Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Routines and Scenes

By Janielianne

Routines and Scenes
by Tobie Abad
Originally published December 2001

Author Note: This article was written with Vampire: The Masquerade in mind. But the ideas and concepts within can be applicable for any role-playing game.

This would be one of those articles that may require an example to better explain.   Assume you are with your friends and you are having a session of Vampire the Masquerade.

Here's a typical vampire game:
Storyteller: "The darkness wraps around the city like the robes of death herself. Cold winds blow against the skyscrapers, flinging newspapers and various bits of trash into the air. You feel a heaviness in your heart as you awaken and realise that this cursed state has not ended... and the dream is not a dream. You are a vampire, and the night is your home. What do you do?

Player: I guess I hunt.

<cut to next evening>

Storyteller: "Having survived the brief interlude with the Primogen and his coterie, you embrace the silence the sewer offers. The next evening begins with a startling fear. You jerk upright upon realising that the Primogen you supposedly insulted had the strange ability to paralyze you with a gaze; a power which your Mentor described to you years back as a power of the dreaded clan known as the Setites. But your wounds from the vicious supernatural claws of the anarchs ache still and you need to feed soon. What do you do?"

Player: Hmm... I hunt.

<cut to next evening>

Storyteller: "The Prince has commended you for the revelation of who had been leaking information out to the dreaded Sabbat. With a gesture of appreciation... and prestation... he had given you a new haven and had cleared your name of all crimes. You are no longer Caitiff... and it is a new experience for you. Awakening, you find yourself feeling a strange sensation of satisfaction.. being a Toreador feels good. What do you do?"

Player: New night huh?

Storyteller: Yes, I downtimed a bit.

Player: Well, better replenish my bloodpool. I hunt.


Sounds familiar?

If no, then congratulations! You're players have learned the big difference of Routine and Scenes. But trust me, there are very few gaming groups that have escaped from this little constant in gaming. And its not surprise, after all, players use Routine when they focus on their characters so much, they forget they are in a game.

Use that brain!  Make every turn COUNT!

Why Routine can be good?
It keeps your character in tip top form. And I don't mean this as a twink merit. Nor to I mean this sarcastically. If you're playing a Toreador who always waters his roses each night, then you're playing in character right? Routine allows you do play in character.

But please, must you really declare THAT as your action when your turn comes around?

Why Routine can be bad?
In my gaming circle, there tends to be four players. Strangely, a player turn tends to last for a range from twenty minutes to nearly half an hour. This is a time allotment which everyone in the group enjoys because it allows for the nice unrushed dialogue, the building of mood through music and pacing and the allowance to feel the emotional benefits of the scene.

Now, realise then that it is possibly an HOUR before one's turn begins again. Would you really waste some precious moments of REAL TIME declaring actions which the Storyteller knows you will do anyway out of habit?

Movies as an example:
Watch and movie and see how the moment a character is given a turn (meaning, he or she is the focus of a shot), the character is doing something that contributes to the story as a whole. Sure, we know that everyone gets dressed and fixes themself up before going to an important dinner. But if this scene shall not have any importance to it other than to let the Storyteller know you got dressed, then it does NOT have to be in the turn. It could be an understood action that the Storyteller does not have to play through.

After all, how many games have you had where you play each and every passing minute you wait for the Prince to finish his meeting with others? Or play in real time the trip from one building to another? We tend to downtime such moments simply because they can be taken as "having happened" without necessarily being mentioned as an action.

Storyteller: The Prince is busy. You will have to wait. Having waited for nearly half an hour, Samantha begins to sing to herself a song. She fails to realise that the song she is singing was the song that was playing in the background while the Sabbat used post-hypnotic suggestions on her.
Player: Can i make a roll to notice or feel that something is up?

In the example, the time to wait is immediately waived as an action to be declared. The Storyteller pushes forward and describes what happens. The player should realise that the Storyteller has removed the option because of the need for a scene that is beneficial to the game as a whole.

Does this mean the players should rarely talk?
No, it simply means the players should not waste time going through expected motions.

Take for instance a Dark Age game I was storytelling. The player had a Salubri who had befriended the townsfolk and had begun to be seen as a Saint. On the first night, the player mentioned to me, "I plan to visit the townsfolk each night possible. And when there is free time on my hands, I'd be speaking with the children and teaching them to read." As a storyteller,
I understood this was to be his routine and applied it as simply events that have happened and do not need to be mentioned... unless they have a reason to be. Such as when one of the children the Salubri was teaching turned out to be possessed. I begun the game session telling the player, "You are with Paolo, one of the children you teach to read." Instantly, the player realised that the scene had something of importance and approached it with interest. No time was wasted.

Again, simply think of the game in the sense as a movie.

Once the camera points at you and your part of the story is being told... do you waste that time on camera simply doing the usual everyday thing? Or do you bring up something of interest.

Make the game run smoother, but seeing the difference of Routines and Scenes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Storytelling Versus Gaming

By Tallent Show

Storytelling Versus Gaming
by tobie abad (
Originally published December 2001.

Author note: This article is written with White-Wolf Gaming Studio's Vampire: The Masquerade in mind. But the ideas and concepts within can apply to any role-playing game.

No, this is not your typical Storytelling is Vampire the Masquerade, Gaming is Dungeons and Dragons statement.   Nor is this a Simulationist - Gamist debate.  After all, as many of you are probably loathe to admit (and yet deep inside realise its true) more than half the Vampire: The Masquerade games have approached a Gaming method than a Storytelling one.

Considering how people would most likely have their own interpretations on what constitutes as gaming and storytelling,  it would be easier if I defined the difference between the two before continuing with this article.
Storytelling = Playing the game to make a great story and have fun in the process.
Gaming = Playing the game to have FUN and creating a story in the process.

In as much as it seems trifle, there is a big difference between the two. And this becomes evident if you've played both types of games.

Gaming - Let's pretend that you're the storyteller. You wake up one night and think, "I'd love to hold a Vampire game focusing on the Camarilla and how the players try to gain political power and yet not fall into the Elder ennui trap." So you begin crafting your plot thread, setting up the major points of the game and work out the NPCs. Before you know it, you're talking to your players and they begin grabbing the character sheets and asking you if they can play this or that Clan. You moderate their characters to not only be "well-developed concepts" but to actually have a reason of existing in the game. Many real time months pass and the characters develop further, going through conflicts and trials, emotional barrages and release... and the game goes on.

Storytelling - Let's pretend that you're the storyteller. You wake up one night and think, "I'd love to hold a Vampire game focusing on the Camarilla and how the players try to gain political power and yet not fall into the Elder ennui trap." So you begin crafting your plot thread, setting up the major points of the game and work out the NPCs. Before you know it, you're talking to your players and they begin grabbing the character sheets and asking you if they can play this or that... HOLD IT, you're probably thinking, why am I reading the exact same thing? Well, that's because Storytelling and Gaming types of games are nearly 100% identical in their presentation.

Notice I mentioned nearly.

Storytelling types of games have an ENDING.

"All good things come to and end," is a quote which many of us have heard and sadly, I cannot recall who deserves the credit for such a wonderfully meaningful line. A story, i believe all would agree, would be one of the "good things." Thus, a story deserves an ending.

In a Gaming Type of game, the story is second of importance. So in the said example above, the characters would eventually reach a peak in the game... say, each player is now portraying a Prince of a City, or maybe they have all decided the Camarilla is not worth it and join the anarchs with the knowledge of the whereabouts of the City officials, or perhaps something in between the two threads... but the game keeps going on and on and on.

Because its fun.

In a Gaming Type of game, FUN is what is of primary importance. Yep, stop any Gaming Type of game for a brief moment and try to describe your character in a sentence and you'll find yourself in trouble. "He's a Gangrel who began as a woodman, embraced out of spite, struggled to learn the ropes of Vampiric existence, eventually became a Prince, fought the Sabbat, endured a Justicar's wrath, seiged against the Independents, awakened the beast, etc, etc..." But so what? He's still FUN to play right? And I'm not even speaking in the "powerful vampire" manner of fun. Imagine the emotional ranges you can have access to with everything he had gone through. Or perhaps try and see what new political ideas would actually form in his head to bring a unity and oneness in the Camarilla. Again, I say, it is FUN.

But it falls into the eternal trap:
"When does the Storyteller know its time to END the Chronicle?"

Gaming Type of games tend to go past the Storyteller's "Chronicle End" point. After all, they had fun and why should the fun end there?

High profile comic books such as Spiderman, Superman, X - men, Avengers, WildC.A.T.S are of this type. Notice that now, loking back at their histories, you find yourself going, "These characters when through WHAT???"  Somehow I suspect that was in a large part why DC Comics recently threw away a HUGE chunk of their backstories (and fans) with the new DC Universe reboot.

Sadly, this tends to lead to many wonderful games either turning sour and becoming absolutely distorted and multi-complexed due to the Storyteller's attempts to "keep the game going." A state which can even be detrimental to the Storyteller himself ("Did i give a good game? In the end, it sucked so bad...")

Storytelling Types of games have a definite end.
They are structured towards that end in mind. Just like movies. Or novels. Hence, they tend to have the more spectacular and memoreable endings.

"But don't Storytelling games sacrifice the player's freedom in the game?"

No. Because in a Storytelling game, BOTH the players and the Storyteller CRAFT the story as they move along. And as an added benefit, both the Storyteller and the players have a hint when to go for the more "heroic" moments for their characters. It may seem like cheating since you know that the story is nearing its end point, but come on, how many stories have the characters faltering every move and being afraid to finally give it their all in the end?

Take for example books such as Sandman, Enigma, Gen 13:Ordinary Heroes, Age of Apocalypse line of Marvel Comics. Notice how they have definite endings and their stories were more structured and yet they were still FUN to read and even interesting to imagine being in.
Even this movie had an ENDING.

So which is better?

Neither. Everyone of course has their own game type of interest. Some like things to focus on the story. Others like the game to simply be a moment where we can explore the character's experiences on and on. Some like a mix of both.

But KNOWING that these two approaches exist is helpful to BOTH the Storyteller and the player as a whole. When I told my players about these two types of games and asked then which one they wanted more, they all replied that it depends on what they feel like playing on certain days.

Thus we have a Vampire game set in the Dark Ages, played Storytelling Type, which has a definite end: Year of Revelations date.

And we have an Aberrant to Trinity game, played Gaming Type, where we see if they can avert history for taking its course.. and struggling to make the world a better place to live in.

Try having your gaming circle read this article. Then discuss what you want to achieve. Try one or the other at least once and you'll see how much better games can become with a clear understanding of what Type of game you are truly to play.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chilling Images Volume One : nWOD and cWOD

Chilling Images - Volume One
nWOD or cWOD
A compilation of horrifying imagery and disturbing vignettes that are certain to inspire or terrify you for your next World of Darkness game.  Written by various forumites from the forums, I compiled what I could into this first volume for easy use.

I wish I was able to store the other entries and compile them to keep them all available.  But I guess, better one that none.

Hope you enjoy getting scared!

A Second To Try : cWOD

A Second To Try
A group of Changelings learn the truth behind the Great Engine that exists deep in the Dreaming and learn that they have been given the chance to make amends and try again.  Best used with the the Scenarios "Pick Your Poison", "The Great Purge" or "A Crown of Shadows" especially if your players fail to bring a more cheerful ending to the scenario.

Originally published in Ex Libris Nocturnis.  This was my entry that won in a small contest for the best Time of Judgment supplement.  Hope you enjoy this Changeling: The Dreaming mini-module that you can add to your Time of Judgment game session.

Download the PDF

Friday, November 4, 2011

Crash : The Shotgun Diaries

The Shotgun Diaries

Zombies make a huge screamfest in this one-shot session using John Wick's incredibly mood building game called The Shotgun Diaries.

Survivors of a plane crash in New York City find themselves having to deal with a zombie menace as they try to make their way to a sanctuary.  Five players graced this game with two playing for the first time under me:  Mika and Patton have played in my Orpheus game (link to follow), Anton and Paolo were playing under me for the first time ever (and frankly I hope my gaming style and antics did not freak them out too much), and of course there was Rocky whose character was Terry O'Quinn from shows such as Lost and Millennium.    The group was making their way to the apartment of another player when they chance upon Terry O'Quinn already hiding out in the place with a pregnant woman named Bethany.  Bethany turns out to be a Lost fan who met Terry O' Quinn during a convention and ended up sticking close to him to survive.  Of course, when her mania reaches frightening levels, one in the group is forced to sacrifice her for his own survival.

The group eventually venture out to gather more supplies, witness a biker dude who gives up on life and blows himself up to kill off a large number of zombies, and learn that this game has frightening monstrosities similar to the fiends of the computer game, Left4Dead.  There was the tongue lashing wall-walker that had much similarities to the Smoker and the Resident Evil monster in the movie.   The Hunters were present too, but never had a chance to attack the players (none of them traveled alone).  I changed the concept of the Boomer, however, and it instead was a vomit-spitting monster that caused the Walkers around it to turn into Runners when its acidic spit burned their legs up.    Finally, the game reached its finale with an appearance of a Tank.

And ended with their escape car being slammed by the other car the Tank had thrown at them.

The game was pretty crazy, with players hitting as high as four Fear counters at this point, and sadly none of them ever got to use an explosive (one tried to create a Molotov to throw at the zombies, but ended up rolling a fear success, and he decided to keep it with him for safety.)

I wonder if there will be others who will dare play a session of The Shotgun Diaries.  For fun, I decided to keep the current Diary, and in future sessions have others add to it, so it becomes sort of an artifact of all the Shotgun Diaries sessions that I've run.

Princesses : Scion

Before 2009

This was a small quick game I ran during one of the Open Gaming meets for a few friends (to my recollection, Mark's daughter Sam and my other dear friend Mara) who both learned as the game progressed that they were actually modern day incarnations of the beloved Princesses of the Disney universe.  The game was quite a hoot, given for both players, it was their first time to EVER play a role-playing game.

Of course, we had to make changes to the myths to make it even more interesting.  So Sam, whose character happened to be the incarnation of Cinderella, learns that she has magical feet, able to cause localized earthquakes when she stomps them against the ground.  Mara, on the otherhand, being the older player, was tasked with dealing with a stalkerish villain who wanted to take her away (a demented Prince Charming so to speak).   I was tempted to throw in Malifecent into the game, but given it was a one-shot game at a public venue with a really young player, I had to end it sooner than I hoped to.

Still, it was pretty fun!  I recall Sam proclaiming at the end of the game, "This is awesome.  I have to play again."  And true enough she did later on.  Taking a role which shocked a lot of players for doing it pretty well: River Tam in this game.
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