansexual” (with pan meaning all) refers to people who form romantic attraction regardless of gender; and developed as kind of a political response to criticisms of “bisexual” assuming that there are only two genders/being transphobic. Some bi folks just say that for them, bi means “two or more” genders. “Queer” is a loaded term for older folks in particular because it was the slur of choice during the early days of the LGBTQ rights movement. Younger folks are using this former slur as an umbrella term to encompass anyone who is not exclusively heterosexual/straight, people who don’t like labels, and people who are still figuring things out but know that they’re definitely not straight.

5). Ice-Cream Analogy:
“Asexual,” like transgender, it’s an umbrella term (also abbreviated as ace). If you think of sexual orientation as sexual preference, think of asexuality as sexual appetite. Or, in ice-cream analogy terms; I have preferences for mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream, but will actively pursue eating ice cream in general because I have a stupid strong sweet tooth. Other people may not have an appetite to pursue eating ice cream, but if it’s offered to them, they’ll eat it. Some people will eat ice cream under certain conditions (must have rainbow jimmies or all bets are off), and some just don’t like ice cream at all. Some asexual folks do not experience romantic or sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender. Other asexual folks may experience romantic attraction to other people, but not sexual attraction. Some asexual folks might only experience sexual attraction once they’re in a committed relationship. Most of these identities are called gray or demi-asexuality (demi meaning partial). There’s heated debate on whether or not to include asexual as part of the LGBTQ acronym but that’s a can of worms I’m not going to open.

So there you have it! Your crash course is complete and now you can go off into the world armed with your SHINY NEW KNOWLEDGE!

FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & WordPress.  

Citations:
Almeida, J., Johnson, R.M., Corless, H.L., Molnar, B.E. & Azrael, D. (2008). Emotional

distress among LGBT youth: The influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 38, 1001-1014. 

American Psychological Association (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with
lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. American Psychologist, 67(1), 10-42. doi:
10.1037/a0024659

American Psychological Association (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with
transgender and gender non-conforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9),
832-864. doi: 4 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039906

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., & West, B. (2014). Discrimination and
mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 35-45.

Brown, L. S. (2008). Cultural competence in trauma therapy: Beyond the flashback.
American Psychological Association: Washington, D. C.

Haas, A. P., Eliason, M., Mays, V. M., Mathy, R. M., Cochran, S. D., D’Augelli, A. R.,
& … Clayton, P. J. (2011). Suicide and suicide risk in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations: Review and recommendations. Journal Of Homosexuality, 58(1), 10-51. doi:10.1080/00918369.2011.534038

Mustanski, B. S., Garofalo, R., & Emerson, E. M. (2010). Mental health disorders,
psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal Of Public Health,100(12), 2426-2432. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.178319

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.

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.

THIS ONE IS ROOK: HOW GAMING HELPS ME EXPRESS MY IDENTITY

 

The Neonates and Ancilla of Atlanta sat around sharing their life stories. Florence, the young Harpy turned to the Elder Nosferatu in the room.

 

“What about you?” Florence asked the Elder who was roosting in a chair across from the conversation.

 

“This one is Rook.” Said the Nosferatu. An awkward silence followed where Florence expected more, and Rook said nothing else. The conversation resumed between the others shortly after, leaving Rook to observe.

In the above scenario within By Night Studio’s Vampire: the Masquerade, I play Rook. Rook is a genderless Nosferatu Elder, and one of the most challenging yet rewarding characters I have ever played. Almost everything about Rook is alien to my personal life, with one key exception.

 

While writing this article on my laptop I have my phone and my tablet next to me and I have music playing from my gaming console on my TV; to say I am connected to my technology is an understatement. I am only 26 years old, though my birthday is this month, so I’m basically 27. As a feminist, I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of identity.. I am also genderfluid.

 

Rook, on the other hand, has a flaw called Archaic. If a character has this flaw, any technology less than 100 years old is foreign to them, and they cannot use it. Rook is over a thousand years old, so I am challenged to think far beyond my own scope in terms of taking actions and reactions. Rook very firmly has distaste for young vampires, with the stereotypical negative attitude that is associated with older people’s attitude toward teenagers. Rook is also genderless, as when Nosferatu are turned into vampires they are disfigured, and Rook’s disfigurement made determining Rook’s physical sex impossible, so Rook’s gender slowly left them.

 

Compared to the other character I play in the Underground Theater organization, Rook is completely different than I am. The other character I play, Jacquelyn, is much more an extension of myself. Dressing as Rook takes just as much time as Jacquelyn, despite the simple costume, partly due to all the face makeup that I put on to provide a ‘corpse-like’ appearance. I like to jokingly refer to myself as Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars when I’m putting the makeup on, due to the similar appearance.

 

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

 

Rook’s costuming is very simple, as you can see. I only wear a large black cloak to gatherings, and carry only one accessory: a red rosary. If I have to describe them in their Obfuscated Mask it is always something very simple and timeless, and still an androgynous/agendered appearance, and the rosary is still present. I also pose myself in certain ways to play down my feminine bodied curves. My bust line is large and binding would be a bit unsafe for me, so I have to use other methods to pull off a genderless appearance. I’ll push my shoulders forward, hunch, and keep my arms out in front of me to keep the cloak from hanging off of my bust line, giving me no clearly gendered appearance one way or the other. Catching myself in the mirror and not seeing the curvy lines of my own body or my normal skin tone really helps me to stay in character as Rook.

 

There are small parts of Rook that are extensions of myself. Rook is a bit protective of their family and those they consider family, and I am as well. I have stuck up for friends against all sorts of people who would bully them for various aspects. I will very typically make myself the voice who isn’t afraid to speak up. I will call people on negative behaviors, bad attitudes, creepy behavior, and the like because much of the time those disparaged people don’t feel they can speak up. I take this attitude into Rook by having them stick to their guns when it comes to the people they would defend, even to the detriment of their reputations. In VtM, having a Catiff offspring is seen as a failing of your character, and mine embraces (pardon the pun) the fact with pride. Rook has an openly acknowledged Catiff grandchilde and doesn’t really care how other people feel about it.

 

My favorite vampire meme

My favorite vampire meme

 

As I mentioned above, Rook is genderless. This is slightly different than being genderfluid, but this article isn’t about the differences between the two. The short version is that genderless is no gender at all, while genderfluid moves between various genders. Having Rook express a gender identity close to my own internal one in such an external method is super empowering for me. My body makes it difficult to express anything through presentation other than female, so having a chance to embody a non-female character is awesome.

 

A lot of people do misgender Rook as a female, due to my own body and their knowledge that I present as female, but I usually just handle it in character with in character language. I’m still waiting on the day when someone decides they have to hit on me in-character as Rook. I have an image saved on my phone for this exact purpose, because my character will have no qualms about flashing the whole gathering in character and pausing game a moment to show them all exactly what is going on underneath the robe.

 

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

 

I have had antagonistic characters purposefully misgender Rook, and I have had supportive characters ask Rook if they would prefer the ‘zir’ set of pronouns. Being able to have these experiences in a safe environment was very helpful for me should I have these experiences out on the real world, because I already know what my reaction would be. I haven’t had anyone be purposefully mean to me out of character about being genderfluid; due to my use of female pronouns with a female body most people likely don’t even realize I am genderfluid. I live in the South, so being super ‘out’ about being Genderfluid is pretty hard due to a lot of misplaced hatred.

 

I first started to experiment with my own gender through gaming. I played a lot of tabletop before I started LARPing. When I got to the Deadlands: Weird West setting at first, I played a saloon girl who ran away with a cowboy, a pretty typical role for a female character in a Western. After that character was finished, I moved on and started playing male characters in the setting, because of how things were for women in that time period. I found playing the male characters more freeing, more in tune with how I would want to be able to live in that time period. At first my male characters were caricatures of other characters from fiction. I played a Huckster based off of Gambit/every smooth talking gambler ever, and I played a doctor based off of House.

 

After time whenever I wanted to play a male character in other settings they quit being as two dimensional and started being fleshed out. To be fair almost all of my characters got more well rounded as I grew up and matured, but I quit looking at the male characters as something wholly different than my own psyche, just different permutations and variations on personality traits I as a person had. Having the safe space of gaming to experiment with these thoughts is an amazing tool.

 

For me gaming is as much a tool as anything else. To me, entertainment is what happens when you watch something you’re not participating in. I am entertained when I watch a video online, but with gaming I am enriched. I regularly describe the best gaming sessions as ones where I felt awful. I discovered another character’s wife changed to a wall, having her venom enhanced blood siphoned from her. I willingly went along with an antagonist to be tied up and flayed alive. Those two events were polarizing, and the best game sessions I had as that character. Were they ‘fun’ in the traditional sense? No, but they were so engaging and enriching that I will never forget them.

 

 

With Pride week in Chattanooga just having finished up, October being LGBTQ* History Month, and National Coming Out Day coming up in a week on the 11th, this time of year often makes me think of how far we’ve come as far as LGBTQ* issues and gaming. Most games wouldn’t let someone portray an LGBTQ* concept in an offensive way, or let players harm or make uncomfortable others due to their LGBTQ* status. If I wanted to I could make a male character in any of the games that I play in regularly and it would be received well and everyone would try their best to use character-appropriate pronouns and language. If I wanted my local gamers to use different pronouns with me I wouldn’t have to worry about it not being received well. I know not every gamer has that comfort and I know it can be hard to find in some places, but the fact that this is more and more the norm than the exception gives me hope for the future.

 

Every time I miss a game (and Amber’s amazing zucchini)  I am sad I will not be able to express myself in an accepting environment, and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Even putting on the costume and makeup to take pictures for this article was enjoyable, despite the face scrubbing I have to endure afterwards and the warmth of wearing the robe during the day. Playing Rook has given me the freedom to experiment with my own gender expression, and that has been amazingly refreshing.

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

*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 THIS REAL LIFE? NO, IT’S JUST FANTASY – CHECK YOUR CRUSADES AT THE DOOR

*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. In the future, this note will append all articles. 

 

Many of us, I dare say even most of us, indulge in role-playing games as a cheap and effective form of escapism. Whether it is crowding around a dilapidated table with far too much caffeine and crunchy goodness, or getting dressed to the nines on a Saturday night to go hang out at a planetarium or a VFW hall, we make the conscious choice to go be someone else for a few hours out of our busy lives.

 

So, you’ve decided to go be someone else. Groovy. You have your character sheet, your costume, and your desire to go wreak havoc. Did you remember to NOT pack your pet social agenda?

 

Every character should have something they believe in, something they are willing to fight for or about. It makes them more real and believable, more a person and less a collection of dots on a page. True Neutral characters (using the Gygaxian alignment system) are really hard to play and even harder to identify with. The key is choosing the right motivating force to maximize enjoyment for the player group, not just to get your own personal rocks off.

motivation

What is your motivation?

Around a gaming table or at a LARP venue is not the place for your day-to-day crusades.

No matter what your personal vendetta-against-the-world is, it doesn’t need to impinge on anyone else’s enjoyment of the game unless it is in character and contributes something to the shared story as a whole.character-sheet

A character that is nothing more than dots on a sheet with an axe to grind and an agenda to forward is not fun to play with. Beliefs, crusades, convictions, or interests squished together with XP dots should not, and more to the point, do not, a character make. That’s a basis of a character that is waiting to be fleshed out.

Immersion is also known as “suspension of disbelief” and is crucial to the role-playing experience. Intentionally interjecting out of character concerns into a scene or genre where they are not applicable is a very good way to break that suspension, and this is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent in these contentious and socially-charged modern nights.

 

Let me explain that a little bit. If I am sitting down and playing a half-elf rogue with chaotic evil alignment, in a high fantasy setting, that half-elf rogue is not going to give a flying goblin’s damn about third-wave feminism.

 

A three-thousand year old vampire is going to be either incredibly confused by, amused by, or completely blasé towards the entire concept of gender fluidity. (Especially if they know any Tzimisce.) Worthy of consideration is the fact that various cultures and societies have wildly varying definitions of gender and societal norms than the Western/Western European cultures that many RPGs are based upon, particularly if you are looking backwards in history and taking a static view from the time of the vampire’s creation.

 

annie_kenney_and_christabel_pankhurst

Allow me to present a positive example of bringing a modern crusade into game in an appropriate and entertaining fashion.

There is a young lady in Underground Theater who played a relatively young vampire (under 100 years old, I believe) whose character, in life, was a passionate suffragette and enthusiastic patriot. It was entirely in character for her to bring up feminist perspective and interpretations of events. That was an AMAZING character who spawned a TON of interesting IC interactions, because seeing her talk about women’s rights to a two-thousand-year-old Roman Centurion was really something else. She also enthusiastically called out the Elders who advocated for monarchy over democracy. It was fantastic!

 

I have also seen an entire game grind to a halt because of what I have termed the “weather report” phenomenon.  Presented for your edification:

 

Character A: Hey, B, have you seen the weather for tomorrow? I need to know what kind of gear to bring.

 

Character B: Well, as a *insert adjective indicating some aspect of identity* person, I think it’s going to rain.

 

Now, unless that adjective indicating some aspect of their identity is something that is actually germane to the conversation, i.e., a meteorologist or a druid, that adds nothing to the conversation and just slaps the other participant in the face.

 

Scene: Three Werewolves outside of a pack meeting, casually discussing plans for taking down a Black Spiral Dancer hive.

black-furies

Character A: Hey, B, what do you think the weather is going to do tomorrow? I need to know what kind of gear to bring.

Character B: Well, as a gender-fluid Black Fury Metis, I think it is going to rain. We should be ready to get muddy.

Character C: He just asked you for the weather report, dude.

Character B: And as a gender-fluid Black Fury Metis, I gave him the weather report.

 

Players A and C walk away from Player B, who congratulates themselves on raising consciousness or some such thing, completely ignorant of the fact that they may have alienated Players A and C by waving that banner constantly. End Scene.

 

This is a slightly altered version of a real conversation that I have seen happen more than once.

 

A key point to consider: You can alienate characters all day, every day. The key thing will be to not alienate players, since players are the lifeblood of a game. This may be a good time to step aside, out of character, and do a temperature check to make sure that context isn’t becoming blurred. A quick aside, less than thirty seconds, can smooth a lot of ruffled feathers.

 

As shown in the first example, there are ways to wave your banners effectively and without breaking immersion – you just have to build your character’s backstory in such a way that that particular issue becomes prevalent without beating people over the head with it. It requires a lot of thought and consideration, which should deepen the player’s insight into their character and make them even more believable and real.

 

The second example is almost belligerent in its emphasis on the snowflake aspect, which does tend to be alienating if that is the only aspect of the character that really comes into play. No one is going to remember that Black Fury as the one who took down a BSD on their own; the player has forced that one aspect of their character to be the primary one.

 

As a whole, I have never met a more inclusive, welcoming group  of people than the LARPing community – hell, increasing inclusivity is the entire purpose of this blog – but every single one of us is a human with a stressful life, political and sociopolitical opinions, differing experiences, differing preferences, and our own demons in the dark places of our minds. Our games are our escapes from the pressures of the modern world, not an additional platform for our personal agendas.

 

I despise using the term “safe space”, because I don’t like what it has been corrupted into, but the role-playing world should be a relatively safe space for BOTH ends of the spectrum. If you are a plain vanilla person, go to church every Sunday, drink cheap mass-produced beer and think that Disturbed is Satanic metal because of their album covers, you go right ahead and do and think those things. If you are an alphabet-identifying peacock of a screaming nihilist Norwegian death-metal fan who only drinks the blood of unborn ponies during your Zarathustrian rituals, that’s your gig.

 

(INB4 angry emails/comments: obviously these examples are two wildly different ends of a spectrum that doesn’t encompass every single person. It’s called hyperbole. Carry on.)

 

The vanilla person doesn’t need to have to constantly hear about how delicious the pony blood is, and the peacock doesn’t need to hear about how to make America great again. The likelihood of changing anyone’s opinion, in ANY context, not only gaming, is incredibly diminished when one’s main tactic is a full frontal assault.

 

cell-phoneNow, if a young Gangrel is trying to convince a very old Ventrue that cellphones really aren’t tiny magic boxes that show pictures and have people’s voices coming out of them, that’s fantastic (and an interesting commentary on the Luddite-ism of the generational gap). If a male Toreador is regaling the Court with stories of how he was really Louis XVI’s secret lover, and all the effort and rigamarole they had to go through just to get five minutes alone together without being under suspicion, that’s even better (and can draw attention to the fact that gay famous people did, in fact, exist in history and had to take great pains to hide their sexuality, so the modern reality of open acceptance is really awesome).

 

If you are playing a character who is from a culture that is markedly different from mainstream modern nights, do a little research (or a lot of research) into that culture so you can deepen their character and your presentation of them and their culture. This will likely involve finding out some rather nasty things by modern standards, like objectification of women, slave trading, oppressive social structures, and the like. Don’t flinch from this, but use it to inform your characters. Did they enthusiastically participate in these societal norms, or did they overtly or covertly resist them? Especially in horror-based genres, like Vampire or Werewolf, it is not rational or believable to have all the characters be white hats/good guys. Sometimes, you have to accept that you were likely a bastard/bitch who profited from or enjoyed the subjugation of others. This is a mature and healthy understanding of the difference between our actual selves and our characters.

 

“But I really want to raise awareness of X issue! It is a Thing! It is what I believe!”

 

That’s fantastic. Game is not the place for it. Don’t inflict that on the other characters, especially if it is not relevant to the genre or storyline. If you want to convince people to look at an issue differently, talk to them as player-to-player, ideally in a relaxed social setting. Don’t force a character to be a mouthpiece for your pet project.

 

Make friends with the other players (scary prospect, I know, but you’ll be okay, I promise) and spread your message that way. I guarantee you’ll get better results.

 

In closing, make an effort to truly differentiate yourself as a player from yourself as a character, remember Wheaton’s Law, and learn to check your banners at the door – but it’s perfectly fine to pick up a few more. 

 

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

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

invisible-sun-kickstarter-graphic
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.

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.

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