Spirit Game – Secret Rage

This continues on from PBM Thanks & Secret Rage.

I developed the Secret Rage idea by changing the player character from that of following a lineage of Garou, to that of playing a powerful spirit. Making the game about a powerful spirit, something effectively immortal, which can guide Garou, who the player can also play, gave me the idea: “A chronicle to prevent the Apocalypse”. This idea links to the forthcoming new World of Darkness that is in development, which builds upon the old World of Darkness (oWoD), but the end days (Gehenna, Apocalypse, or Ascension) never happened.

The scale of this spirit game is even bigger than my old Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM games, more like the professional games I ran at KJC Games. Whilst the spirit has vast powers and epic plans, the key is to treat the character like any other, to be propelled by motivations and personal drama. An added benefit with this project is it also allows me to playtest ideas from a commercial PBM project that I’ve been working on for years: Elemental Masters. This game is about the building blocks of reality and the plots of pantheons; I seriously need a better name than this working title, meh.

A few RPGs go in to some detail about spirits, particularly several of the World of Darkness (old WoD & Chronicles) as well GURPS Spirits. Sadly despite the numerous details they present, I still wanted more depth. To be fair to those books, I do tend to go overboard with my ideas, plus the Spirit label is so all-encompassing, so it is no surprise that a collection of predominately enigmatic entities are described in vague terms. One of the strengths of the WoD books is how many ideas they present, whilst not creating a rigid structure to limit possibility. As normal for any GURPS book, GURPS Spirits is filled with a plethora of thought provoking ideas, and plenty of rules options, plus plug-ins to such a powerful system.

When I first read the Werewolf I was reminded of how the game brilliantly compares with Dungeons & Dragons; I’ll justify that statement another time. Manual of the Planes was my favourite D&D book, and Planescape is my favourite setting, so it is no surprise to reveal that Umbra is my favourite WoD book, my second favourite is the Mage Book of Madness.

Spirit Scale

Given the cosmological scale of any spirit world to its setting, any decision made can have far reaching impacts upon said setting. It is common to declare that the ephemeral nature of spirits makes them mysterious to mortals/beings of flesh, which is understandable given that Spirits are not player characters (PCs). The three tiered Umbra (High, Middle and Low) in the old World of Darkness effectively contains every idea and its spiritual impact, so detailing literally everything would be an impossible task. It is up to each group as to the scale of any Umbral impact they want to explore, there is certainly enough information for any Storyteller to launch all manner of games.

Given how many different games I’ve played for extended periods, I’ve gotten to explore the core setting of each game. This is another reason for my obsession with all RPG cosmologies, to explore. For example a very long running game of Legend of the 5 Rings slowly became about the setting’s cosmology; I am quite looking forward to the forthcoming 5th Edition and to see what more they add. As a Star Trek fan, I did consider another name for this campaign:

Tellurian Trek!

Spirit Courts

Another important consideration is the complexity of any Spirit Courts, powerful gatherings that surely would have connections to each other. A design dilemma is how best to present such entities, especially if they are long-lived, and thus would have many ancient relationships to work out; never mind the historical events they could discuss.  The Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape went in to a lot of detail about the Blood War, which I think really added depth to the D&D cosmology; the machinations of ludicrously powerful entities and Gods is better presented in that setting. Werewolf did a good job of summarising many Spirit Totems and their relationships, and the setting itself is based around the Triat and Gaia.

I believe the vast cosmological scale of is one of the key reasons so many players of the World of Darkness setting preferred Vampire over Werewolf or Mage, and to a lesser extent Wraith, Changeling and Demon. Vampire is a rich enough game; it has plenty of characters, depth and history, without needing the Umbra to be brought out of the shadows. When Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand came out, a few players I chatted with explained that they didn’t like the new layers of plots, and some said they disliked the Umbral tie-ins; there were of course forum posts debating this point. Several players I’ve chatted with who love Werewolf or Mage typically list the vast cosmology as a reason why they do. Of course plenty of players, like myself, appreciate the different games for different reasons.

Spirit Psychology

Years ago I had written a collection of ideas about Spirits for Elemental Masters setting, but I had not fleshed my ideas out enough. Typically for me I had avoided finalising ideas due to constantly feeling that I needed to research more. Finally with years of research and this idea for Secret Rage I was able to finalise ideas. I had been working on detailing the psychology of different types of spirits, also drawing upon computing and philosophical ideas. Exploring ideas such as compartmentalised minds, how an Incarna’s brood relationship works, how I think slumber works, more about a spirit’s relationship with Gnosis, Gaia, etc. My spirit work is not ready for public release, but things are at a good playtesting stage, which Richie and I will explore.

I’ve considered whether to develop this work in to a commercial product, so it is interesting to note that the new White Wolf have the Storytellers Vault.

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PBM Thanks & Secret Rage

A while ago when I was mostly bedridden several of my friends would skype with me. It really helped to have some extra communication, and thankfully with a wireless headset it meant I could rest in bed. One of my long-time friends is Richie; he’s self-employed working from home, and has a young child, so he’s ludicrously busy, yet he still allocated time for me.

In addition to saying thank you to Richie for his support, I have tried to offer small gifts to show my appreciation. Richie and I first role-played together well over twenty years ago. Due to his busy life he’s not able to game regularly, so I thought a Play By Mail (PBM) game would do us both good, neatly sliding in to his hectic life schedule, at whatever pace he could manage. I wrote an introductory series to PBM here.

Roughly a year ago we discussed playing old White Wolf’s Aberrant game, since Richie’s a fan of comics, but he’d not played that setting yet. Aberrant has a rich Supers setting with mature themes, and lots of world changing powers to explore. Sadly this game never quite got going due to how busy Richie always is, and since I was still struggling with my health I didn’t push the subject. I have managed to offer a few other things as thanks, for example I made this small thing a while ago when he was ill:

BatJanoSandman

More recently I returned to the idea of offering a better present by running a PBM game. As we are both writers I considered proposing a classic style Dungeons & Dragons game emphasising the Hero’s Journey arc. Although this may feel a bit too cliché to many role-players, I think it is worth keeping in mind that there is so much you can do with good old D&D, there are so many settings and styles of gameplay. I also considered a Cthulhu game, given the single player nature of this game maybe doing something along the lines of Groundhog Cthulhu: Live, Go Insane, Die, Repeat. Or maybe going a bit over the top and running a GURPS Infinite Worlds game. I went through lists of other RPGs, even games that I’d not tried out yet. Eventually I settled on a game that I thought was the most likely to get Richie to bite, so I suggested the Gift of Werewolf.

We both adore Werewolf: The Apocalypse; well we adore all of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD). Despite how much we played Werewolf, we still want to play more, both feeling the genius game was overlooked by many gamers, and those who did take an interest in the World of Darkness games typically favoured Vampire. Over the years when I’ve been asked to pick to my favourite cWoD game I’ve always picked the World of Darkness as a cohesive whole, since that was how I always ran the setting. So my friend knows that when I suggested Werewolf, I really meant the cWoD with the primary focus being Werewolf.

After some chats I made a list of ideas for the Werewolf PBM for us to discuss further, and things quickly developed; typically I wanted to do something more and a bit different than my previous games. The initial premise was Richie playing a lone Garou, however, role-playing a lone Garou is a bit depressing; they are primarily pack animals after all. So I proposed a game spanning eons, we could use Past Lives to allow for story that covered such a time period, a chance to explore a powerful historical and social background of the Garou, and it could be about preventing the Apocalypse. The new White Wolf Publishing company are working on a new World of Darkness, one that roughly continues from the classic, without the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension ending. Whilst we are waiting for those products I considered this to be an intriguing idea.

Over the course of a few weeks I played about with the premise and kept coming back to wanting to do something more like my Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM campaigns. Meanwhile Richie wrote a cool short story, things were a go. I then had a more intriguing campaign idea, one that would take the Past Lives plan to an even bigger level, and take the game in a radically different direction. It didn’t involve abandoning what we’d initially set out to do, and Richie’s story would tie-in.

Next time I’ll go in to more detail about my Secret Rage.

You can check out some of Richie’s great designs at http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

#RPGaDay 14

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 14th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 14 #RPG try games with lineages #Pendragon #L5R #Birthright #DnD, adapt any game #Vampire #Cyberpunk etc

I give some examples below that I hope will help inspire some role-players, but I’ll start by building upon the answers I gave for Day 8 and Day 9: “Any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity…” Since there are so many games available, and many of them have sections written about different types of campaigns, any of them should make a great foundation for an open-ended campaign.

Going back to the early days of RPG, that default stance was that of an open-ended campaign, but this was certainly not a rule, and I am sure there were countless intentionally short games back in the 70s and 80s. Even in game like Call of Cthulhu, were the idea of the party surviving for very long was almost a joke, yet I still met gamers that played the same Cthulhu character for years in the same campaign. Given how many gamers there are, I quickly learned not to be surprised by odd stories; like everything else, RPGs have bell-curve outliers.

Batjutsu RPG dice scene

Pendragon, and its somewhat D&D equivalent of Birthright, practically sets out from the start that the players will build towards a long campaign that covers lifetimes. With this sort of time scale, things like marriage and children are not just important, they are brought to the front of game and character goals. I was introduced to Pendragon with “That campaign really gets going by your 3rd character.”

Given the lethality of Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R), it was no surprise to read a section in the first GM screen booklet about recommending to players about family connections to replace characters. Given the cultural gravitas of family in Rokugan, as well as a setting in which some characters are willing to kill themselves, a player being able to play one of their now dead character’s family, or fellow Clan members helps to take the sting out of death, and keep the campaign momentum. Even in the case of a Total Party Annihilation (TPA (TPK, TPW)) this method can work well.

A setting like the World of Darkness is one that could make for an ideal open-ended campaign, with its vast game options and history to draw upon. Playing an immortal creature, like a Vampire or Spirit, allows for sessions covering many different time periods, which could keep going. Back in the 90s I ran a multiplayer Vampire Methuselah PBM game, the plan being the players would play for years carefully moving against each other. Amusingly one player went to war quickly, and things were gloriously complicated. This led to a second game and longer game, WoD: Night City (I used Cyberpunk’s Night City sourcebook). It was overall great fun, and these games were part of the reason I got a job working at KJC Games.

I am currently running Secret Rage, another PBM game in the cWoD with an epic campaign length planned; the game begins at the dawn of time. I’ll be blogging about that after the #RPGaDay month, along with more on my RPG Game Types series.

I am a firm believer in buying and trying many different RPGs to make my mental tool belt more diverse. The more tools on the belt the better, as well as learning to recognise which RPG tool for which RPG, plus game/group needs.

Over the years this attitude has helped me more easily adapt rules between games, as well as ways of thinking about different ways to approach and run/play games. For a group that has not played games like those listed above, I am sure they could have a lot of fun incorporating ideas like those of Pendragon in to any game.

With things like Cyberpunk or Cthulhu, were lethality is both in the setting and the mechanics, you could consider using an organisation (Corporation/Secret Society) as the pool for the PCs. This approach would also work well for a Supers game, whether needed due to a more lethal style, or playing a Supers team over different eras, or following a Supers bloodline.

#RPGaDay 13

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 13th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 13 #RPG, balancing challenges & avoid being too epic.

I have tried to keep growing over the years, both in relation to myself, and also how I play/GM RPGs, I have often reflected on how fortunate I was to role-play with so many different people. From being 11 and the silly amount of D&D sessions at school, to playing with much older role-players when I was 16, to being mentored by people at my local games shop, and the great influence by gamers at college. Like other gamers, I am sure this question can result in a floodgate of reflecting and cool stories. Thus there were a few different answers that I started writing for this, each competing for the limelight. I also wrote some blog posts last year about some of my early RP experiences that fitted this question:

d6

The first role-playing game I ran greatly influenced how I saw the hobby. It was shortly after my first role-playing session, so I was still extremely new to the whole concept of role-play, and of course an inexperienced 11 year old. I came up with a very simplistic adventure idea, since I was pressed for time to prepare the game. Due to my lack of experience I struggled to balance encounters, and I escalated too quickly to being epic about things!

Thankfully one of the players appreciated that I’d been willing to run the game, since everybody had wanted to play.  Sadly I forget the person’s name now, but this 11 year old gave surprisingly sophisticated feedback, explaining why he thought my session had been clearly run by someone struggling and going overboard. His explanation was roughly:

  • It quickly became obvious to him which were my weak and tough encounters, thus the party acted accordingly. He advised mixing things up, tough goblins and monsters near death, and to give clues to this.
  • The party gained too much loot at the end. If one gold coin is valuable than a hundred is a treasure, whilst thousands is ridiculous.
  • The plot reasons I’d come up with were silly, and it was all to epic, making it even sillier.
  • He added that whilst giving out lots of treasure did make one player happy, who at the time was running around the room bragging, but for him he felt it was worthless, since it was all too easy.

This advice started my journey in thinking about plot, balance, character meaning, value and the near-paradoxes of gaming. In turn I have passed on this advice, along with other ideas, to new players and GM’s:

Explore and enjoy low level things when they are new, don’t be in a rush to throw epic encounters in.

This also led my 11 year old self to try and appreciate what was happening in a game at that moment. Not to fixate on what loot we would find, or when we next levelled/spent XP. This of course applies whether the party are 1st level D&D characters, neonate vampires, poorly equipped Solo/Street Samurai, etc., or  powerful versions of those characters.

During my teenage years this advice led me to appreciating little character details. Whether playing Warhammer or Cyberpunk, etc., that as a player epic-ness is my character’s story, and the decisions I make. That as a GM, to allow players to explore their character details, to make decisions and have an impact, and not just to ram my epic plot down their throats. The big plot event down the line will mean more to players who are invested in their characters.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games 3

Part one can be read here, and then part 2 here.

This is the continuation of the story from part 2 about the time I watched a Vampire the Masquerade game in the 90s. Over the course of the gaming session my friend asked me several questions, some were rules queries, and some were requests for feedback on ideas he was pondering. I politely reminded him that it was not my game, nor did I know the house rules, so even if I quoted the rule-book it wouldn’t matter. My friend explained that he’d only asked me questions so he could bounce ideas around; he only did this when the Storyteller was busy with other players.

The person running the game did not complain, instead choosing to focus on running the game. I am sure my friend’s actions were a bit distracting, but my friend was not trying to ruin the game, and had been considerate in regards to quietly chatting with me whilst he was waiting for his turn.

The game was good, and thankfully nobody seemed annoyed by my attendance. I thanked the Storyteller, and apologised if my presence had been disruptive, he said it was fine; I had sensibly turned my Presence discipline off. To my friend he then said:

“Next time, leave your pet Storyteller at home.”

On the walk back to my friends we had a good laugh about me being his pet Storyteller. He expanded his previous explanation, to help explain why he did not view his actions as being disruptive. He thought by bouncing ideas off me, he was helping to keep the game flow, so he could speed up his interactions with the Storyteller, since besides not having to check rules he could additionally have his ideas developed. I appreciated that his goal was to be more efficient, and to take up less Storyteller time, which was in theory commendable.

The lessons of note:

1) Ask about deviating from the group’s normal playstyle

I think my friend should have asked the Storyteller before the game started, if it was okay to discuss ideas with me whilst the Storyteller was busy with other player. It could be distracting to some, especially since the person running the game obviously has an opinion on rules queries, and it could be viewed that having an external person agreeing about how things could work is a form of ganging up.

One of my common answers to questions about how best to handle things in a group is whatever the group’s preference is. Despite what some may think, there is no perfect playing style, so therefore the opinions of the members of a gaming group are what matter, not those of an evangelising article written by somebody that is not involved.

Upon reflection, after the initial query by my friend I think I should have added “It is not my game, maybe ask the ref if they are okay with you involving me.” I guess I didn’t to minimise my impact on the game, I thought what I had said would have deterred my friend earlier.

Batjutsu Pet DM close
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

2) Perception of fairness still matters, even in co-operative games

This may initially seem like a strange thing to mention, since role-playing games, especially tabletop, are co-operative not competitive. In a game part of what is always involved are the feelings and reputations of the participants, since nobody likes to be seen as foolish, or less important.

Consider that if one player is receiving a private peer review before they discuss ideas with the Storyteller, then their ideas might be better on average than others, leading to all sorts of potential gains for them in game, such as resources or implementing clever plans over enemies. Over time another player might become resentful at this sort of special treatment. The point is to be aware that even something as small as this can have an impact, and thus it can affect others; after all if it was not worth doing, then the player asking wouldn’t be doing it. This issue is likely avoided if a group regularly discusses ideas, and even an individual player’s action, thus everyone’s ideas gets a chance to be discussed.

3) When to tackle concerns

I think the Storyteller handled the whole thing well. They did not become emotional at what could have been deemed as disrespectful. I appreciate that whether the incident counts as disrespectful is subjective, my friend certainly didn’t mean to be, and saw an opportunity to help the game. A DM/GM/ST will consider whether something is going to escalate, and thus some things may be deemed as needing sorting out as soon as possible. Although often patience and respect for others will reveal that there was not going to be an escalation, and confronting a tiny problem could make it become major.

Batjutsu Pet DM dice
Batjutsu Pet DM/GM

An extra bit of the anecdote is that once we got back to my friend’s place, we continued a solo Vampire Elder game we had been playing for the last week. Elysium: the Elder Wars had not long been out, and as long-time Vampire players it was interesting to explore the mind of a much older Vampire. The relevance of this is that week of playing an Elder vampire lead to my massive Methuselah campaign roughly a year later, and from that to my 16 player Night City campaign.

Due to this being a busy month, #CampNanoWriMo and I am also getting ready to play-test a boardgame I have been working on. So I will write about the big games next month.

RPG Lessons Watching Games 2

The first part of this topic can be read here.

In the 90s, whilst visiting a friend in another town, I went with him to one of his local gaming groups. The game being run was Vampire the Masquerade, although I’d have been happy with whatever the game was, but sadly for me there were already six players. I appreciated that it wasn’t always easy to involve a new player, especially in to a busy group that were in the midst of things. Additionally, since I would only be attending for a single session I didn’t want to upset the flow of the game by asking to be included. So since I had not watched another person’s game for a while, I was happy to just observe.

The Storyteller (GM/ST) ran a very smooth game of Vampire, keeping the players well engaged. Over the course of several hours I got to appreciate yet another perspective on the setting, rule interpretations, and game flow.  Back then I had primarily been playing Vampire, and the rest of the World of the Darkness (cWoD). I was almost starting to get bored of Vampire, which is likely a shock to anyone that knows me.

I had become an Elder Storyteller, ennui was setting in, gaming torpor could have followed; although thankfully not a Garou’s Harano.

The Storyteller was running a seemingly standard Vampire game, but as blasé as I could have been, I instead found watching the game helped to reinvigorate my waning passion. I don’t think it would have mattered if had been running a massively altered version of Vampire. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas, or that I had grown indifferent to the layers of scheming with players about their character plans. It was more simply the sheer amount of hours I had been running games for over the years, they had caught up with me.

3rd Lesson: the value of having a break from running games.

This is obvious to me now, but all those years ago, it was a bit of a surprise that my favourite pastime of running games was starting to take a toll on me. For years I had been gaming as much as I could, in multiple groups, so I was playing every day, and we normally played long sessions. Fundamentally I was doing the same thing day in, day out, and that had become a bit of problem, no matter how much I enjoyed it. At this time, when I wasn’t running games, I was normally reading gaming books, and working on details for one of my games. Nearly all of my socialising was about role-playing. So as much as I loved running games, I started doing a bit more besides role-playing.

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4th Lesson: Recapture the spirit of being a player.

I was reminded that with all the GMing, I had been missing out on the fun of playing. I considered how taking a break from running games, and being a player would mix things up for me, so I didn’t have to drop out of any of the groups I was in. When I got home I made plans to just play again in some of the groups I game with. It was refreshing being back as a player, to not know the depth of game details I knew as the GM, and to reconnect with exploring a character and the setting.

5th Lesson: Play something different, even retry things.

I even joined in with a few games I had previously grown bored of, as well retrying games I had found to be lacking. One of the beauties of role-playing is the wealth of systems and settings, and our own imagination, so there is no reason to fixate on just a few games, even if those games are rich in variations like the World of Darkness or D&D. Over time our preferences will normally change, so we could be in quite a different mental place. This is more likely to be the case as we try out different games. The result is we will build a more complex connection of gaming knowledge, further modifying our preferences. Plus let’s not forget the power of nostalgia.

I have an anecdote about the particular Vampire game I watched, I’ll write about for the next article.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games by Batjutsu

Part 1 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/rpg-lessons-from-watching-games/

Vampire, Batman and the Origin of my Nickname

Vampire, and by extension the World of Darkness, has had a massive effect on my life as well as how I developed my nickname. Given the power of nicknames it is no surprise that Vampire is more than a hobby to me, it lead to work and could even be argued to have become part of my identity; although crucially I do not think I am a literal Vampire.

A quick clarification, I love all sorts of role-playing games (RPGs). different RPG types, systems & genres. Whilst I think systems matter, I think players & implementation matters more.

I was sixteen when I first played Vampire the Masquerade; it had only been out for a few months. I was fortunate enough to have been invited in to a group of much older role players, so I was able to get a lot of experience from more worldly players. This proved helpful when I later started running Vampire for my long running group. At the time there were only a few supplements for the game, and there were none of the other games set in the World of Darkness had been released. Given the limited information and the newness of the game, it all felt very refreshing. This links back to the point about age, since our Storyteller Dale was in his 30s, he brought in all sorts of different cultures, not just USA or European ideas. Over many sessions our characters met all sorts of unusual antagonists; a deranged yogi was my favourite. All in all quite different from my experiences playing games like D&D, Cyberpunk or Warhammer. I quickly knew Vampire was going to be something I was going to play a lot, plus another thing I wanted to collect.

I was fortunate in that I had been brought up loving all sorts of music. I had become obsessed with metal and particularly thrash in 1989, but by 1991 I was broadening back out again. Vampire played a big part in influencing what music to investigate; I am sure it did for many gamers.

In the summer of 1992 I was working at a computer shop, and the boss insisted that everyone had to have a nickname. One of the young staff members couldn’t think of anything, so since he was slightly annoying the boss nicknamed him Snot! The computer shop was next door to the local games shop, and this led to the boss asking me about my visits to that shop during my breaks, and my role-playing obsession, and a brief explanation about Vampire the Masquerade. Since I did a lot of long-distance running, generally late at night, I was very pale skinned and surprisingly strong for my slender frame, which led to the boss deciding that I should be called something vampire related, and this led to me being given the nickname of Bat. When I got to college the new large social group I spent most of my time with had other people called Richard, so my nickname was used instead.

halloween-undead-batman-batjutsu

Unfortunately this Bat nickname has resulted in numerous conversations with new people about where the nickname comes from, and they always guess it’s to do with Batman. I’ve even had to deal with some odd enquiries like whether I can do the Batdance(Batusi), or my opinion on Batman versus Superman, shish. My family have purchased me several Batman t-shirts and jumpers to help rub this in. Eventually I embraced (yep, pun intended) this Batman tie in, after all given the cultural significance and number of Batman stories it is an iconic character. So far I have avoided any Batman cosplay as Vampire-Batman, but I have done an undead-Batman.

The Batjutsu nickname came from wanting a unique handle for using online, as well as email address. Given that my obsession with martial arts matched that of role-playing, I decided on the jutsu addition. This was also a way of differentiating from Batman, although Batman is a black belt in jujitsu, of course.

bjj-training-batman-batjutsu

All in all, I am quite thankfully that I was given the nickname Bat, especially considering what my old boss could have come up with!