Actually, It’s About Ethics in Media Consumption


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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.

HEXENMEISTER

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Education

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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 Networking, Exercise, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets.

Wait, LARP helps you LEARN!?

Did you know that during the Civil War, if a lady was unmarried and under thirty, she was never to be in the company of a man unchaperoned? Except for a walk to church or a park in the early morning, she was not supposed walk alone; and should have always been accompanied by another lady, a man, or a servant. How about in 1240, Mongols led by Batu Khan sacked Kiev and killed 48,000 people? Do you know the date the first Black Sabbath album came out? Roughly how many nightclubs there are in the United States? The German word for ‘sorcerer’?

 

HEXENMEISTER

It’s this, by the way.

Facts, Trivia, and Practical Knowledge

The questions above are things that I learned for the characters I’m playing now.  I play in Underground Theater, which  I’ve only started playing in the last two years. In such a relatively short time period I have learned so much unrelated to LARP specifically because of LARP. For LARPs based in the real world, you end up learning tons of trivia and other fun facts that you can bring out at parties or trivia night and discuss with friends. For boffer LARPs, you may end up researching different weapon types or clothing styles of a particular era. You may even learn how to write some words in another language. When I played a survivalist who would be up at dawn to explore, I researched on different animal tracks so I could identify trails, so I knew if I might run into a dangerous animal, or just a deer.

 

Credit: Antranias at PIXABAY

Or this “human” creature that I’ve heard about.

Expanding Worldviews

Another facet of the educational aspects of LARP is the challenge to your worldview. You will meet many people who have a worldview different than your own, and it can help to expand yours.

Because of where I live and where I grew up, nearly everyone I knew growing up was white. My schools were primarily white or Hispanic students. Most came from lower-middle class, mostly from families where the parents worked in manufacturing or retail. I had a couple of out LGBTQ* friends but I didn’t really know what that was all about. I didn’t know any of the PoC at my school as close friends or even acquaintances.

Even when I went to college my worldview didn’t expand too much at first, but then I joined a D&D game and the DM was always going LARPing. Eventually I decided to check out this LARPing thing and I was hooked! Now I have so many friends who are LGBTQ*, myself included! Not all of my friends are white, and I consider myself much more receptive and accepting of differing world views.  I realized that ultimately we’re all people and we share a common love of the game.

When you’re at LARP, you realize that despite all of their other differences, everyone there likes to LARP and you can talk to them about LARP. Being around them when character is broken, at afters, or social events lets you gently become educated on what life is like for them. When you add these friends on social media after the game you get to see what they go through. You learn what they like and what they dislike, which tends to leave you more open to accepting the differences.

 

Credit 3dman_eu at PIXABAY


However LARP will not help you accept using 7 different fonts on the same sign.

What Else Can I Learn?

There are so many more ways that LARP can educate you, but this is an article and not a textbook. Researching for a character can help you learn more about the world in which we live, and inspire you to educate yourself further. LARP can also help you expand your worldview and make you more open to becoming accepting of other races, religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, relationship types, and even simple stuff such as music preference. Be sure to check out the other articles on Networking, Exercise, 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.

LARPers of Color – Malcom Harris

Welcome to our 5th interview in the series: LARPers of Color. You can find the other articles here, here, here, and here.

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?
My friend Sean come over to my house to tell me about its awesome game he just got into.  I head over to his house to see what it’s all about. He introduces me to some people I don’t know and we start swinging boffer swords… and I’m hooked. I like LARPs with a bit of combat. But I’ll give anything a try. I’m currently In Amtgard (The LARP) my friend introduced me to all those years ago.
I’ve been LARPing since 1989 so…29 years.
Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?
Yes. I’m currently Duke of one of the local Amtgard chapters, I created, ran and helped organized the MACHO larps in the nineties and I’ve had numerous roles in Amtgard in the past.
LARP administration is for me is all about customer service, be it with those involved in other parts of LARP administration, players or mundanes.  It’s your job to make sure everything runs smoothly and everyone’s ideas and grievances are fairly evaluated.
In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

Wow, the big one.
Those players need to stop being afraid to reach out to people who do not look like them. People assume people of color and females don’t have interest and Larps and tend to ignore them  when  they are spectators.   I’ve seen it happen.   Engage everyone and you’ll be surprised.
Also write Larps to be more culturally inclusive or culturally neutral as to give everyone a something to connect with in the LARP or give them a chance to brand the LARP in a way they want.
Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?
Sexist and racist art in rules. None of that please. Also biased opinions being taken as gospel because of who said it.
If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?
For MACHO, longevity, I wish I would have stuck with it more.

For Amtgard, Embracing the RP in LARP. Swinging padded sticks has been pushed to the front by vocal members of the organization.  Those who RP have been marginalized in some places. that needs to change.

From LARPing.com

You are a knight in Amtgard, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

In Amtgard Knighthood is awarded for excellence and the ability to teach and promote one of what I call the for virtues of Amtgard,  Leadership, Service, Artistry and Combat) I’m a service knight (Flame Knight)  and it’s a very interesting situation.  It’s one that grants a certain amount of prestige, but demands at all time service.As a knight it becomes your job to be a positive example, to uphold your virtue (in my case service) and the others as needed.

Thanks to the internet, I’m the most visible African American knight in the game.  African American players and players of colors come to me asking for advice and validation in what they do in game, me , for them I also have to be an example. On the other end of the spectrum and I found it odd when it was first told,i’m , for a lot of people the first African American they feel they have something in common with, alto that’s less of an issue now then it was twenty years ago.

Amtgard Knights

An Interview with Chill and Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary Developer Matthew McFarland

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According to the Onyx Path development Blog the Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition is nearing completion, and rumors about that the Monsters Sourcebook for Chill 3rd edition is nearing completion.  Given these exciting developments it only made sense for Victor Kinzer and Simon Eichhörnchen to ask Matthew McFarland who is leading development on both of these projects to talk a little bit about these projects and he graciously agreed.

Victor: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.  For anyone who isn’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history developing games?

Sure! I started writing games professionally in 1997. White Wolf Game Studio had an all-call for writers, and I sent in the first bit of a novella I was working on. That novella is thankfully lost to time, but it did get me a job writing on Giovanni Chronicles IV, and then I slowly infiltrated the rest of the World of Darkness lines and eventually got a full-time job as Dark Ages developer.

I left White Wolf in 2004, and went to grad school to become a speech-language pathologist, because while you can have steady work in the RPG industry, it was a little too unstable for me as a new dad. In 2012, my wife Michelle Lyons-McFarland and I started our own small press games company, Growling Door Games, Inc. We published two single-book story games (curse the darkness and A Tragedy in Five Acts), and then 2014 we obtained the license to publish a new edition of the classic horror RPG Chill.

Simon: What was it that attracted you to the projects you’re working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a couple of freelance projects for Onyx Path Publishing (which licenses the World of Darkness from the new owners at Paradox)[Editor’s Note, The World of Darkness is a property of White Wolf, AB a subsidiary of Paradox Entertainment Inc.], including the Beast Player’s Guide for Beast: The Primordial and the second edition of Hunter: The Vigil. Can’t talk much about Hunter; that’s Monica Valentinelli’s show, and I’m just a writer. Beast is very much my show; the game was mine pretty much from the ground up (though of course I had a really awesome team of people helping to put it all together), and I’m excited about the Player’s Guide. It’s a chance to flesh out the areas of Beast that I don’t think came through as well as we wanted in the core book, and also follow the time-honored tradition of adding new cool powers, new “splats”, and new toys for players to use.

Outside of Onyx Path, I just finished up writing a sourcebook for Chil called Monsters. It’s a bestiary book, in a way, but it’s also a look into the world of Chill and how the organization dedicated to fighting the Unknown, SAVE, approaches creatures that don’t fall into easily understandable categories (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc.). Monsters is the first book in a good long while that I’ve written entirely myself, and it was fun flexing those muscles again. (Monsters should be available for sale in August, by the way.)

Victor: The Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is the first new edition of the game since 1997.  Can you talk about what your approach was to updating Changeling to the world of the 20teens?

The 20th Anniversary Edition games were meant to keep the feel of the old games, but to update the world around them and (in the case of Changeling) become the revised edition they never got. As such, our approach was to look at what made Changeling awesome. We tried to keep the whimsy, but also the tragedy. One of the greatest explanations of Changeling I ever heard (from a friend and player in Atlanta many years ago) was that it’s like someone pointing a gun at your head and saying “be happy.” We tried to keep that notion, that dreams are hard to maintain in the face of the crushing pressure of the “real world,” but they’re all the more important because of that.

The other thing we wanted to do give changelings a little more magical “oomph.” I’m not a believer in “game balance” as it’s usually defined (that is, given a featureless white room, could two characters stand an equal chance of killing each other), but I do think that changelings in previous editions were a bit too fragile. We changed magical mechanics a bit, and brought in the notion of Unleashing (originally from Dark Ages: Fae) so that changelings have the chance to court disaster with the power of Glamour.  

Victor: One of the major focuses of Keep is inclusivity in gaming, so we have a few questions about the Gallain.  In a blog post about your early playtests for Changeling, you said the theme for the edition is  “powerful nobles hiding in freeholds and staying young while the changelings outside freeze”.  In previous editions the various groups of Gallain were presented with either less oppressive nobles or no specifically noble kith.  Since C20 includes all the Fae how are you including the non European kiths in the theme of this edition?

That’s one theme of the edition, and it definitely resonates more with the European Kithain than the Gallain. The Gallain are in the book, but they’re not the focus of the game (they’re in the Appendix and while there’s enough to play them, it’s severely truncated due to space constraints). I know that’s a roundabout way to answer the question, but the answer is that Gallain don’t get included in the same way, except perhaps insofar as to note that even the “commoner” Kithain, who are the bottom class of that particular system, still get to participate in that system. Gallain don’t, necessarily (which might not matter, depending on where they are).

Simon: Part of any good story is compelling antagonists. Changeling’s ultimate enemies, the autumn people, the people who disbelieve the fae out of existence, are a powerful metaphor for the destruction of culture. With that in mind, how do you go about creating autumn people that speak to that kind of horror while at the same time being sensitive to real world colonization experienced by the cultures reflected by the Gallain?

What’s scary about the autumn people, to me, is that they don’t have to confront the fae to destroy them. They’re not aggressive (necessarily), they’re confirmation bias made manifest. They’re a form of privilege, if you will, because they don’t see what they don’t need to see. I think that’s pretty relevant for the Gallain and their cultures, too (though of course, not all Gallain use dreams and Glamour the same way as Kithain).

Simon: Given that the Inanimae can reflect how different cultures perceive their environments how do you see the Inanimae fitting into the 20th Anniversary of Changeling?

One of the notions that the book brings up is that during the Mythic Age, everything dreamed, including the world. Bearing in mind that, like the other Gallain, the Inanimae don’t get a lot of space in Changeling 20th, I think the takeaway is that part of ignoring dreams and Glamour is ignoring the natural world. That’s something that people (both in the World of Darkness and in the real world) do at their peril, but it’s hard, and again, what makes autumn people scary and frustrating isn’t that they go out of their way to ruin the world (a la Pentex) but that they can blithely ignore the problems.

It’s easy to imagine an Inanimae looking at a changeling and saying, “well, sure, whine all you want, but people still write books, using paper that they make from the mulched-up bodies of my family.”

Womb of the Earth by Lydia Burris


Victor: When I first started playing the World of Darkness I was in a community of gamers where Changeling was incredibly popular, but in more recent years I’ve discovered that a lot of White Wolf fans feel Changeling doesn’t fit into the broader World of Darkness.  Where do you think this sentiment comes from, and did you make any changes in C20 you can tell us about that help the fae interact literally and thematically with the broader World of Darkness?

So, personally, I never had any trouble making Changeling fit into the greater World of Darkness. I used to do a lot of crossover (still do, for my Chronicles of Darkness games, where it’s much easier), and what it boils down to is that themes unique to one game might not work for all the others, but there are themes that are intrinsic to the World of Darkness as a whole. The death of creativity and passion is strongest for Changeling, of course, but tell me you couldn’t make that work for Vampire, too. Hell, “our way of life is dying” is perfect for Werewolf as well as Changeling. “Discovery and passion are intoxicating but dangerous:” Changeling and Mage.

Mechanically, of course there are some things you have to work around (not everyone has the same Traits, for instance), and if you’re doing crossover, you can’t just throw any old characters together and think they’ll work. I happen to think that’s true no matter what game you’re playing, though.

Simon: Throughout the CtD line the three major Gallain groups, the Nunnehi, the Menehune and the Hsien, are either excluded from or not a part of the Dreaming. Has this dynamic changed at all in C20?

We don’t get into the cosmology of it very much, due to space. Nunnehi and Menehune still deal more with spiritual expressions of Glamour than Dreaming-based expressions, though.

Victor: I’d like to talk briefly about another one of your upcoming projects, the Monsters sourcebook for the Chill Role Playing game published by your company Growling Door Games.  Can you tell us a little bit about Chill, and the Monster book specifically for anyone who isn’t familiar with the game?

Chill is an investigate horror RPG in which players take on the roles of members of SAVE (the Eternal Society of the Silver Way). SAVE is an organization dedicated to protecting people from the Unknown (the supernatural in general), which feeds on humanity’s fear, misery, pain, and sometimes just flesh and blood. Our first sourcebook, called SAVE: The Eternal Society, delved into the history and current state of the organization.

Monsters, like I mentioned earlier, is a bestiary book, but it’s also mostly written in-character, from the perspective of a SAVE researcher working on a classification system for monsters. It was a lot of fun to delve into how SAVE saw these creatures when she was writing it (in the 1980s) and then add commentary from a more contemporary agent. There are a lot of fun “Easter eggs” in the book that refer back to the Chill core book and to SAVE, and I think it will be fun for readers to see these characters’ stories as they read about these monsters.

The second edition of Chill presented adversary books in this format (Lycanthropes, Vampires, Apparitions), and I was always impressed with how skillfully the in-character information evoked the horror of the setting. I’m trying for something like that: Fun to read, evocative for players and Chill Masters.


Victor: I saw you comment online a few months ago about tweaks you were making to the Monsters in the book to remove some of the invisible bias that was present in previous editions of the game.  Can you talk a little bit about how you approached this and in general how you approach making those kinds of revisions to RPGs with established fan bases who may be resistant to any changes in their favorite games?

As far as making changes to games with loyal fanbases, I’ve always found that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. I love the 2nd Edition of Chill, and our edition draws very heavily on that one. I’ve always been very clear about that, and while I do get fans of the first edition sometimes who complain that our version isn’t enough like that one (the first edition drew more inspiration from pulp-horror and Hammer films), for the most part folks grasp what we’re doing and are with us.


I think the comment you’re referring to was in noting that there were quite a few creatures in previous editions that presented as female, and were said to “tempt” or “deceive” men. If you look at how female-presenting creatures appear in horror generally, you see a lot of that, so it’s by no means unique to
Chill or to RPGs, but since one of the big themes of Chill is that fear becomes manifest in the Unknown, I wanted to address that. I play a lot with the notion of unreliable narrators in Monsters, talking about SAVE making assumptions that it really has no business making, and members letting their own biases creep in. The kind of meta effect of that is that we wind up hanging a lantern on some of the sexist implications of previous work; Dr. Garrett, the narrator of Monsters, notes that female-presenting creatures are consistently described in certain ways that male-presenting or genderless creatures are not.

*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

Advantage/Disadvantage in D&D 5th Edition

D&D_Transparent

Marlaa

I’ve always been a good shot with a bow. Even as an Elven child growing up in Evermeet, I was exceptional. Yesterday was no exception, but I think I’ve taken my archery skill to a new level. We were taking out a hive of Ankheg’s and I was hitting eye shot after eye shot. It was pretty satisfying and though it took us about 3 hours to clear out the entire hive, I didn’t miss a single shot. I wonder if I can talk Marcus and the rest of the crew to head to Waterdeep for the annual Faire. I could use the money and it would be a ton of fun to claim a golden arrow in that kind of event.

Farn

Luck just isn’t with me at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m taking on challenges I’m not ready for, of if I’ve pissed off some cosmic being. Worst was when I was trying to convince that local guard to let us pass through the gate without having permit papers. Most of the time, slip a few gold coins in their paws, and walk on through. Well, it was my bad luck to get the one Towney that felt he was making enough cash on his regular salary. Hopefully I get out of prison tomorrow. I think my employer is willing to pay bail… again.

Advantage and Disadvantage

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Buy Some Dice

Here’s the easiest mechanic in the world. Roll x dice and if you hit this number, you succeed. It’s the basic premise 90% of role-playing games have used since day 1. Now, games adjust this mechanic in a lot of ways. Skill points give you a bonus, because you have a skill. Obviously, right? There are dozens of ways to complicate this to try and be more realistic or nuanced.

Advantage and Disadvantage still blew me away as an idea when I read it. I’d been gaming for like 18 years when 5th Edition D&D came out and I’d played a lot of different systems, so I really never expected I’d be surprised by something like this. I was. It is a simple, obvious mechanic, and yet, it floored me when I first read about it.

If you don’t know, Advantage works like this, you get two d20s for things you are particularly good at. You roll both, use the better roll to see if you succeed. Disadvantage, roll two d20, take the lowest roll to see if you succeed.

I’m still trying to figure out why this was mind-blowing, but it was. This is a super simple mechanic that says, I should succeed or fail, but there is still a chance I might not. I might have help; GM gives me Advantage. I might have a background that makes it obvious I should be good at something, have Advantage. My life sucks, and I’ve been hamstrung (maybe literally), cool, Disadvantage on your rolls, mate. This is a simple system. The mechanic can be used in a 1000 different situations for 1000 different reasons. That’s what makes it awesome to me.

How do you feel about Advantage?

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

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

SOCIAL CONTRACT

social-contract

 

So you and your friends have decided to try out this “RPG” thing.  Your groups want to give it a try and see what all the buzz is about. Before you go diving in, there are some steps that, as a group, you all must take into account.  When deciding on a new game I recommend that 5 questions need to be addressed and answered. They are as follows:

 

 

 

1)  What is the time frame we are all willing to put into the game?

2) Where will the game be played and who will host the game?

3) What game will the group run?

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

5) Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the roleplaying setting?

 

Each of these will be covered in a future article over the next few weeks.

Don’t worry!  I will give examples of the discussions, in italics, that should be taking place for a satisfying gaming experience to be had by all.  I also highly recommend reading over Josh’s excellent entry on using gaming as a form of dialog. That Blog Article touches on many ideas that I feel are also central to this thing I call the Social Contract.

 

1) What is the time frame we are all willing to put into the game?

clock

The first thing you need to decide is how much time your group is willing to set aside for a game. I start with this question as it sets the stage for the rest of the questions to come.  This helps to set expectations.  Everyone involved will be aware what time requirements will be required in order to take part in the game, either as a player or a GM.  Once the time factor is decided, there are three sub questions with regards to time frame. These are as follows:

 

 

1a) How many days per week/month will the group meet to play the game?

2a) How long is each session going to last?

3a) How long will the story run for i.e short arc vs. campaign?

Looking at that first sub question: How many days a week/month will the group meet to play the game? Sure it sounds silly but it’s one that must be noted. For 99.999% of groups this will be easy to determine based on schedules and other commitments.

For example, I have a few ongoing groups and these groups meet not only on different days of the week but also with different frequency.  One of these groups meets every Thursday in person.  Another one of my groups meets every other Saturday via Skype.  The point is different groups with different agreements and expectations of when and how often they will meet.

Now we know when we will meet.  How long can we meet for?  This is important for many different reasons.  The main one being making sure that the GM running the game has enough content prepared and ready to fill the agreed timeframe.

There is a ratio I use to determine how many hours I like a session to last depending on the number of players. I will go into that in a later entry. For now just understand that your GM will spend time out of game putting together the story.

That is if a GM is needed. Just wait I will get to that under the “what game will the group run” question.

While the timeframe for how long each session will last is important for the GM, it also helps the players.  For me it lets me know who many scenes I  can expect to be in or be center stage for.  This is another topic which I will touch on in a later entry but, a player should have at least one scene highlighting her or his character.  From a standpoint of length of each session this means that one can roughly determine how long your scene will last.  This can help to keep the story moving along and prevent players from monopolizing both scenes and time.

Now we know when we will meet and how long each session will last. What is the time frame for the game we are playing? How long will this story last?  This is important because life has a tendency to interfere with gaming. Some groups like to do a series of one shot games (think of these like a sketch comedy show, that always uses the same actors, but in different roles each episode), others a mini-campaign of 6 or 7  game sessions (this is like a television mini-series) and still others like massive year-spanning campaigns (an example of this would be an hour long Drama’s entire series production run).

What will work best for your group is part of the contract, for example, your group decides to dedicate your free time once a week for 4 to 5 hours per session, what is the end date for this particular game?

I have played in plenty of one shot style games where a whole story is told in one session. On the extreme opposite of this I ran a decade-long Vampire: the Requiem game that started from the time the main 1st edition book was released in 2004, and ended in 2014. … yes we met weekly.

Both of the above examples show two very different games in terms of length of story.  Knowing how long that story will go on for will help in deciding what the group as a whole can commit to.

With regards to the Vampire game mentioned above I had plenty of people who shied away from it because it was both daunting to them and they didn’t want to commit to something like that in terms of length.

Also, knowing the length of each story or campaign allows the possibility for players to rotate who runs the game as GM.

For example, both my Thursday and Saturday groups mentioned above rotate between GM’s. Once one story is finished another GM will step up and run a game. Each campaign runs about 5 or 6 months on average. This for us helps with a few things; one, no one person gets burnt out on running and never getting to play, and two, it allows us to try many different and diverse games.

Make sure everyone is okay with both the frequency and length of the game.  Yes, you will need to be willing to make compromises; so make sure those diplomacy stats are high and not used as a dump stat.

In recap, we have an understanding so far of what frequency we’ll be meeting and how long the game we are going to run shall last. With one big question out of the way we can tackle the next one:

Where are we doing this thing at anyway?

Where indeed?

That I shall cover next week…

 

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

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