Friday, March 30, 2012

Running a ROM-COM game

Running a ROM-COM game
by Tobie Abad
March 2012

Romantic Comedies, or Rom-Coms as they are popularly referred to, are a regular offering in practically every local cinema.   Movies such as The Break Up, 13 Going On 30, What Women Want, and Unofficially Yours entertain us with the amusing twists and turns that search for true love brings.  In such movies, you typically have characters who remind us of people we know as they experience the misadventures that love inspires, influences or requires.  While most people believe romantic comedies are best left in the movies for their girlfriends to watch while they do more manly (or geeky) affairs, why not embrace this genre as an offering on your next gaming night?  Who knows, this may lead to your significant other gaining a greater appreciation of why you and your buddies are willing to hunker down and stay home on a weekend night?

If you ever find yourself willing (or brave enough) to take a dive in this direction, here are some tips you may find useful in this most likely unexplored territory.

Embrace the Cliches
Romantic Comedies are filled with them.  From the over-worked, serious and independent woman who has no time for something as foolish as love, to the clumsy but determined geeky girl who wants to fit in, characters in romantic comedies are of all shades and colors of cliches.  So what if people have heard of them before or if this makes the characters more predictable?  A romantic comedy is fun because it is predictable, familiar and light.  

This is not to say, however, you cannot have deeper and more complex personalities.  As movies like Amelie, You Got Mail, and 엽기적인 그녀; literally, That Bizarre Girl or more popularly known as the original My Sassy Girl, characters may seem cliche at first but then be revealed to have a much more deeper or richer past.

One massively useful site for this is  Trust me, you will find a massive load of information just waiting for you to use in here.  
by origami constructions

Use Contrast
Embrace the power that contrasting characters and concepts can bring.  If your player is interested in playing a shy, nerdy character, make sure the best friend is the socialite popular blonde.  If your players are thinking of being successful independent women, be sure to make the leading man an unemployed handsome hunk with security issues.

Also explore using contrast to heighten scenes.  Maybe whenever the two love birds are apart, things are always messy and complicated.  But the moment they get together, things become wonderfully smooth and calm.    You can even go the opposite and have them all hilariously getting signs they shouldn't be together when they are, but receive all these visual and auditory cues that they should be when apart.

And that brings us to Music
In romantic comedies, music is a very powerful force that you should never ignore.  First, choose a key song to represent the romantic angle you are vying for.  Be sure to search for variations of this song (A Cappella, orchestral strings, maybe even a modern remix) so you can slide it in on scenes when the two love birds happen to have a nice moment.  Try to save the lyrical version for either the game's credits ending, or for a sequence when things seem to be finally working perfect.

Be on the look out as well, for great harmony tracks that can serve as background mood enhancers.  Movies like Julie & Julia, The Girl Who Leapt Throught Time, and My Sassy Girl have nice non-lyrical tracks that can be played during the comedic or cute moments in the game.  But don't overlook using popular songs from artists like Britney Spears, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue and the like to mark a scene down with a specific theme.    Imagine the couple dancing in a club, with the player wondering whether or not the guy is worth her time, and the next few songs playing are Love on Top, We Found Love, and If We Ever Meet Again.  That should throw the player some clues on what direction to take the story.

But before anything else, do your Research
Before you do start a romantic comedy game, one huge thing you should do is interview your players as to what romantic movies they liked the most.  Just as love is defined differently by different people, what constitutes as cute and charming for one person might not match what another would choose, so be sure to take note of what your players would respond to.  It would be pointless to throw stuff you find romantic and force them to respond in the same way if they don't like it.  And for an easy step in that direction, ask from them a list of their top three showbiz crushes.  And be sure to tailor your game's leading (and rival men) to their likeness and personalities.  That is sure to give the game a fun boost of fun that your players themselves will move in the right direction.

Have fun!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Avengers : Ultimate Gambit : Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP

Avengers : Ultimate Gambit
The Marvel Super Heroes RPG (Faserip)

My fourth game for Indigo Entertainment would turn out to be the first two-part game that I would run.  Excited by the upcoming movie, as well as eager to get even more new players into the hobby, discussions at the end of the last game circled the idea of having a super hero based game which used the old Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP system.  The game system, for all its faults, was pretty fun to use and the familiarity of the characters allowed new players to quickly get into the role and play the game.  While I greatly minimized the system to just having the players roll when a FEAT was necessary, with me handling all modifications and column shifts, it allowed the group to very quickly embrace the concept of being a player in a role-playing game.  It didn't take long for people to start referring to their characters as themselves (By saying "I will try to.." rather than "My character will...").
Hello Loki...

Tofie, who had played Dungeons and Dragons before, joined the game as the Invincible Iron Man.  Jigs took the role of Hawkeye, whom his father James wanted to play (James sadly had to head off to another appointment).  JP indulged in portraying the conflicted soul that is Dr. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk.  And as the game progressed, Mark decided to dive in and enjoy the role of the son of Odin himself, Thor.    The game session opened with a quick foreshadowing sequence where the players are told Thor had given up on his godhood, on how Loki tried to claim the hammer but failed, and three shadows in the form of women come to threaten Loki.  Loki then escapes, vanishing into a flutter of raven feathers.

Then, I begin revealing to each player (save for Mark) that they are suffering from some kind of memory loss.  The game has Tony Stark awaken in his hotel room, slightly inebriated from a night of long drinking.  While Tony Stark struggled to make sense why he was in an unfamiliar hotel room, Hawkeye finds himself tied up and being prepped for torture.  Dr. Banner found himself in a similar bit of trouble, floating naked in a tank that was chemically keeping him sedated.

Tony finds an infamous babe sitting atop the suitcase that contains his Iron Man suit and it doesn't take long for him to realize who she is:  Loki.  Asking for his help, Loki bargains with Iron Man and tells him she can bring him to his two friends whose lives may be threatened, but in return they must help her find Thor.  When asked why, she refuses to say more.  Pepper Potts arrives with a cadre of Shield agents and fumes when she finds Tony with this beautiful almost naked woman.  Tofie masterfully portrays the Tony Stark we all love to hate and fumbles on explaining why he was naked in a hotel room with a woman.  He is surprised to learn, however, that he's been missing for TWO weeks.  And rushes after Pepper into an elevator with the Iron Man suitcase in tow.  She admits her concern on why he's in Kaizen Gammora (yes, I took the concept from The Authority and Image Comics) and fears they may have drugged him or coerced him to steal his password to the Iron Man suit.  Tony bends down to activate the suit and notices a greatly injured Wasp in her shrunken form hiding by holding on to Pepper Potts' heel.  He hears the familiar sound of a repulsor blast charging up and realizes "Pepper" is actually a battle droid in disguise.  Stealing Wasp away, he activates his Iron Man suit in time, then blasts out of the elevator to gather his bearings.

Hulk SMASH!!!!
Banner realizes these people have kidnapped him and tries to gather his anger and unleash the Hulk to escape.  Unfortunately what the Hulk gains in mass and strength, he loses in intellect (a character that JP wonderfully portrays!)  He breaks free from his containment and discovers the location's defenses are three women robots who are dressed as geishas.  While the robot's talons are too weak to harm him, he finds them immensely irritating and begins to destroy them without effort.  But just as he was about to destroy the last one, the Black Widow appears and tries to calm him down.  She tells him the geishas aren't robots but power suits, and tears one open to reveal a stunted human child.  Kaizen Gammora has been breeding clones to serve as biological computers that run the power suits.  She tells him she needs the Hulk to provide a distraction and vanishes into the facility's ventilation shaft.

Hawkeye breaks out from his captivity by first spitting into the torturer's eye with precision to blind him temporarily, then fracturing his ankle to slide the handcuff around it off.  Partly mobile, he then slams the chair onto the man, and finally knocks him out with a well aimed punch.  The Black Widow emerges from a ventilation shaft and helps him get to his feet, informing him of their kidnapping and that they are in Kaizen Gammora.  She tells him to bring her Avengers communicator to the nearby Communications Tower and use it to send out a distress beacon, while she will go and see if she can find where they have taken Tony Stark.  He sneaks out of the prison, which happens to be a very large steam room, and escapes the building by going down to the first level basement where a kitchen seems to be filled with active cooks.  Nearly mistaking one chef for an assailant, he makes his way street side and after accidentally threatening a cafe owner, tries to reach the Communications Tower in haste.
The game sequence wasn't this badass, but was awesome on its own way!

Elsewhere, Thor's whereabouts are revealed to be with the woman named Jane whom he befriended when he was first on Earth.  The two attempt to live a normal life with cooking and doing the groceries as part of their routine.  Thor ignores all calls to his Avengers Card, understanding that since he had lost all of his Asgardian powers, he would only be a detriment to the team.  But while in the grocery, he encounters the three shadowy figures and learns they are the Kindly Ones.  The three have come to ask Thor to embrace his heritage and make a "Choice," one which they claim needs to be done.  When asked what the Choice relates to, the three explain it has to do with the fate of the World Tree and that of Midgard.  He reaches out to the fates and accepts the responsibility.

Iron Man discovers a massive purple barrier surrounding the entire country of Kaizen Gammora, and learns the barrier blocks all attempts at communication outside the island.  He picks up the presence of two distress beacons and identifies them as belonging to the Black Widow and Hawkeye.  Seeing that the Widow signal is non-mobile he heads there to investigate.

Hulk begins destroying more of the building, vaguely comprehending the Black Widow's request.  He faces off with another robot, one capable of redirecting his intense strength (and looked like Bruce Lee to boot!) and changes tactics to defeat it.  Rather than punching and slamming, the Hulk grabs the robot and throws him into space.  He never reaches it, however, for the robot slams into the purple wall and is disintegrated upon impact with the energy source.  Later, a massive pair of doors begin to open and emit smoke, and the Hulk is lured closer by curiosity.  From the mist, a woman emerges and in Hulk's eyes, he sees the image of the woman he loves.  As he reaches out, however, to touch her, the city suffers from a ten-second long black out.  When the power returns, the Hulk is unconscious.  The woman was also an agent of Kaizen Gammora and had used the power of the city itself to knock the green giant unconscious.
Kaizen Gammora, for this game.

Hawkeye reaches the tower and plans his entry to connect the communications card to the grid.  But just before he could do so, someone seemingly recognizes him and calls out his name.  A mystery that will have to be resolved at a later session.

Iron Man locks onto the Black Widow's card, uses the tower itself to boost the signal and emit a message out to the Avengers Mansion.  As the message ends, Iron Man turns to face the coming flight of enemy soldiers.

And finally, Thor finds himself before the World Tree and sees the visions of a coming Armageddon.  He sees the massive swath of destruction that is looming and the deaths of his closest allies.  At the center of it all, he sees Loki.  Uncertain what to do, Thor requests to have Jane at his side as he makes his choice.  The Kindly Ones relent.  Thor holds Jane's hand and tells her he has to do what he must to stop this.   More so upon learning all are to come to pass within the hour.  When asked what the Choice he is being asked to make is, the Kindly Ones explain:  Loki must die for all this to be prevented from coming to pass.  Will you slay your own brother?


One of the biggest changes I made in the game was to be very generous in throwing out Karma for simply portraying the heroes the way they were approached in comics, movies and the like.  Given that for most of the players, familiarity with the Avengers characters was limited to the recent Thor and Iron Man movies, if no the Marvel vs Capcom game, so I didn't expect or demand much in the terms of accuracy.  I was throwing out around 20 Karma for each display the players did which made us all enjoy the game more.
Perhaps a scene in the game to come?

Another huge change I did was to ignore comparing Feat Intensities all together.  Since the players weren't that accustomed to using Karma to boost their rolls, I required practically Green results for most of the events that transpired and only Yellow and Red results when things were very dramatically appropriate.  Interestingly, there were many times the dice precisely hit the needed rolls ("You need a 66..." "I rolled a... sixty... six!"  Or "This is hard, so you need a 89" "I rolled a... eight... nine.. is that eighty nine or ninty eight?") which added so much more fun to the game too.  Funny how dice can be like that, eh?

Some great resources I used online for this game include these websites which provided the stats for some characters I needed.

I'm already excited for next week as the game may have three more players joining the fun!  Excelsior!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: The Game of Thrones - Ramin Djawadi

The Game of Thrones Official Soundtrack

Composed by Ramin Djawadi

Considering the immense popularity of the Game of Thrones television series to the geek community, you'd be surprised that there are gamers out there who have not yet considered snatching a copy of this soundtrack to enhance their games.

While it is pretty much a no-brainer to consider using the soundtrack to musically enrich your table top games based on the books by George R. R. Martin, you can avoid the more theme-song tracks and still have a usable harmonic accompaniment that can work with any  game that has a larger-than-life feel and presence.

The songs tend to flow more on the orchestral side of things, with lovely strings mingling with horns and accompanying a heavy drum beat.  Interestingly, however, the soundtrack maintains a distinct character of its own and successfully avoids sounding like a variation of Hans Zimmer's approach to the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings.  The pieces are full of character and subtle tones, suggesting multi-faceted emotions hidden between the swirls of harmony.  At times, the music does sound mechanically (rather than organically orchestral) generated but surprisingly this does not reach a point that it distracts the listener.  Instead, the songs nicely have a chameleon-like quality to them that one can use them to enhance modern, fantasy, science fiction or post apocalyptic themed games with relative ease.

All in all, while clocking a short one hour and seven minutes, the soundtrack is filled with potentially useful tracks for any game where players face massive odds or greatly frightening threats.

Game of Thrones track suggestions
WTF moment: The Assassin's Dagger (track 15), Kill Them All (track 22), King of the North (track 26)
Introspective/calm moment: A Raven from King's Landing (track 07), Things I Do for Love (track 09), A Golden Crown (track 10), Fire and Blood (track 28)
Tense/mystery moment: North of the Wall (track 02), The Wall (track 08), Winter Is Coming (track 11), A Bird Without Feathers (track 12), Await the King's Justice (track 13), The Pointy End (track 23), Victory Does Not Make Us Conquerors (track 24)
Combat music: To Vaes Dothrak (track 16), Jon's Honor (track 17), Small Pack of Wolves (track 20)
Hopeful moment: Main Title (track 01), The Kingsroad (track 04), The King's Arrival (track 05)
Drama/sad moment: Goodbye Brother (track 03), Love In The Eyes (track 06), You'll Be Queen One Day (track 14), Black of Hair (track 18), You Win or You Die (track 19), Game of Thrones (track 21), When the Sun Rises in the West (track 25), The Night's Watch (track 27), Finale (track 29)

Best Used In: Any game where heroes stand against nearly impossible odds, or face off against challenges that would overwhelm any lesser man.  The music enhances epic drama and the feelings of grandeur and royalty.  The soundtrack is a must for any period game, but can be used by creative storytellers for practically any genre.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Game Idea: Untold Monster Stories

by Mike Jones
Game Idea:  Untold Monster Stories
System: Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder
by Tobie Abad
March 2012

Once upon a time, there was a Princess who lived in a castle at the foot of a mountain.  The King was a wise old man who sought to find a suitable husband to claim and care for his daughter.   She was a beautiful woman, you see.  Her hair was as bright as golden thread and her eyes the sparkling gleam of emerald orbs.  And when she sang, her voice reached across the landscape and brought the birds to dance and the wolves to sing.

The man who the King chose was a well-fed man with muscles that seemed hard as steel.  His chin was square and his eyes sharp.  His skill with the bow was second only to his reach with the blade.  He was a raven haired warrior of great strength.

When the King brought his daughter to us, I was under the impression that she was to bid us farewell before she left for her wedding.  It was in their culture, you see, to send away their children to live amongst other families.  To spread their progeny among total strangers that were bound only by words and promises.  My daughters... your sisters... kept her company.  They fed her and played with her.  They kept her warm with their slender bodies.  They sang with her when she raised her voice to the sky.

The husband stole into our home in the middle of the night.  With a blade forged by foreign kings, he beheaded my daughters... your sisters... before either could call out for mercy.  He then crept into your father's chambers and impaled his wicked steel through his century old heart.  I was out hunting when the wicked man struck you see.  Hunting to feed you and make you strong.   Elk are meaty this time of the year, my son.

And now, you are ready.  Though years have passed and your sisters and father are long gone - their skulls, I have learned have been hollowed out, polished, and set on display above the proud evil young king.  In the last five years I have groomed you, fed you, trained you, to use every claw, every fang, to raise each wing, to swing strong your tail, and I pray to our gods far older than the gods of men, that you will find the courage in your heart and the fire in your breath to bring justice to our forsaken clan.
by fireflythegreat

Fly, my son.  
Fly and avenge us.

Did I read that right?  In this game, you play a monster?
Yes.  And I know what some of you are already thinking... Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder has already made rules on how to play monsters as player characters.  You can even have class levels for certain monsters to represent advancement.  

But no, that's not what I am suggesting here.  Instead, I am suggesting that you and your group run games that absolutely embrace the monster side of things.   Ignore class levels and experience points.  Ignore the deities and magical items that were originally provided in the main books for players who want to play the human or demi-human of their choice.  Instead, create a whole new world for them to explore, where dragons have their own religion and culture that humans have never truly understood.

What do you mean no classes?  No experience points?
Rather than focus on how the game has been approached before, explore instead the idea of playing the monsters of the world with everything viewed from their very own unique perspective.  Perhaps, as I wrote in the sample story above, dragons do have a concept of human culture and practices - but who is to say that how they interpret human actions makes the same sense from their perspective?  And likewise, maybe just like playfully friendly dogs, dragons imprison princesses and horde gold not out of spite, but out of the mistaken belief that is what humans enjoy?  

By doing away with experience points and levels as well, you can focus instead on the inner drama of survival and monstrous cultural differences.  Imagine a game session devoted to your dragon learning to use his breath weapon for the first time!   Or explore the idea of awakening one evening from your lair to learn two warring humanoid races have unfortunately chosen your territory as the location of their bloody campaign.  

"Levelling up" in this game has very little to do with killing enough creatures to gather experience points and more to do with surviving long enough to actually grow older.  And yes, your "monster manual" in this game is now the players guide with all the classes, magical items, and spells for your Dungeon Master to use at his disposal.

Why would this be fun?
Because telling stories from another perspective can always be fun.   By visiting the other side of things, you get a chance to reexamine priorities and virtues you once explored in a game as a human or demi-human, and even challenge yourself to explore the moral limits of one's actions while using in a different perspective.   
by Larry Elmore

The Dungeon Master can also have fun throwing at the players favorite characters and villains that were once explored in a game.  Someone with fond memories of the poor murdered  Cleric Aleena who was introduced way back during the Basic Set of Dungeons and Dragons might be excited to have a chance to interact with her once more on the monster side of things.  A fan of the Forgotten Realms comic books of Jeff Grubb and Rags Morales might love to meet Priam Agrivar and the rest of the crew of the Realms Master.  And who is to say monsters don't have their own epic moments and histories that mankind has never truly been aware of?

So take a taste of the "wild side" and try having a campaign fully devoted to playing the monsters.  You might be surprised at the kinds of challenges and trials a monster has to face just to get some peace and quiet in his darned subterranean home.  I mean, think about it:  Why the heck are all these two-legged mammals always trying to scavenge my home for shiny things anyway?  How many of them do I have to eat before they get the message they are not welcome?  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Language Barriers

by woodleywonderworks
Language Barriers
by Tobie Abad
March 2012

Being based in the Philippines, the choice of what language to use for a game is a common challenge.  In this country, you see, the lingua fraca is Tagalog, which is a conversationally friendly mix of English, Spanish, French, and other words sprinkled around a healthy use of Filipino.    While many geeks and gamers easily prefer using English while gaming, there are the occasional players who are either not that fluent (or comfortable) using English or players who just don't really speak it.  While running games in Tagalog are not really an issue, I personally found that there are many pros and cons on what language is used for a game.  In this article, we explore those pros and cons.

For a person to enjoy a game, you must allow them to express themselves in a manner that comes easily and comfortable to them.  In a group setting, this however, must be balanced with what the group generally lends itself to.  Many gamers in the Philippines prefer to use English because it feels appropriate especially when the games are based/derived from Western shows or influences.  A Game of Thrones inspired Dungeons and Dragons session, for example, just doesn't have the same atmosphere when run in Tagalog.

However, games that do indulge in the local mythology or setting wonderfully benefit from using Tagalog.  Just as a Legend of the Five Rings game would sound and feel better if the players were able to speak (or at least inject key phrases and expressions) in Nihongo, finding ways to use the language of the setting or source can greatly enhance your game's atmosphere.

But all of these are irrelevant if the use of the language ends up making your players focus on "how to say things" rather than just saying thing.  Never force an add-on to a game at the expense of your players' opportunity to express themselves better.  If forcing a language ends up making players pause between sentences to look up the word on a list, then all you are doing is slowing the game down with unnecessary commercial breaks.

by eyesplash
As mentioned above, some players may not be as fluent or as comfortable speaking in English during a game.  When faced with that kind of a situation, stick to using what language is most comfortable and simply focus instead on being able to run the game and having fun.  Mixed groups can prove to be a challenge especially if they are composed of people who have varying communication preferences.  I have run games where two players speak English very well, one was most comfortable speaking in Tagalog, and one barely spoke.  So running the game, I stuck to English for any general narrative (the game was based on a superhero cartoon after all) but communicated with each player with their desired language.  The quiet one?  I realized was still being shy to the group, so I instead offered every scene to her similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure game, with suggested options each time until she started to ask, "Can I do this..." on her own.

Also consider the wealth of resources the web offers.  The internet nowadays is a treasure trove of easily accessible information that can be utilized to enhance any game session.  Why not look for websites featuring phrases and statements in a foreign language that you can easily learn to use in a game?  This page, for example, has enough phrases to make your L5R games more fun.  Your Serenity game can sound more like an episode of Firefly with this page as your guide.

Language should never become the hindrance in having a fun game.  The very point of language is to permit communication between at least two individuals.  Try to see all hindrances as challenges to overcome and opportunities to approach games in a way which may be different from what you are used to.  Opportunities to find more ways to make games fun!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: Eyes Wide Shut - Jocelyn Pook

Eyes Wide Shut

Composed by Jocelyn Pook.

While I may be a fan of Stanley Kubrick movies I have to give special credit to Eyes Wide Shut for being the only movie whose soundtrack was really useful for enhancing table top games.  Most of the other movies had soundtracks that seemed very difficult to use in gaming. The music was too clearly tied to events, and shifts in the harmony were made to match scenes too directly.

In this one, however, the soundtrack is filled with numerous tracks that wonderfully develop a growing foreboding feeling that can be inserted into practically any kind of game that requires a disturbing and heavy atmosphere.  Most tracks barely have lyrics which can be easily identified, allowing for mood building and fear planting.

Many of the tracks have a solo piano as a backbone, playing proudly against the bleak silence.  Slowly, the strings and horns begin to join in as the melody transforms into a richer darker landscape of sound.  Others are lead by a jazzy guitar with an almost every-day sense of mood, allowing for great contrast in the musical choices you have available.  Then there are the cheerful piano pieces, and the familiar popular tracks which can be used to disarm and misdirect your players on how frightening a scene will eventually unfold.  My personal favorite is to use (track 05) When I Fall In Love to highlight a romantic sequence, and then later, reuse the song to highlight a serial murder in progress, or a terrible act of violence.  The contrasting impact of the two tracks makes a lovely dissonant mix that makes a sense very memorable.

But trust me when I say tracks like (track 13) Grey Clouds and (track 07) can become very infamous tracks which your players will forever attribute to "shit hitting the fan any moment."  And tracks like (track 08) Masked Ball are sure to freak your players out when they hear it playing in any scene you are running.  And I mean ANY!  The disturbing mood invoked by the chanting voice mingling with the electric organ draws out an almost primal fear of the unknown to the surface.  Save for games that have no frightening or weird moments in its narrative, this soundtrack is an absolute "worth buying" choice to any gaming group.

Eyes Wide Shut track suggestions
WTF moment: Waltz 2 From Jazz Suite (track 02), Masked Ball (track 08), Migrations (track 09),
Introspective/calm moment: Baby Did A Bad Thing (track 03), I Got it Bad (track 05), If I Had You (track 10), Strangers in the Night (track 11)
Tense/mystery moment: Musica Ricercata, II (track 01), Naval Officer (track 06), The Dream (track 07), Grey Clouds (track 13), Musica Ricercata, II (track 14)
Combat music: None, but if you want great dissonance, try using any of the WTF tracks.
Hopeful moment: When I Fall in Love (track 04),
Drama/sad moment: Blame It On My Youth (track 12)

Best Used In: Any game where horror or terror is part of the narrative.  I've used this in Exalted games, Science Fiction sagas, Psychological Thriller games, and even for Dungeons and Dragons sessions.  As long as you want to make any players feel uneasy or uncertain, this soundtrack delivers.  And it delivers very well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Happy 2012 GM Appreciation Day!

Celebrating this year's GM Appreciation day with a huge purchase from Drive
My thanks to the following people for these books:

John Wick for Blood & Tears, Houses of the Blooded: Coronets But Never Crowns
Josh Roby for Houses of the Blooded: Coronets But Never Crowns
Margaret Weis Productions: Cam Banks, Rob Donoghue, Matt Forbeck, Will Hindmarch, Philippe-Antoine Menard and Jesse Scoble for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
John Fletcher and Charles Ryan for Psychosis: Ship of Fools
Lisa Smedman and Charles Ryan for Psychosis: Solitary Confinement

Here's to table top role-playing gaming never dying out!
For me, this is the only true kind of role-playing gaming.

Let Your Players Have Fun

Let Your Players Have Fun
by Tobie Abad
March 2012

Back in college, I had a class called Art Appreciation that had one of the most boring teachers I ever had to learn from.  Her approach to teaching was so efficiently boring that I was literally struggling to stay awake in every session we had.   Which was a great sad thing, to be frank, given her class was meant to introduce us to the wonder that was Art.  With a huge history of innovation, techniques and styles to explore, having a teacher that approached it so clinically to the point we were bored made me struggle to appreciate art.

And that, my friends, is something some Storytellers end up doing:  They are so used to their games, or so in love with their own stories and plots that they approach it so clinically to the point players end up wondering why they are playing.  It won't matter if your plots are more skillfully woven than George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice.  It won't matter if your challenges seem more well orchestrated than a John Woo action flick.  It won't matter if your fellow gamers are Mike Myers and Vin Diesel (then again that actually might help somewhat)... the point is, if you as the man in charge of running the game seems bored and unexcited by your own game, so will your players be.  Worse, if you love your stuff so much you feel it's the right way to do things, you may end up making your players regret playing with you.

My Worst Game Ever
I was once attending Strategicon in Los Angeles when I signed up for this science fiction game a woman (whose name I thankfully do not remember) posted openings for her home-brewed science fiction offering.  Deep down, I have to admit I was interested for these three reasons:  1) I was always running games, so why not experience being a player for others in this convention 2) It was a science fiction game that was described to have space opera drama, conspiracy theories and awesome science fiction elements in it  3) The person in charge was a woman, and frankly, one does not often find women willing to run a game for others.    So I signed up, showed up early, and was eager to meet the creator of the game and get a taste of her science fiction epic.  She soon showed up and quickly talked about how much she had been working on her game.  She shared the back story of the rival elements in the setting and how the militaristic group we were supposed to portray was in some ways the defacto heroes in the setting.   There were alien infiltrators, supposedly, that the group were to fish out, and I willingly embraced the chance to portray this female officer who was described to be stern, dedicated and strong.   Ten minutes in, I began to see what was wrong as players around me began to yawn and two very soon gave lame excuses about forgetting to do this and that and left.  But I told myself, all new games need prep time.  Just be patient.  Fifteen minutes in, she was not done talking about the setting and history that I was nodding off.  Eager to get into the meat of the game, I spoke aloud and asked, "So, when do we get to play?"  The other players laughed and she relented and started the scene.  Things were somewhat going well until she started telling us we were not playing the pregenerated characters right.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In one scene, the guards were not allowing me through a restricted region, I decided to throw my savvy and tried to convince the guards, "General [name invented] sent me to investigate on matters of Ultra secrecy.  Do you really want to disturb the General at this hour with how you are hindering me from doing my duties?"  The GM then replied, "Sorry, [name of her pregenerated character I was playing] would never do that.  In fact, she would do this.." and spent the next fifteen minutes talking to herself as the character I was going to run, and how the guards would eventually let her through.

Still I tried to be nice.  I stayed on.  The game continued with numerous more "But he wouldn't act that way.." moments and soon, the group of six players was down to me and a second player (who then passed me a note asking if I wanted to instead play a round of Vampire the Eternal Struggle, which I agreed to when we hit our thirty minutes of hearing this one person play by herself.  And no, not in a good way).

Don't Fall In Love With You Stuff Too Much
It is strange how many people don't get that basic truth.  A role-playing game is fun because you are doing a social act of storytelling. You are, with others, building a massively entertaining story that transforms into a shared experience.  If you aren't willing to let players do their thing, then maybe what you should be doing isn't running a game but instead writing a novel.  Gaming is inherently a social activity.  To refuse to allow others to shape the story is a great disservice to the very nature of gaming.

Bend the Story... If It Means More Fun
There was this other time I was running a Harry Potter game for some first time gamers.  I had written a massive plot that explored the idea that Voldemort was actually just acting as a villain to get Harry Potter to do what he needed to do, but couldn't.  (Mind you, at this time, only the second movie had come out.)  I had around five female players (Can you imagine?) who never played a role-playing game before so I knew I had to give them leeway.

The game began with Malfoy up to no good, and the players being all newly sorted students opting to follow him and see what he was up to.  They discover that Malfoy was following the orders of some voice hidden in the shadows when suddenly Harry Potter shows up behind them and asks what is going on.   I had hoped to bring a joint adventure where they discover hidden tunnels in Hogwarts that were once built by Malfoy's great grandfather.  Slitheryn Tunnels, so to speak.  And eventually discover He Who Must Not Be Named using them to send Malfoy commands.  What do my players do?  Transform the game into who can kiss Harry Potter first.

I could have refused and told them, "No, that's not what this game is about."  I could have simply continued the plot and have Harry tell them, "You girls are weird," and leave.  But no, I realized they wanted to have fun, and gaming is always about having fun.  I still kept my plot though.  Harry ended up dating one of the girls, and helping another find a date, only to later learn the date was a spy Voldemort needed to have smuggled into the school.  In the end, the girls used their magic to stop the spy and the game ended with them trying to tell Harry to keep their secret.  Fan service?  Yes.  Fun?  Absolutely.  So personally, I consider it a win since I enjoyed the game, and so did they.

Bend the Rules, if it means more Fun.
Almost all games remind us to do this now, but White Wolf Gaming Studios was the first to ever codify it as a rule as far as I could tell.  Called the Golden Rule, the Storyteller should never be afraid to cheat on the player's behalf.  And by behalf I mean keeping it fun for them all.

This, I discovered, is best to do with players who just need to get used to gaming more.  Mature players are used to this and sometimes test the Storyteller to see how far they can go.  New players, on the other hand, are deathly afraid of "doing it wrong" and that kind of feeling can get in the way of having fun.  Learn to make your games feel welcoming of any ideas and any insane plans the players may come up with, but don't be afraid of showing them that stupid ones do have consequences.  Telling them "No" out right simply presents gaming as something antagonistic and about following all these tables and rules.  Let them know that creative thinking and fun are very much welcome in a game.

And before you know it, you'll have your hands full with people wanting to play more.
And you just need to find a way to invent more time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Heavy Be The Rain : The Shotgun Diaries

Heavy Be The Rain
The Shotgun Diaries

My third game for Indigo Entertainment was another screamfest using John Wick's The Shotgun Diaries.  Set in the very building we work at, the group of survivors had to gather their wits, weapons and skills to survive the zombie-infested city of Makati.   The game had five players, with Jigs playing the Sneaky Guy, Lei playing the Dangerous Gal, Storm playing the Fast One, and JP playing the Clever one.  Summer, who at first wasn't sure if she wanted to jump into the hobby still got a chance to be in the game as the Helpless character.

In this game, only Jigs and JP have played under me more than once.  Storm was in the Young Justice game, but only for a few minutes (He was the player whose name I forgot), so ultimately I had to get them all comfortable playing a game and getting scared at the same time.  Thankfully, I had the soundtrack to Silent Hill 2 and Eyes Wide Shut to help me out.  Not to mention the wonderfully frighteningly disturbing tracks of Penderecki whose Orchestra Works are fantastic for horror (Special mention to the song "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" which really captures a freaky scene down to pat.)

Since it was a one-shot introductory game, I gave the players each a chance to write an entry in the Zombie Diary to represent things they learned or experienced so far.  The first one to write was Lei who entered, "It is Raining Heavily" which wonderfully added a fearful aspect to the already scary game.  Rain cut down visibility and made the players truly want to stick together.  Summer had fun by adding, "Zombies can Drive" which made any moment of a car engine being audible a freaky moment.  The group decided to try to make their way to the nearby Church using a car a woman (The Strong Character) with a baby (Another Helpless character) was trying to take.  Enroute, however, the group realized they were driving past Makati Medical Hospital and soon enough, were debating over whether or not to stop for supplies.  That was the perfect moment for me to hit them with another shock moment.  A sixteen-wheeler truck showed up and slammed into them, forcing them to take refuge in the Hospital.  The truck, of course, was being driven by a zombie that barely remembered how to stop.

Once inside, the group broke into two groups (Oh no!) with one group keeping the door shut from the coming horde, and the other searching for supplies.  Quickly the players got into their roles with Summer playing the Fast character as an impatient guy who just wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.  Storm then added to the diary, "The baby is infected" which for me was another lovely stroke of horror tropes that perfectly fit the game.  The search for supplies lead to the two groups fragmenting, with the Fast guy finding a locked door which he decided had to mean a possible survivor.  The other group, formed by the Dangerous Gal (which Lei played as the infamously popular Miriam Defensor-Santiago of the Philippine Senate) heading to the upper levels with the Sneaky Guy.  They found their way to the cafeteria and there found a cloth rope tied to a pole hanging out the window, and all the tables bunched together to block the door to the kitchen.  Peeking outside, Jigs saw someone flashing a light at them and chose instead to hide rather than respond to it.  Lei heard clanging from the kitchen door and a voice suddenly calling out, "Please let me out.  Help me," over and over like a recording.

Back by the entrance, JP struggled to keep the door shut.  While his Cleverness got him to consider dragging the heavy shelf to block the door, he realized it was either he struggle to do that, or have the Strong Girl handle it while he struggled to keep the door shut.  The Helpless Girl then offered to keep the baby close, a declaration which had Storm gleefully (or evilly hehe) cheering out.  That made everyone suspect the baby was infected, which meant it was time for another diary entry.  JP then added, "Some zombies can grapple with their tongues" which was a staple ever since Left4Dead entered the genre.

Storm finds a zombie in the room, and realizes she must have locked herself in after realizing she was going to change.  As he runs to escape her, I have her strike at him with her tongue!  Storm evades fast enough and makes his way back to the others by the door.

Back upstairs, Lei decides to open the kitchen door, contrary to everyone's freaked out responses.   In horror, they all learned of the young 7 year old sampaguita girl who seems to be the source of the repeating voices.  Infected with something squirming in her stomach, the thing mimics human voices to try and lure people close.  The child begs to be relieved of her burden and Lei quietly shoots her in the head.

By then, every player began to panic in a determined choice to survive.  As the others struggle to defeat the tongue-lashing nurse, Storm bolts and decides to try and save himself.  The door crashes open as the "Tank" zombie in the game finally reveals itself (a beast I decided cost me five whole zombie clock points to call out) and sadly brings JP's human story to an end.  To my surprise, it was around this point that Summer suddenly couldn't resist being in the game anymore.  She began to offer suggestions to others and so I awarded her with her own sequence of fighting against the zombie baby.

Horror works best when humor is weaker.  And it was around here it became clear that the players were using humor to try to lessen the fear.  Usually in horror games I remind players to tone down the laughter to maintain the dread.  But since the group was mostly knew, I decided to let them have the fun and just celebrate the experience.  Then JP added in the diary, "All sanctuaries have at least 2-3 zombies in it!"

The game ended with Lei being the sole survivor, as the government agents moved to save her and the rest were left to die.  JP had his revenge when I had him return as a zombie and he delightfully hunted Storm down for his earlier betrayal.  And Jigs, for trying to hide from every threat found himself escaping from the zombies by leaping into a trash chute.  The hospital was then bombed to contain the contagion by the government troops and as a finale, Jigs awoke to find people huddled around his numb form.  It soon dawns to him that the people are all zombies, his body is mercifully paralyzed from the fall, and he feels nothing as they devour him with glee.


Some system changes I made which I felt made the game work better for new players include:
1) I reduced the Zombie Clock by one whenever the players willingly embraced their roles.  It became a reward for willingly going for the horror genre.  With most not accustomed to role-playing yet, the simple reward actually had them working together to make the horror scarier!

2) The Zombie Diary was used as a storytelling device.  Each player had a chance to write in it something that I could apply in the game.  For some, I announced the entry and let them all know.  This worked well for freak out moments like knowing some zombies retain the ability to drive.  For others, like the infected baby, I kept quiet about it until the players began to suspect it.  It made for delicious role-playing and in many ways got the new players emotionally engaged more than expected.

3) Evading death with Supply loss.  Since most players start out thinking the storyteller is the antagonist, they rarely throw themselves in deeper holes for the drama.  So most of the time, when zombies do hit successfully, I go for the kill.  To offset this, I allowed them to survive a killing blow with a loss of a Supply die.  It represented a health pack being torn apart or a gun blocking the blow but being thrown away and the like.  It seemed like a good system, to be honest, and worked nicely to keep the drama going and the players wanting to help each other out.

4) Google Maps is your friend.  Especially for the Clever character.  It makes a great resource for mapping out the route to be used to escape.  And it does add greatly to the fun of the game.

Once again, thank you John Wick for creating this wonderful game.
And those who are interested can check out this site for more about it.

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