Friday, December 30, 2011

Faeredoom : Changeling the Lost : nWOD

08/2011 - 12/2012
nWOD : Changeling the Lost

Mike Laird, struggling writer, and Martin Gray, former athlete, discover how the world they live in is far more insidious and stranger than they believe.   In a world where myths become real and monsters exist, the two discover how their lives have caught the attentions of something called The Collector and learn truths about themselves which they can never ever forget.

Mike Laird searches for a story.  Having sought to be a writer all his life, Mike struggles to find inspiration.  Almost as if to answer his search, he hears the sound of a small object hitting the floor.  A quick check leads him to finding a tooth, a human molar, resting on the floor panels.  Before he could do more, another tooth clatters down.  And another.  Soon, he realizes he is looking at a trail of teeth leading to a hole under the couch.          A hand suddenly emerges from the hold and takes the teeth he gives it.  When he takes the hand, he finds himself pulled into a strange world with piles and stacks and towers of teeth.  He awakens and discovers he's found his story, and he begins to write.

Martin Gray's story begins while attending rehab with a nurse named Jenny.  Martin lost the use of his legs when he fell from a wall-climbing event.  Nightly he meets with Jenny for rehab and the two begin to form a strong relationship - marred only by the fact Jenny is seeing an uncouth jock of a boyfriend named Brad, and the disturbing presence of a stalker who might not even be human.  Sadly, though the growing feelings he has for Jenny seem real, he soon uncovers a horrible secret:  He is not real.  His life is merely a simulacrum, a copy of another person's.  He is a Fetch, and the stalker is the man whose life he has stolen.

In the five sessions that follow, both characters discover how their lives have been forever changed by the Gentry known as the Collector.  Soon, Mike learns of the Fetch that has replaced him, gained the fame and happiness he sought, and conspires to kill him.  Martin on the other hand discovers the Martin whose life he had replaced seeks revenge, and finds himself kidnapped for some strange ritual that was to be performed.  But plans go awry and the real Martin is mortally wounded by others.   Just before death, Martin is given a choice, to accept a strange Goblin Contract that would have him switch lives with the real one.. or accept the life of being a false person.  Martin accepts.

By the end of the story, Martin and Mike form an unlikely friendship, both having lives that were seemingly torn from their control at the same time.  Mike rediscovers his Summer Court mantle as King and claims his weapon, the mythical spear of Destiny back.  They also discover that Mike's Fetch knew it wasn't real and had been writing books to exorcise the strange visions that he has been seeing.  But when word reaches them that the Collector is coming to recapture them, neither the Autumn nor Winter Courts present are willing to help them.  Mike's mother, on the other hand, is willing to help now that her son has returned, and steals away a child to use in an Autumn Contract -  one which would entail terrifying the child to death until the fear is sufficient to sate the Gentry's hunger.

The two rush to stop his mother, and eventually find themselves forced to face off with the Gentry on their won.  Martin uses the Contracts of Stone to rip the Gentry's armor aside, and Mike uses the Spear to grievously cripple the godlike monster.  Martin realizes from Mike's Fetch's book "Faeredoom" that the Collector despises "imperfections" and offers himself to the Collector in exchange for the rest of them.  Mike realizes Martin isn't "the real Martin" and decides to play along, forging a Pledge from the Gentry to leave the city in peace in exchange for its life.  The Gentry agrees and as she returns to the Hedge, she suddenly senses Martin's "difference."  The difference resonates upon her like poison and she is forced to throw him out of the Hedge in fear of her own survival.

The two defeat the Gentry and find years of peace following their lives, so long as they choose never to leave the city.

On the other hand, the young child that was being tortured and saved, grows up and finds himself obsessed with uncovering the truth about the Gathering Man and why the books seem to be hiding a secret truth.  And the game ends with the young child cutting a hold under the couch and holding out a tooth towards it.

And he waits.
To see if something will respond.
Something does.

I thank Dennis and BJ Recio (who has made d20 books based on Filipino mythological beasts. Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors and Tikbalang: Guardians of Kalikasan) for being players in this game series.  It was a great run!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Encouraging Role-playing

by ralphrepo
Encouraging Role-playing
by Tobie Abad

We've all heard it before:  "My players don't like role-playing.  They prefer to just roll the dice."  But sometimes  a storyteller needs to look deeper to the real source of the problem.  After all, if there is any absolute truth to gaming, that truth is the game must be fun for all players involved.  If you have players who seem to be having trouble role-playing, then determine first the roots of this issue.  Once you realize what the real root of the issue is, you will be able to find the solution necessary.

Is it because the players in question do not like to role-play their characters?  
This, of course, is a problem only if the game is already ongoing.   Everyone has their own gaming styles, after all.  Typically, every player enjoys the cathartic experience that a role-playing game can give.  But how that catharsis is achieved does vary.   Some people love the chance to wear a whole new skin, and portray a personality that interests them.  Some people seek the thrill and rush of a fast paced combat sequence.  Some people indulge in the brain-gasms that a tactical scenario throws at them.    And all these things are among the joys delivered by a table top role-playing game.  But clearly, not all of them require the player to speak like an actor delivering their lines.  So yes, you must learn to accept the fact that not everyone wants to role-play a personality.

How then does one fix this issue?  If the game has not started yet, you always have the option of clarifying with the players what expectations they have and clarifying whether or not the game will be heavy on role-playing or not.  There's no harm in setting expectations early, after all.  In fact, if you share that a game is expected to be one that explores political maneuvering and social manipulations among Lords and Ladys, for example, you won't end up with players who create characters focused on sword fighting and leading crusades.  Mapping out the expectations of a game help the players tailor their concepts to capitalize on and explore the game's themes.

But again, if the game is already ongoing, it is very hard.  Because imposing on a guy who loves the rush of battle in a game to start getting into a romantic scene might just lessen the fun for the player.  Just as a guy who indulges in the passion plays of an emotional moment might feel lost in a heavy battle scene.

a) An option therefore is throw some additional incentives the players way. 
Most games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and the World of Darkness storyteller system provide the option to throw in circumstantial bonuses which allow you to throw in a few extra boosts to player rolls.  So a basic approach is to note down each time a player pushes himself outside one's comfort zone, and for every moment he does so, you can later award an equivalent bonus to later rolls.  The player therefore gets encouraged to explore more and as a reward becomes even more awesome in things he normally does.

b) A second option is to remind the players that the lack of a character's social stats does not mean the character cannot have a notable social trait.  
Televisions shows, comic books, and movies are full of characters who exemplify this:  Jayne Cobb of Firefly, for example, is clearly not a social character by any means.  However, his lack of actual social graces is clearly represented with his foul-mouth and terribly rude approaches towards women.  Braniac 5.1 of the Legion of Super Heroes is a character who clearly represents an incredible intellect, and his social failures are nicely reflective of his poor stats there.  So feel free to tell the combat-monster player that his character doesn't have to shy away from all social scenes.  You can even suggest to him, "What would Jayne Cobb do?"

Is it because the players in question find it hard to embody the concept they chose?
At times, the player character's concept might seemingly be fun at first, but later then be discovered to be harder to portray than expected.  I once had a player in an Exalted game who wanted to be a fast-talking sly shape-shifting Lunar wanderer, but as the game progressed he started to realize that he just didn't really have the skills to fast-talk in character.  As the game progressed, he started to always respond to social challenges  with this general statement, "I fast-talk my way out of it" followed by a handful of dice clattering on the table.

Given that just retiring or killing off the character then creating a new one isn't an acceptable option, consider the following ideas you might want to suggest to your storyteller.

a) Events CHANGE the character
The fast-talking Lunar becoming too hard to role-play?  Maybe you can suggest to your storyteller that the Lunar receives an aggravated wound to the throat and even when healed sadly strips him of the ability of speech?  Other than wounds, you have many other options at your disposal: magic, super-science, alien technology... you name it.  Personality shifts can also happen as a response of trauma.  So maybe if your character witnesses or experiences something overwhelmingly traumatic (his whole tribe being murdered before his eyes, or a week-long torture sequence, etc) the events can scar him psychologically enough that he starts acting (and therefore being portrayed) a little bit more different.  As deux ex machina as if may feel, consider it as the Storyteller dipping in a finger into the universe to change it just enough, that the player doesn't feel like his character isn't working out for him.

by toastyken
b) Player choices CHANGE the character
Using the same example, maybe the Lunar hero fails in a major undertaking and as self-punishment, vows to never speak until he finds a way to right his failure?  Or maybe the character begins to "grow up" and starts to realize how he approaches things hasn't been working for him.   Sometimes it doesn't need a major traumatic event to change a person.  Sometimes it could simply be an eventual change in one's outlook.  Maybe the character learns more things about the world that changes his perspectives?  Or maybe the character simply realizes how he lives his life is not helping and it is time to try to be someone else.   The character then becomes something you can portray better, and the storyteller gains a new plot hook to use.

Is it because your players are shy?
Then show them there's no reason to be shy.   This tends to be a problem only with new players.  An easy clue to spot this is when players tend to shift to a third person narrative when trying to describe their actions. "My character will approach him and then my  character will say, 'I don't like you at all.'"  The lack of willingness to commit to the character is easily reflected when a player makes it a point to indicate the separation in his choice of words.  Players more comfortable with role-playing would simply state their character's actions as if they were their own.  "I grab the weapon.. You bastard!  How could you betray us! I hold the blade to his throat."   Even better, they know how to shift their tone just enough so fellow players and the storyteller can tell when a question or statement is said in-character or as a player.

The best solution to this is to tell them outright at the start, "Don't feel shy about portraying your character.  Know I'll let you know if anything might be out of character or too much."  Build the beginnings of trust between the player and yourself by showing them how you role-play the characters without needing to separate yourself as well.  During interactions, talk to them as if you were the character.  Act a bit if you are comfortable with it.  Let them know that while the game is going, the "stage" is set and you are allowed to be someone else and have fun.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Handling Debates

by Daveybot
Handling Debates
by Tobie Abad
Originally posted last March 21, 2001

(Again, we start with some fiction)

Storyteller: "The Camarilla needs to be forged. Unless we band together, the Kindred community will fall in the fires of the Inquistion," the Toreador declared with a heavy heart. Sighing, he scans the crowd for a face reflecting agreement and focuses on yours. What do you do?

Player: Uh, I rise and begin to state that I agree with him.

Storyteller: What do you say?

Player: Can I just agree with him?

* * *

In a storytelling game, verbal warfare is one of the most interesting and engaging moments. To hell with massive fight scenes, soft-core porn moments and Deus Ex Machina... having a verbal battle with either a Non Playing Character (NPC) or a fellow player truly engages one into the mood of the game.

Sadly, being an eloquent speaker is not a common trait. And even worse, a large number of gamers tend to be shy when it comes to "public speaking."

Let's face it; at one point in time or another, we've all had players who have given their character a high (if not, to say the least, above average) rating in Charisma or Manipulation and yet fail to represent it well in their roleplaying. And we all know how much worse it gets when the very traits are necessary in a scene to be represented.

So how does one deal with this?

Here are some suggestions:
Stick to the rollsIt is the worst thing to do but a story has to go on, right?  Let's assume that your player really just CAN'T do it and isn't willing to keep trying the whole night.  Don't let the game suffer!  After all, both you and the very player will simply feel bad about it in the long run.  Not to mention this could grow into a hurdle for the player for many games to come.  And we all know the stupidity of forcing an issue to the point of losing a player we want to keep.  Keep in mind:  Gaming must be FUN for everyone.

Just ask what the player wants to say in general, have him roll, and based on the successes, handle the delivery for him.

This is obviously the last thing you should resort to. But trust me, there are times, its for the best.

Offer suggestions on the fly
The best way to do this is to be an NPC who is trying to help out. Use lines like, "I agree with him..." or "Like he was trying to express without saying..." lead the player on with indirect suggestions. After all, the rating do show that the character MUST be a good speaker. Even if it doesn't show in the game, try to keep the feel.  Perhaps even have an NPC speak loudly his favor towards the character's words, then throw in a few key points you feel the player can capitalize on and use.  If he's smart, he'll use them in the next series of declarations to enhance his message.

You can also offer suggestions directly, but in a game, I'd prefer to use small cards with the suggestion written in private than verbal ones. This allows the player to gauge the statement and spice it with his own words. It also avoids the syndrome of Parrot Talking, where the player simply repeats what the Storyteller says.  But if you have to say it, be sure to say it in a way that sounds incomplete.  Give him bullet points. He can sprout out the sentences on his own.

Last of all, this encourages the player bit by bit to start speaking better... and trust me, in the long run, you'd be surprised if this player learns to handle it on his own in the future.

So the player speaks. Its horrible. And instead, the NPC agrees. Why? Because of behind-the-scenes things.

This can be the most difficult to pull off. But trust me, the benefits it grants to the player (ranging from EGO boosts, to additional plot threads forming) is astounding.  There is a world of secret events, after all, that the players are never privy to.
by Kevin N Murphy

Have the player roleplay it still, but have the dice dictate.

Take this example (continuing from above):

Storyteller: What say you?

Player: Uh, can I just agree with him?

Storyteller: Say it in character. Roll as well.
[Player rolls appropriate dice. It succeeded.]

Player: Okay, uh.. here it goes, "I think you say it well. Thats all."

Storyteller: The Toreador slowly smiles and gives a bow. With a start, the cainite rises and leaves the podium. Moving through the crowd, the Toreador rushes to leave the room.

Player: What happened?

Storyteller: Before you could move, a Nosferatu touches your shoulder and whispers, "Good move there, mate. You practically told him you're on to him. How you figured he was plotting against you and trapping you into speaking against the masses was a miracle, I must say. I guess its true what they about to you."

End example.

It takes a terrible amount of tweaking, and at times can prove to be very difficult to pull off. But successfully, I tell you, to do so successfully truly outweighs the effort.  Just don't do it too often or your players will feel they can get away with being lazy.

You plan to stage a major debate between the player's character and some elder who loves philosophy?

Get the player to do some homework. Even better, drag him with you to watch some movies that touch on the feel of the debate. These can range from movies like Much Ado About Nothing, to MATRIX.

While watching, tell the player to keep focus on certain key scenes, and to use them as inspiration during the game.  If you work it out well, allow the player to use "cliche" things and lines, so long as they are at least a step better than "Can I just roll?"   Also, be sure to GIVE the players moments of success.  If the player is dishing out a good point, in as much as it may feel good to throw back points at him to counter his words, consider the opponent's intelligence, access to information, and personal goals.  Maybe it would be appropriate instead to have the NPC fumble at this point.  Or maybe you can have the NPC end up breaking his calm and shouting out nonsense instead.  But if the players feel they are doing well, they become encouraged to approach more scenes with a willingness to roleplay to a flourish rather than depend on the dice rolls.

Hopefully, those suggestions help you people out in your games. Just keep in mind this little rule which many storytellers, myself included use.

When it comes to the stats of a player character, you must compare it to the player.  
While there does not have to be a direct correlation between the two stats, you must remind the player of the responsibility of portraying certain stats.    A player who is really bad at role-playing social scenes might be getting the stats just to fudge his way through social scenes using dice instead.   Likewise, a player who is really savvy with words might keep his character's social rating low, thinking he can just role-play his way through a scene and not require a roll.  

While it can be easy to let the dice dictate the final call, it won't do you any good if all social scenes are determined the same way.   Especially when it comes to debates.  Allow too much disparity and well, you might as well expect to bleed a little more in making things work out.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Clues You're a Better Storyteller

by xjrlokix
Clues You're a Better Storyteller
by Tobie Abad
Originally posted November 6, 2005

One of the most common (and yet unspoken) Storyteller problems is the eternal question asked by every person who is afraid he or she is in a relationship that might not work out; "Was I good enough?"

Our performance as the man behind the scenes, as every person in the world who isn't a player character, as every cloud, wind and raindrop that exists is something we would love to hear feedback from. And many of us DO ask; ready to hear whatever the players might say.

But for those few who wouldn't want to ask, here are some clues to watch/look for that would hint that you are a storyteller who has given remarkable games.

Your Players Beg For More
Storyteller: And with one triumphant cry, you all raise your swords and welcome the new King of Dreams. The end.

Players: Cool... Wow... That was different...

Storytellers: Thanks.

Players: So what do we play next? Yeah? I got my vampire ready. Can we start now?

Sometimes a Storyteller can be too dense to realise that the first sign they are doing a good job is the fact that the Players ask for more. It is a pity, since many storytellers confuse "asking for more" with "not content with the game".

Wouldn't you want to start watching a film by a director who just showed you a film that blew you away?

Players inquire before the game starts
Player: Listen I was thinking I wanted my Brujah to start dating. Is that okay for the plot?

Storyteller: Of course, you all carry your own stories.

Player: Cool... uh, can you add a romantic element?
Storyteller:  Sure..  Maybe in the next-

Player: I mean in tonight's game?

When you notice players actually approaching you prior to the game's session and setting little trinkets of information with you, then its a clue that they are enjoying the game so much that they want to add a few personal touches to it. Everybody who sees something really nice wants to be a part of it. Keep that in mind.

Some storytellers make the mistake of seeing this as players "covering up for what the storyteller's game lacked." While that is a possibility, the point that the player is making such an effort to make the game a better experience instead of just looking for a new storyteller, is a good sign. They want to "keep" you.

Reruns never end
Me and my friends were having coffee in a small cafe one late evening when one of them started laughing. As we turned to ask him what was up, he merely blurted out, "Slave of god!" The whole group broke into laughter as we recalled that Marco, a friend of mine, had a Salubri whom we kept teasing as such in this long running game.

Turns out, he recalled some parts of the Dark Ages game we had nearly a year ago. And until now, we recall the game's scenes pretty well.

When you're friends start referring to the game like some television series they saw a few months back... or when you're buddies start talking about the game as if they were the "old times" then realise that those games had the approaches that your gaming group appreciated. Its a good clue to what gaming style they prefer.

Players Listen
Its not the player's turn and yet they stay in the room, sitting around the table and listen intently? Mention its a party scene, and they start mumbling ambient dialogue to make the scene better?

You got players who love the game so much that they'd want to be in every gaming second. Congratulations!

Even Others Listen
You are playing a game with four people, and look up to realise the room has ten people in it. Five others had come in just to listen and watch you people play. To make matters even more interesting, someone tells you, "Even just listening you guys game is like watching a movie. Heck , I even forget i'm not watching a movie."

This is probably one of the rarest signs you can find, but it is one of the best to receive. When I was told that very quote, I found myself weak-kneed and smiling, realising that I have entertained both my players and people who could have spent the last few hours doing something else they wanted to do. I still forget that listening and watching my games is already something they WANT to do.
(edit 2011:  I recently was told this again.  A friend who wasn't part of the game asked to stay over during a gaming night.  So we let him nap in the guest room while we played.  The next morning, he admitted he could still hear us and found it pretty cool.  "It was like I was watching a movie in my dreams, but I knew you guys were the ones telling it."  Now if your games can make a friend who is trying to sleep ENJOY overhearing it, then I believe that is a definite good sign.)

And Even More Ask to Listen
You get invited to share ideas, tips or lessons.  To other storytellers.

This is probably the ULTIMATE sign that you're a good Storyteller.

So, if any of these six signs do show, then smile knowing that you are a storyteller who is appreciated and talented. Be proud in knowing that you make the grade in the fine art of being a god-jury-innocent-atmospheric-evil-situational being.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Approaching Romance

by Chris Breikss
Approaching Romance
by Tobie Abad
Originally published March 6, 2001

Storyteller: She looks away from you, but you believe you caught a slight smile creeping on her face. Her hands seemed to tremble for a moment.

Player One: I slowly walk up to her, and reach for her hands and say-

Storyteller: She pulls away and shakes her head.
"No... no... this is wrong.. You can't.. You don't mean that..."

Player One: "But I do. I have loved you for so long that I always wondered if you ever noticed."

Storyteller: She finally looks at you and you see her eyes sparkle with joy. There is a smile on her face and although you find yourself realising wholly that she does feel the same way, there is a bitterness that you cannot ignore. "You cannot... you must not leave your wife."

Such scenes can be more dramatic than the way you have expected them to run... when mood is built around the scene very carefully.

As role-playing gamers, we all know the importance of mood and mindset in creating an immersive game. But alas, it seems more common for gamers to shy away from portraying love-passion related scenes than expected. Even if there is a romantic element in the game, it seems rare that a player would actively pursue the romantic element with emotional depth and instead state things that have obviously been done time and time again in movies.

Lines such as:
a) I have always loved you
b) I love you with all my heart
c) I really love you
d) You have no idea how much I love you
and so on and on...

Want depth? Want to make the love scene more empathically romantic and dramatically immersive? Want to make the other players swoon and chide and even wish to have a romance as "wonderful" as the one in the game?

Here are some tips.
(oh, and though it may be tempting to use them in real life romances, be warned... the best real life romances are those that happen spontaneously)

by Vectorportal
Get over self-conscious worries
If you're too preoccupied about being mistaken as gay, or if you'll be laughed at, and so on and so forth... it will show and the scene can be tossed to the trash bin. You have to get your shyness out of the can and into the bin. That's why you're the Storyteller buddy!

For Players, well, you got yourself into this scene, so you better act it out well. Stop worrying about what the other players will think. Block them out and focus on the game. Transform your "performance worries" into "answer anxiety" as to worrying about how the paramour will take what you are about to say.

Don't try to be creative.
This is one of the times you should STOP "roleplaying" dialogue and start belting out emotional bullshit. Don't try to be creative unless you're really the type (or your character is) who is during a romantic moment in life. But it feels more real and has more depth if you portray it as naturally as possible.

Ironically, if you end up stuttering, getting flustered, or tongue-tied, it works even BETTER for the scene.

Try to be creative.
Enough with the usual cliches. Try using wonderfully created lines of passion. Movies actually are ironically, a great source of better lines as well.

From the "You complete me" of Jerry Maguire, to the "I'm ending our friendship" kissing scene of With Honors, there are loads of wonderful things to use in a game to make the romantic element more interesting.

Just avoid using the ones from movies your co-players are too familiar with. Spoiling the illusion invites the worst enemy in a romantic scene: Laughter.  Consider instead getting inspiration from scenes and movies and plays you like, but avoiding approaches that sound way too much like them.  Rather than saying, "It is better to have loved than to have never loved at all" why not just look into the other's eyes, and softly admit, "If I never tried... That... that would have been the biggest mistake of my life."  The message is the same.  But it is different enough to sound passionately your own.

A storyteller device. Music can really help the players ride the emotion and dive deeper into love. Notice how all of us have certain songs that still remind us of past lovers, or previous relationships...

Try looking for instrumental music, to avoid the "sing along syndrome" many players have. Perhaps the score of "Il Postino" or a movie like "Great Expectations" can fit the bill. Keep in mind the main tip: Use MOVIE SCORES.  As tempting as it is to use the main theme of Romeo and Juliet, or to play the classic Pachelbel's Canon, the familiarity of the song would just end up having players mumbling amongst themselves.

Players, though, can join the fun if they actually role-play their changing the music as an element in the scene.

I had a player stop my CD player during a romatic scene, complain "You know, listening to all this classical crap isn't going to show you who you really love" and plugged in Ronan Keating's acoustic version of 'When You Say Nothing At All', and proposed in character.

That, I must admit, froze us all into silence and sighs.

by Kennymatic
The Bad Stuff
Never forget, the most realistic romances are never perfect. Everything from "Not having enough time," (But the Technocracy must be stopped!) to merely having pets, (Darn dog senses I'm Cainite!) can add wonderful plot twists to relationships.  The best romance stories have problems to overcome and issues to work through.

Stop thinking: This is doomed to fail or complicate things in my game, why bother playing through it.

Consider instead: This can make the game go to an additional level of awesome!

Some Research Suggestions:
Check out the following films for atypical relationships and twists to try adding to your game.  These are films that strangely some of my players haven't seen. If yours have, well, try finding a few good ones. I'd love to hear your suggestions.
a. Pyromaniac's Love Story
b. Music From Another Room
c. As Good As It Gets
d. Some Kind of Wonderful
e. Goonies
f. Fifth Element
g. Dan in Real Life
h. American Beauty
i. My Sassy Girl

Keep on loving!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And Then The Dice Rolled...

by Popculturegeek
And Then The Dice Rolled...
by Tobie Abad
Originally published before 2009

(Yes, this time, the opening story is NOT something from classic World of Darkness.   Surprised?  Hey, I played a LOT of games in my time.  So yes, lo and behold, this article was written at a time when we were still playing Dungeons and Dragons 3.0)

Storyteller: "The Minotaur charges past you and slams its weight against the Cleric. Garell falls down, bleeding but still thankful to the deity Corelion for sparing his life. As the Minotaur turns, you take the advantage and act! What do you do?"

Player 1: "Taking the opportunity, I strike with the longsword, hoping for Kord to guide my blow."

Dice rolls, a critical hit.

Storyteller: "The Minotaur roars in agony as the blade cuts across its shoulder, but still it charges past, billowing clouds of dust all over. The horns are raised, ready to thrust through the Fighter's armor. This time, the creature aims to kill. Meanwhile, above the commotion, Adon the self-professed specialist is ready to strike with his crossbow."

Player 2 rolls the dice and gets a 20. Critical threat according to 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules. The second roll comes up a 20. And the last roll, a 19.

Result, an INSTANT KILL on the highlight of the battle.

And I ask you all now, tell me WHY that happened that moment?

I'm sure we've all experienced that sort of thing at least once in our gaming lives. Times when the dice just acts PERFECTLY to match the scene. Critical rolls when the tension is up. Or perhaps fudging rolls when the Storyteller was desperately hoping the Players won't make it for the scene to continue. Or perhaps a life and death scenario with one escape and that 05% chance just happens to ACTUALLY happen.

I wonder; what makes the dice act that way?
Is it supernatural force? The consensual reality shifting? Luck? Coincidence?
The devil?

Obviously this article cannot answer that question, simply because I have no idea myself (although I do know what I DON'T think caused it).  So what's the point of THIS article?

Well, here I want to talk about DICE.

DICE has been a major constant in many (but keep in mind, NOT ALL) roleplaying games. Be it the actual dice which, in my experience, range from 1d4s to 1d100s to electronic variations as those from scientific calculators, computer computations in videogame rpgs, and the like... DICE has allowed a sense of randomness and chance to inhabit the game and make it less predictable.

But can DICE be more than just the rolled shapes to get the results of an action?


DICE can be used as a very powerful storytelling tool as well.

Once, in a vampire game, I had a lowly neonate get into a verbal argument with a Player Character. The two loudly debated on whether or not the City needed a guardian and if the Kindred had any right to act as such. When the debate nearly entered a physical quarrel, I merely grabbed a handful of ten-sided dice and counted eight for the roll.

The player, seeing this got concerned and had second thoughts about starting the fight, something I hoped he'd realise considering the characters were in Elysium (a place in Vampire:the Masquerade designated as a place of peace and safety. Breaking it can be very bad for the character.)

In effect, the dice acted as a "think about it" signal that the Storyteller can use to his advantage. Whenever a player seems to be intent in breaking a scene violently, pick up a large sum of dice and pretend to prepare for battle. That might give the subtle hint for him to back
by Jamesrbowe
off. Of course, as a Storyteller, you shouldn't be afraid to tell the Player directly that the actions might not be appropriate for the scene.

In another case, this time while playing 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, the Characters were all on a ship sailing down the Sea of Swords, moving nervously down past Pirate's Isle. Just to add more tension, I grabbed a load of dice and placed them near my hand, occassionally tossing a roll behind a screen without saying a thing.

It was one of the most realistic "nervously looking around and keeping watch" scenes in that particular group's gaming history.

All because I had DICE nearby.

Dice can also be used in smaller approaches. Fake rolls can keep the game unpredictable. Using them as impromptu miniatures for tactical planning if necessary. And even as simple as using them as a prop as one of the signature objects a particular killer leaves around.

(Imagine the game running, you leaving a four-sided die on the bathroom sink, only to declare as a game scene the killer leaving exactly the same thing in a bathroom. Don't even ADMIT you left it in the bathroom, and your horror and suspense game has risen to new heights.)

Be careful though, because dice can always get back at you. From hiding when you need it the most, to falling down tables in futile attempts to run away... dice can be pretty vicious too when angered. (Take for instance my friend Awie, who once stepped on a four-sided die* three times in one evening.  And the best part, we were playing Vampire: The Dark Ages which uses ONLY ten-sided dice.)

Never underestimate the power of a twenty-sided die that also decides to suddenly turn into a six-sided die for a whole evening of gaming. No one was spared. No one got a roll higher than six for three hours with that one.

by Dave Morrow
* that particular die, by the way, has been isolated and placed among marbles. Perhaps he'll learn his lesson when he notices all the dust the marbles have collected.  (edit 2011: actually I've long since moved out of that house.  I wonder if that die is still there, somewhere in the cob-webbed shadows sitting among the marbles, hoping to someday be rolled once again, but unawares that his life has long come to an end.  Oh my.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And the Old man waves away...

by Kevin Dooley
And the Old man waves away...
By Tobie Abad
Originally published before 2009

I guess best to begin again with some fiction.  (I blame Classic World of Darkness for that habit.  For those who never played any World of Darkness games, the books were one of the first few that I recall to ever start a chapter or a book with a fictional story.  Most other books from other game studios back then just jumped directly into a "What is a Role-playing game?" opening.)

"Don't you even dare place that thing on my doorstep!" the raven haired woman wailed as James displayed a cinnamon-scented wreath of acorns. Much to the retainer's expectations, his Mistress was not one who appreciated the season.

"But Maria," he mockingly complained. Maria would have none of it, though, and with the speed that was part of her blood, the Brujah blurred past her retainer, plucked the offending wreath from his fingers and tossed it across the street.

"I will NOT have christmas ornaments on my doorstep," she spoke, more like an order though than a statement.

"Even if-"

"Even if the PRINCE himself decrees it!" Maria roared, and James shut himself up. He could see that he pushed too far this time. Maria was seething and inches away from a frenzy, and such an event was not acceptable in a pleasant Christmas eve.

What was that about?
It was an example of making sure you give a semblance of time in your games.

How did a heated discussion on Christmas wreaths do that? Well, how often does Christmas happen in real life? Once a year. And in your game, how often has Christmas occured? Are you saying it has been one very loooooong year?

If that was your intention, then you're okay. But if you have had a game that stretched beyond a single "game year" then perhaps you should hint at time passing with these approaches.

Let me begin to state each one:
Seasonal events
Obviously, this is the example I gave. By simply adding a small scene where a seasonal event occurs, you have given a taste of time passing without having to go through the "four months have passed since bla bla bla...". And you made it fun too.

Do keep in mind that you do not have to resort simply to holidays. Note environmental changes. When does the cold front begin? How about the cherry blossoms in Japan? Or the leaves during Autumn. Hell, maybe even the start of the Superbowl.

Give the players the feeling that their character is in a new time and they will be more immersed in it.

Throwing a flashback can be tricky, but is best lead to by starting with the character either in a very calm setting (talking to his mentor, for example) or in a high octane scenario (bleeding from numerous wounds, and pushed against a wall).

The flashback basically yells at the player "TIME HAS PASSED AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED".

Many avoid using flashbacks because it requires a lot of preplanning and assuming. And because some players believe that flashbacks are pointless scenes because there is NO threat of loss or dying ("hey, if i remember that, then i lived through it no problem, eh?")

Vampire: the Masquerade offers an escape from this. TORPOR. If the player isn't exploring the flashback with appropriate responses -- such as doing the lamest strategies in combat since he knows he won't die -- then toss him into torpor for a few years.

Other games, though, do not offer that much escape except for:
Mistaken memories/Memory tampering
False intro (the mentor isn't there, its a Virtual Reality interrogation attempt)
Intentional near deaths (worse to do to often because players feel the Deux Machina curse coming).
Magic/Psionic powers
Alternate realities

Keep in mind though that the best uses of flashbacks is to both introduce more information on the game and at the same time, add an element of depth to the approach in roleplaying. If it comes out fun, then pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
by Rileyroxx

Yes. Let some NPCs pass away from old age. Or show the buildings to be less wonderful. Or a park that was once across the street is gone now. Or a young boy the PC met before is now a teenager.

Weave the loom of time around the setting and let things CHANGE.

And watch your players squirm when they realise that some things do change no matter what you do.. and its a tragic truth that should never be forgotten.

The choice of words too can show the passage of time. And this need not be as drastic as "Thou" into "You". This can be as simple as using slang words like "wicked" and later using "cool" then later still "phat".

The web offers a lot of sites that give you ideas on what slang words have changed. For example, how many out there still know what it means if your computer "HANGS" ? What about "FLOPPY drives" ? Strange but true, a lot of formerly common words have already been either phased out or less used to the point that they sound a bit obscure.   (More so now with terms like flash drives, and cloud computing which were unheard of back when the internet was merely about accessing a BBS and the like.  And mind you, these are changes which happened so far within my own lifespan.  What more characters who can live for centuries?)

Use that fact in your games and watch the PCs unknowingly get the feeling of age creeping over them.

And by the time they realise it,
it is too late...

...because time already passed and they know it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Keeping the Mystery

by stevendepolo
Keeping the mystery
by Tobie Abad
Originally published around 200

Let's talk about: THE GOLDEN RULE

That would be the biggest gripe many would have about the White Wolf Gaming Studio products. The ability for a Storyteller to call upon the "Golden Rule" whenever he can't adequately explain something.   But then again, is this "Golden Rule" really something negatively added to the game?

In a game where intrigue, mystery and back-stabbing secrets reign, shouldn't there be some rule that states the Storyteller has the right to change whatever he or she wants for his or her game to work.  And further to the point, is this rule even necessary when it should be understood that all Storytellers DO change a little bit of this or that in the rules presented?  Name me a storyteller or GM who never made slight changes to anything in his games.  Everyone always fudges one thing or another.

This article focuses more on "How to Keep the Mystery" when playing a White Wolf Gaming Studio Game. With the numerous books published, it can be hard for a Storyteller to create an atmosphere of mystery and fear when the players already know what creatures of the night exist in the game.   The ideas presented here, however, can be applied to practically any game out there.
Drop terminology. As I have mentioned in a previous article, if one immerses oneself into the setting, the use of terminology like "Blood points" or "Disciplines" may cause the game to become too systematic-sounding and unreal. Divorcing oneself from using these terms in game can help. Even better if you push the use of terms to an absolute minimum. Consider a scene where a man is forcibly dragged into a clocktower then embraced naked against the oily gears of the machine. Just as he comes to his senses, he finds himself nearly crushed by the meeting gears and pulled into safety by his Sire.

"You're awakening before the gears devoured you shows you are worthy and acceptable. I welcome you to my Brood. My blood is yours now and we are family. As our Founder was blessed and chosen, so now are you, by the uncaring jaws of fate and time."

Got an inkling to what Clan the Sire is from yet? Hard to tell, eh? A simple approach like that gives a great deal of mystery to a game extremely common.

By the way, that Sire was a Toreador. Had a thing with poetic license. 

Everyone lies. Its a fact. (Was that a lie?) We all have our lies, from small white ones to huge family-shattering ones.Why shouldn't there be in the game.

When the Sire spends three years telling you the Prince is MAD and best avoided, and that the Church down Broadstreet is best ignored since that's where the Sherrif would "erase" those who have breaced the masquerade, its not impossible for the Sire to actually be an Anarch who is making sure his mole-of-a-childe will not break his cover. Or that he's a Tzimisce infiltraitor who is setting up the childe for "new ideas".
And in the game, the best lies are those carried, supported and reinforced for many game years.
(Like Caine, for example. Or fear of sunlight?) 
by monkeymyshkin

And even pushed further, everyone makes mistakes. And even the best in a field of expertise makes them.So when your PCs try to ask an Elder for answers, or interrogate a henchman for clues, never underestimate the power to use reality to your advantage and have these people make a mistake.

Perhaps they give the wrong name by accident. Or perhaps they truly don't know who they work for and mistakenly hint at someone else the players trusted.

Imagine the scenario unfolding after then. Who can the players truly trust. 

Keep things of mythology coming into the scene as myths. After all, the players are characters that aren't supposed to be real either. During a meeting between Garou in one of the Caerns, have one npc talk about some horsemen that supposedly run the Gauntlet in the Philippines. Or of the stories about someone meeting the Sphinx in Egypt. Keep the background rich with possible mythologies.

And be sure to spring such when you can, even just to get the Players wondering.

"That's the mark of the Old Elder Gods from those novels isn't it? But this Caern hasn't been inhabited for hundreds of years, you said... How can that be possible?" 

Don't be afraid to change things on the fly. Especially when you want to show how multi-faceted the world can be.Its best to illustrate what I mean.

In one game, I had the PCs fight against a major villain who eluded and escaped their vengeance for many game years.

There came a high point in the game (but not high enough to make it a chornicle ender) when the PCs got to her and finally decapitated her.

For them that was the end of her.

For me, as their Storyteller, it was too soon. And even if the original scene had the real villain fighting against them, I decided to change things on the fly and make it some other flunky that looked like the villain. Of course, I didn't reveal this until later.

When the PCs started learning that they were still under attack indirectly. Herd would be found dead. Their Havens would be broken into (but left undamaged. Imagine the psychological warfare that was like) Their friends and allies threatened, if not killed outright.

And to add, I began spreading rumors of the Antedeluvians. And of Demons that posses vampires. And of Soul eaters (yes, from the Dirty Secrets of the Blackhand.)

By then, the players were arguing amongst themselves off game as to what the villain really was and how she could have survived decapitation.

Finally, I spring the clincher when the villain reveals herself and her schlacta minions, all of them fleshcrafted like herself.

For my players who read almost all the books from cover to cover, the game was a major intrigue fest and was filled with so many questions, that even nowadays at times they ask me some of those they have yet to have figured out.

Building mystery and shrouding truth is a must for White Wolf games. And learning to do that without having to CHANGE what these creatures are is possible. Perhaps a bit hard. But in the long run, worth every ounce of effort if you want to make your games gain more mood and depth.

Storytelling for Mood

by Bill Dimmick
Storytelling for Mood
by Tobie Abad
Originally published on 2001

note: When I first wrote this article, so many people reacted with its contents about being very different from anything they've done.  Nowadays, of course, the approach of using such techniques seems pretty common (which I feel is a great thing!)  Still, new gamers are born everyday so this article may still help others.
Various techniques, tricks and approaches one can use to create mood in roleplaying games. Range from the easy to the very challenging approaches.

Many Storytellers have wanted to try and achieve a more engaging game approach that makes their players get totally engulfed into the storyline. It is one of the dreams of many storytellers to craft a game so well that the players are drawn into the setting and mood so much that they portray their characters to the hilt.

How does one, who has never ever approaching gaming in this manner, learn to do so?

This article seeks to give a few suggestions on what approaches I use to achive a wonderful range of depth in a roleplaying game. All these approaches listed are tried and tested and my players can attest to the fact that they work if done correctly.

Never forget, though, learning to do it correctly is like learning to do anything else... it takes practice.
Learning how to cue music, keep it at just the right volume, change tracks and fade out the unnecessary tunes without breaking away from the act of storytelling is very, very difficult to do.Avoid using a list that has each track and scene written down. Learn to improvise. Having a list causes an unnecessary delay. Makes you become anal-retentive to what music should be used.

In terms of equipment, I recommend a portable CD player (with a REPEAT function) and two portable speakers. If you can, use batteries (for the possible brownout situation which is prevalent here in Asia) or an outlet (provided it is not in a place that would disrupt things.)

 I don't recommend large stereos and component systems NO MATTER HOW NEAT they sound in the room. Have the music too loud, you'll have your players focusing on it more than your game.

 Practice shifting tracks without looking at the player. Practice fading the music out using the volume switch without looking. When you're daring enough, practice loading and unloading CDs and replacing CDs from case to player without looking! Trust me, its possible. I've learned it without breaking or scratching any CD.

 Use music that isn't too familiar. Avoid all music that have lyrics if you want to use the track for ambient sound. Only use songs that are familiar or have lyrics when they are INTENDED to be heard. The famous IMPERIAL MARCH can never be used at any other game other than a Star Wars game. (Unless you want your players to think of Darth Vader even if it isnt a Star Wars game).

Try listening to independent artists. Check out foreign labels. Even try classical ones. Opera. Instrumental scores. Movie soundtracks of obscure titles.

 Experiment with different uses for music, so you're players don't fall into a "He's grabbing a CD, ready for a fight scene" attitude. For example, try playing a soft mellow song and leave it looping even as the scene shifts into an assassination attempt. Or play a wonderful dance track when you announce the Prince is holding court... then yell at an imaginary Brujah to "Shut the blasted thing," and cut the song on cue. You can also play a loud song and force the players to scream when they talk to each other, as if they really are in a club or a concert... then fade the music slowly as they walk away from the source of the noise (note: wonderful little mood builder if the PCs are facing an Assamite.)

 Lastly, do NOT... and I repeat.. do not sing WITH the music. Bad enough if the music distracts your players. Don't make it worse by causing the distraction yourself.

Mannerism and Acting
We all know how much we find ourselves pulled into the story shown on either the Stage or the Screen. Theater and Film has shown us that if the viewers (or in our case, gamers) are presented with people acting out and voicing out roles consistently, they slowly slip into actually believing that the roles are who they are seeing on stage or on the screen.The same applies in roleplaying games. Do not be afraid to create an accent, to act out tears, to scream when the character is angry, to crumple your face when depressed, to cry if you can... go for the hilt without crossing physical boundaries.

The Prince is angry at the coterie? Scream and seethe and even slam your hand on the table (watch the dice and the cd player!), then stand up, pace around and try to calm down.

Try to listen to how people talk around you. Observe how acting is done on movies, on film, on stage. Try your own approaches.

Every storyteller has their own range and peaks. Don't feel dismayed if you can't approach all the charcaters you want. Highlight those you wish. Acting not only makes the game more interesting; it encourages the players to act out and speak in character as well. 
by angelicodevil6

Light and Psychology
Try sitting higher than the players if they are facing the Prince or anyone of higher position or power. Try keeping the light against your face and the shadows over your features if you want to make them worry.And watch the players falter in their decisions, worry more often than before and act with more caution.
Why would that happen? Because you just used phsychological tricks on them. :-)

Should I spoil these secrets on this article, at the risk of other players seeing this? Hmm... read up on such tricks then, on your own. 

Quotes and Signatures
Give NPCs a signature or a quote. Think of Darth Vader's Imperial March, or of Hannibal Lecter's use of deep profound ideas. Or try having a consistent item or object in the character's possession (Indiana Jones' hat, Batman's dark fashion approach) and consistently mention that detail.The NPC develops a motif of its own, and a new mood forms. The more your brood over such details, the more the mood establishes around the NPC, giving the impression that he/she's in charge and that the Players better be careful.

Try giving important NPCs a theme song. Play it softly when they are around. Then hint on the song if you can in other scenes. I once had a villain whose song played whenever she faced the troupe. In one game, I had a town brutally burnt to the ground. When the PCs were investigating it, I played her song again. Just as the PCs would have in the scene, the players seethed and mumbled to each other the villain's name. 

Use accents. Use foreign words. Make mistakes in grammar, figures of speech and the like if necessary. Everything comes more to life in a scene where the players can hear what the place is like. Have foreign gibberish yelled at the background if the PCs are in a foreign market place. Toss some side commentary of the people nearby who are witnesses to the scene. Make everything and everyone come alive with just a few phrases on the side.Imagine setting a fight in the department store. Bullets flying, people screaming. Then start telling your players, "Oh my god.. oh my god... my water broke..." then shift to a male voice, "hold on, honey.. hold on..." Isn't that better than simply stating "The couple beside you needs help. The wife is about to give birth."
by erin MC hammer

Last thing about show rather than telling
Keep in mind, while it can always be good to learn to "show" rather than "tell" your players things (especially when in some cases you might end up being redundant in what you're doing) consider also the fact that not showing or telling EVERYTHING can be a great way to build the mood.  NPCs can lie.  Or make mistakes.  Documents can be falsified or untrue.  Keep the players guessing.   Maybe the witness they trusted all those sessions ago happens to have been wrong as well?  Can you imagine how effectively that would make the players feel the frustration their characters have too?     Or maybe the files they found, based their plans on, and used to accuse the villain of his treachery is on the grand moment of accusation discovered to have been faked.   Know the potential stories and developed mood you can utilize through incomplete information and misdirection.

Keep the game alive and as lively as the real world. Don't be afraid to make the gaming AREA itself your stage. You are everything in the game other than the PCs decisions.... why not try to represent the ones you can to the fullest?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plot Building the Easy Way aka What to do When You Have No Frigging Clue

by qole
Plot Building the Easy Way
aka What to do When You Have No Frigging Clue

by Tobie Abad
Originally published 2009.

How to make your players build a plot, without making yourself look lazy. Or better said as, "Procreactive Gaming Approaches"

"Let's have a game today," your players clamber up to you and beg. They have their character sheets, and the soda and the snacks are set. They cleared the table, brought in the CD Player (republish note: OMG CD Player.  That really dates this article, doesn't it?), the ashtray and the dice. They did everything for you and more... and all they want you to give them a game in return.

Unfortunately, you aren't ready.

Do you just tell them, "Sorry guys," and grab the fastest ticket home, hoping their wrath won't reach you before you slam the door locked behind you? Or do you smile and suddenly fall on your knees begging for mercy, "I'm not ready!!!" screaming out of your lips?

Definitely no. You're the storyteller.
You can't show them you're unprepared.

You'd lose their respect. Their belief in you to be the "god of the game" who controls everything from the greatest weather pattern to the smallest whorl on a fingerprint you found in the crime scene. How can they ever game with you again if you were actually... at one point in time... UNPREPARED?

Shame on you, for that!

As a storyteller, you must be capable of changing the existence of reality with but a thought. You must have no limitations to the tales you can tell. How many stories do you think begin or end within a second from each other? Thousands! Millions even! That cop in the corner might have just got home, but his clothes, his thoughts, his house, his neighbors.. all those have a story of their own possibly beginning.

Keeping an illusion that you're always prepared also makes your players realise that they better be good in a game. Nothing they can do will spoil your game. They can make unexpected things occur (like the PC suddenly courting the major NPC villain) but nothing is too great for the superior storyteller you are.

[obviously, I have written this intro with much exaggeration. But it does make it more fun to read, eh?]

Here are a few ways around that sort of a problem. Although this started in my mind as a "plot building methods" article, it transformed into "what to do when you have no friggin clue."

Tag and hook riding
They have demanded. And you are unprepared. Start the game with a typical session. Perhaps the character wakes up from sleep? Or perhaps is at work? Or the phone rings?

Then toss nonsense hooks.

He wakes up to strange noises from his basement. They sound like children sneezing. While working, a new secretary with a figure that defies gravity shows up. When the phone rings, he discovers the caller is about to commit suicide and asks him to help.

If the player bites, you got your story. If not, toss another.

The sounds get worse, until finally one day, he discovers that the sounds are now coming from under his bed. Or the secretary reveals she is enamored by the player. Or the phone caller keeps calling, until the last time he calls, the player recognizes its been someone he knows all along.
by Mattastic!

If still not, toss a totally new one unrelated.

The point is, just keep throwing things at the player, see what he finds interesting and improvise from there. So what if the story ends with no clear understanding of the event... (The voices under the bed just stop? You won't explain why???) such strange unexplained stuff happen in real life too. Just don't over do it.

Never ignore the fact that you can take the cues a player might mention in passing. Keep note of the side comments me might mutter out to a fellow player about his scene. Then either use it or go directly opposite to what the player thinks.  More often than not, however, players might blurt out a great explanation for what you threw at them.  My players have picked up on this tactic.  They always warn new players, "Don't say anything out of character in a Tobie game.  He WILL use it against you."  Oh players.  If you only knew.

This approach can make you look like some master storyteller. Trust me, it worked a lot for me.

Movie grabs
Steal from a movie! And spin it off from there.
The player character is in a bar? Have him meet a guy who asks him to punch him. Or have him meet some wedding singer. Or have him bump into an obssessive-compulsive customer who's clamoring for his plate.

If the film is unfamiliar to the player, then dive headlong into the movie plot and see if it can fit in the game. If he is familiar, then take a tagent to it and claim its "your version of ___".  Some might even get more excited at the prospect.

NPCs 2 types
A. The common approach
Have the NPCs develop further with personalities and life by having a game set with merely interactions between the two. The NPC wants to do her laundry and asks the PC to help? Or the NPCs parents are sick, and he wants the PC to go with him and visit. Maybe the NPC has taken an HiV test and waiting for the results just are too hard to go through alone.

The point is, take the opportunity to focus on characterization and emotional attachment. This is the best thing to do when you're unprepared because not only does it give an interesting game, its like an investment because it makes the later games richer as the NPC has more depth.

B. The unavoidable approach
Similar to the use of Hooks, toss an NPC that cannot be avoided. This ranges from an impassioned ex-spouse to an annoying, meddling aunt. Feel every freedom to be as annoying and cruel and irritating as possible. And test the limits of the PC. If the PC does anything too much for the game (like decides to just kill them, even if its not in character to do so) then break it into a dream and have it end with him going through the game's very opening scene again!

Break the impression that the world can be ignored. Have a simple walk home become filled with observations. Reflect on the poor on the streets. The violence in the homes of others, perhaps? The dying world. The material society.

Dig deep into your own personal views of how the world is and roleplay an internal discussion on why we shouldn't give up. Even better, have the discussion be with an NPC and hit three birds with one stone (Need a plot, touch on society and expand on PC-NPC relations).

PC thought bubbles
by CarbonNYC
Be the PCs thought bubbles. Hey, if you already act as EVERYTHING else, INCLUDING the PCs senses... why not toss some "weird thoughts" into the Player's head.

*You think you know her. She DOES turn you on.*

That alone can lead to hundreds of stories.

Or you can try some more challenging drops.

*For some reason, you don't think you can trust him today.*
*Something tells you he's lying.*
*She's making you very nervous. You're tempted to check if your fly is open.*
*Her eyes remind you of your mother. You want to know her more.*
*She helps you stay focused. But you're afraid of her.*

If it contradicts with a player's view, don't panic. Everyone gets conflicting thoughts all the time! Remember those times you'd find yourself in a mental argument with yourself in real life about certain matters? Why should PCs be spared from such experiences.

Just make sure you DON'T take control of the actions. As a storyteller, you have every right to hint or mislead or drop clues, but the player should decide if the character heeds his "thoughts" or not.

Free background prizes
Give them a scene that's unexpected and yet can add to their backgrounds. Perhaps a visit from their parents? Winning a raffle? A phonecall from an old mate? Or maybe the reappearance of a long lost friend.The point is, throw something new and pretend its been there ever since! After all, you are the storyteller.

Never let the players dominate by seeming to be in control. Unless you maintain the illusion of being in charge, you're players might be inspired to try and best you. And that might simply turn the game into a PLAYER vs STORYTELLER fest, which unless you're playing a Pokemon RPG... just isn't good.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Removing the XP GAINED mindset

by katerha
Removing the XP GAINED mindset
by Tobie Abad
Originally published in 2008.

Being a storyteller (gamemaster, referee, judge, rolemaster, narrator, dungeonmaster, et al) for over 20 years, I have gone through many role-playing, storytelling and interactive storytelling games and each one I have played in had one thing in common: experience charts or tables.

[quick note: there are games without maturation charts, but sadly, I have yet to try them. if you have, consider yourself lucky!  Today, as of the republishing of this article, I thankfully have been exposed to other games such as the no-character sheet Paranoia, and the beautiful games of John Wick.  But anyway, continue reading!]

Although there is nothing wrong with XP charts and tables, there are times when a gaming group finds themselves degenerating into a "How much XP did I gain?" group with their main focus becoming earning ENOUGH POINTS to get certain stats. Note that this even happens with groups that are not TWINKS.  (A term that now, with the republishing of the article seems dated.  Twinks now refers more to hot young men.  Hmm.)   I have seen players struggling to rack up points to raise their social stats, or buy new skills they never had, or simply reflect current changes in their character which were story-dependent.

And there are times that a maturation chart does not work. This holds true for games that have flashback sequences, non-linear approaches, and games that are played in varying time points. If you had 2 game sessions that contained a story that lasted four game days, and 2 game sessions that reflected the events of three weeks, why should the amount of experience points be the same? And even if not, why should the point rewards differ from down time and real time moments?

There are many ways to deal with this; ranging from devising your own experience point scheme, to adjusting the tables and so forth. Personally, I'd do away with the experience point system altogether. Why?

I don't see how they work with my storytelling approaches. I've had games that play into a flashback sequence that then touches into another shorter flashback. I've had games that are set in ten year intervals. I've had games that play forward, then suddenly halt midway for the players to assume the OTHER cast of NPCs who they are against, so they can see why the NPCs feel that way towards them.

I stretch the limits of storytelling approaches to touch on all perspectives. First to Third.

Why should playing one of the enemies for 90% of the gametime, for example, give the character points to buy new traits? But the Player should be "rewarded" somehow right?

And do these character sheets really reflect the character well. Looking at a basic White Wolf character sheet, I do believe that every single person of at least college level would have ONE dot in everything. We all know a little bit of everything. Perhaps a lot of what we know are misconceptions. Or assumptions based on films. But with every pouch of errors, we do carry an ounce of truth.

Why should a Player take the whole game session to finally earn that single point in politics, when its common knowledge to have that dot?

What about when the storyteller makes use of flashback sequences or nonlinear storytelling. These actually encourage the removal of the XP GAINED mindset. After all, the game would simply be bogged down with unnecessary computations if one follows these maturation charts to the hilt.

I believe that the XP GAINED mindset is detrimental to the game. It makes one value the "points" of a character sheet more than the game itself. I don't believe that getting more points to adjust your character sheet is an adequate reward.

The Story and scenes itself in a game can be a reward.
Think, for a moment, that the game is a movie. Each time a player has his turn (See Scenes and Routines) he is given the limelight of the camera, with the movie focussing on his moment.

Wouldn't it be great to make sure that each game session, you get a wonderful moment of "camera time" with a major emotional/action packed/psychologically challenging moment?

A simple fight scene is treated like a Matrix-inspired duel? A seduction scene becomes as memorable as Basic Instinct's "chair sequence". A moment contemplating on the past turns into a full blown sequence of information and recollection like those done in Millenium and Profiler?

Getting the players interested in getting thier "five minutes of fame" might seem difficult, but its not. Especially if you help them realise that points are not what makes the game fun. Its the way the story flows. And if the story allows their characters to shine, even for a moment... then they are getting the best out of the game.

Was Samuel Jackson really "worth seeing" in Episode One? Compare his appearance to that of other characters. Even Yoda's. Who earned their "limelight scene?"

But what about their "evolution" and "development" as characters, you ask?

The storyteller controls the world.
He controls the weather, the landscape, the mood, the climate, the overall environment. He also controls each and every other living or unliving thing in the world used in the game (and those outside if you play that sort of a game). He controls their mood, their memories, their emotions and experiences. The storyteller controls time, chance (excluding the dice... but not always) and the very laws of physics, relativity, and the unknown.

Why can't the storyteller control the character's development?
Wait!  Before you start throwing pitchforks and the like, I didn't mean being in total control over what changes in the character sheet. I mean being an existing guide judge to the developments. You think that storywise, the character should learn the rudiments of martial arts in two days? Go for it. Give the points. The heck with computations. You want that elder vampire to learn with great difficulty how to use the cellular phone? Then reflect it by giving the points only when you believe the player roleplayed trying hard enough.

Let the game and the story reflect the traits that are increased.  And then just GIVE it.

Never let the mathematics of evolution and the genetics of pen and paper games bog down fantastic stories and games. If they can suspend disbelief in movies and tell us that a civilian learn to use a military rifle and fight hand to hand within a day, then why shouldn't our players' characters?

You want to have a game that focuses on the kill to advance the characters? Maybe you oughta stick with TSR.... or videogames. Not that they're bad, of course.

Last, stop being afraid of what is called "Power Creep."
This mindset was originally born from games like Dungeons and Dragons where all characters followed a pre-set chart of advancements as the levels increased.  But since there were various character types, the was always a question of balance.  Is the 18th level Fighter balanced with the 18th level Wizard?  Would some players who are only at level 5 feel overshadowed by players who are level 9?  

by ewen and donabel
The fear of power creep also reminds me of how it felt whenever new expansions of collectible card games came out.  Consider how a White Scout with 1/2 in Magic the Gathering seemed quite okay before for a one white mana cost and how with new expansions there are one white mana creatures that are already at 2/1 plus some special ability.  Many would feel cheated that "later editions" had better cards.

Ultimately, in the business of publishing a game, the idea of having to release something cooler and stronger each new iteration is a real feeling that needs to be hit.  After all, would anyone want to buy an expansion that was filled will less powerful cards?  Or a new book that offers character types that seem to be just the same old stuff?  

In a table-top game among friends, however, the fear of power creep should be irrelevant.  Given how there are so many other ways for player characters to be challenged other than merely direct outright combat, I saw no reason to have a group where one character is empowered by god-like abilities, and the others might not be.  Just like superhero groups like the Justice League, or even popular fiction books like Neil Gaiman's Sandman or Lord of the Rings, a great storyteller will learn to throw challenges to the players to match their expectations and enhance the fun.  A bad storyteller would simply find reasons to have all players constantly at the same power level and battle out with the same level of challenge.  (Yes, bad storytellers would be very akin to a person being in charge of an MMO. It doesn't matter if you hit level 3 or level 300, the monsters all scale with you.)

So just say goodbye to fearing power creep and instead get to know what makes the player characters tick.  Play on their strengths and their weaknesses.  Challenge them in situations where they might NOT want to use their powers or abilities.  Make them question the ease of using their powers.  Maybe something can easily be resolved with a use of super strength.  But would it be the best solution given how the group is trying to keep a low profile?  Make the challenges more creative than just matching a "challenge rating" and you'll see how Power Creep very quickly becomes irrelevant.  (God knows how happy I was to read in John Wick's Play Dirty a very similar viewpoint towards Power Creep.  After years of doing this, it made me feel like I've been doing the right thing.)

And once that feels irrelevant, you'll realize rewarding players with whole new powers, or points, or dots (depending on what game you use) is totally acceptable when it is meant to enhance the story.

The illusion of "balance" should never outweigh the importance of having a fun game.

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