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.

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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/

RPG Lessons From Watching Games

At 16 I spent a lot of time visiting my local gaming shop. Due to this I got to regularly chat with the staff about gaming, often helping boxing up train or tram kits; it was a rite of passage. Being at the shop also gave me access to lots of other role-players, and particularly GMs. Thus I gained exposure to a wide range of opinions, about all sorts of games; in the early 90s it was rare for people to go online, so this was the best local place to go.

Occasionally a group would leave an open invite at the shop for a new player, or an individual seeking a group. So I made use of the invites and tried out several groups. It was a great way to try out different games, as well to hopefully become a regular in yet another great group. One of the groups I joined suggested that I just watch, which I initially thought was odd, since it’s normal to join start playing immediately. Why watch a game when you can play? This particular GM said it was a chance for me to see if would enjoy being in the group, without disrupting the existing game.

Being an observer at a game was surprising. Despite all chats I’d had with different people, playing with different groups, as well as reading articles, I hadn’t considered what watching a game could teach me. Nowadays with some groups filming their gaming sessions, and in particular popular celebrity groups, it has become easy to watch games, but back then it seemed alien. Whilst the celebrity gaming videos are focused on entertainment, not on education, they could still prove useful to someone wanting to analyse them.

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As an observer I had a chance to perceive things in a different way, since the situation was impersonal I was able to strive to be more analytical. One of the first things that struck me was that since I didn’t know any of the group, and thus their anecdotes, I found it extra annoying when a player disrupted the game to mention random things. Doing so is generally referred to as going Out Of Character (OOC), although I think OOC is a misleading way to phrase the issue; my opinion likely requires some clarification, so I’ll write about that another time.

I got to see how the group handled focusing everyone back on the game. It was surprising, to my young perception, how often individual players helped the group to refocus on the game. Even though I knew that my players sometimes helped my games out, I had thought I was predominately the one refocusing the group back to the game.

Confirmation bias is funny like that.

Since I was not invested as either a player or GM, I got to watch a bunch of strangers energetically chatting and unwinding. Because I did not have to think about running a game, or how I’d play my character based upon some new stimuli, this allowed me to track their levels of fun. Even when a player was going OOC for quite a while, the group didn’t complain; likely due to the difference between school kids and adults. Whilst I am sure my presence influenced the players and the GM at least a little bit (Hawthorne Effect), I don’t think it was overall an issue. Mainly because I kept quiet, but also because the GM had done this with their group before. Finding that balance of how to prioritise the game whilst hanging out and relaxing friends was something this group seemed to have found, they were not pretending for my benefit.

During my first few years of GMing, at 11 and 12, I had it often felt that I needed to quickly get the game back on track. The idea was driven by concern that the actions of one or two players would become too disrupting for others, and thus risks annoying the others. A major reason for my thought was due to trying to cram as much role-playing as possible in to my lunch break whist at school; I wrote about those sessions here: Role-Play meets Lord of the Flies. At 14 I was running Warhammer with a different group of players in the school library. Later in 1990 we changed to Cyberpunk, and I started running day long sessions. Whilst we had long periods of keeping IC during the 10+ hour sessions, we did have OOC tangents, but they were uncommon.

This links to another lesson about not being as self-conscious when running games, as well as to stay relaxed when being observed by others. This would prove helpful when later running games, be it tabletop, LARP or PBM, as well as talking to customers. As well for games when I’ve had a player observing.

For the next blog post I’ll write about another lesson I learned whilst at another group I watched. Part 2.

RPG Lessons From Watching Games by Batjutsu

Your RPG is Yours, Not Mine

As I started writing about the two role-playing campaigns that helped me get a job as a Games Master (GM), I realised that some readers might take exception to me claiming I ran a complete, or united, World of Darkness games. The old World of Darkness was not designed to fit neatly together, and for years crossover rules were non-existent. I don’t recall when the first official guide was released, possibly The Chaos Factor in 1993; it could be argued a guide was needed since Samuel Haight had caught the attention of so many different supernatural types. I don’t count the 1993 release of Under a Blood Red Moon, as it was Vampire and Werewolf focused. These guides were quite lacking, being more suggestions of things to think about, but at least it was something. I found my own path in fitting things together, and things worked well enough for me in some complex games.

With Paradox Interactive’s purchase of White Wolf IP, the World of Darkness (WoD) labels have been changed. The old(oWoD) is now called classic (cWoD), and the new(nWoD) from 2004 is now called Chronicles of Darkness (CofD).

My article’s title is to emphasise that I do not claim to represent the ‘only way to play the World of Darkness’, nor how crossover rules have-to-be done.  To some readers it may feel redundant for me to clarify my reasoning, but from personal experience I’ve met enough players that fixate on this, as well as reading numerous posts on the Net, to really impress upon me that a clarification is important for many gamers. Although this issue particularly applies to the cWoD, it also applies to every other RPG when we get past the gaming group level.

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I have had a lot of experience with this topic, whether locally, at game conventions, or Live Action Role-Play(LARP), so I appreciate why it is an important subject for a lot of role-players. In my late teenage years I changed my phrasing to emphasise “I prefer”, or “in my games, I feel”, since I appreciated that it was a subjective topic, never mind that some people want to win the chat. Add to this that it’s all too easy to end up talking at cross-purposes as people fail to mention they are not emphasising an interpretation, but they have ventured in to house-rules, or changes to the setting; it’s understandable if you consider how over time it is easy to forget the list of tweaks carried out. I am reminded of common role-play encounters, which I’ll write about and link here later.

Obviously people having different opinions should not be a surprise, since it happens with practically everything. Crucially the old White Wolf company repeated the point that each game belonged to the players playing the game in each of the core rulebooks, as well as elsewhere. This covered everything, whether it was an opinion about the mechanics to the game’s setting, covering everything from cosmology to theme emphasis. So it could be argued, that between the game lines being designed without a focus on connectedness, and the rules promoted debates because of The Golden Rule:

“This game should be whatever you need it to be…”

I appreciate the Golden Rule is abhorrent to some role-players, but that is too big a topic for this post. I go in to detail on this topic in my role-playing guide.

I do appreciate why standardisation matters, and I am all for it for specific situations, since talking at cross purposes is a time sink and can balloon up in to bad blood. It can be bad enough when a new player joins a group, but this is a much bigger problem when at conventions, or large LARP. Years ago I used to play continuing convention campaigns like the Dungeons & Dragons Living Greyhawk, D&D Sarbrenar (Forgotten Realms) and later Living Force (Star Wars). Roughly: you played the same character at each game, earning XP, being part of loose collection of connected stories with other PCs that over the years you may play with on multiple occasions.  Those games were quite accessible, in large part towards having an emphasis on clear rules interpretations. There were a lot of players that had been playing together for years, and overall I found there were a friendly community; the opposite of the anti-social label role-players are often labelled. Directly related to the point of this blog is that at conventions I found players only really cared about games they are involved in, they are rarely interested (if ever) in the anecdotes of another random player.

There has already been plenty of debate about how the new One World of Darkness could work, as well as how some people think it should work. Since very little is known, it is understandable that people are passionately debating. After all so many players already have invested years in to the official three different versions: old, new, Monte Cook’s WoD. Also we should keep in mind the experience of so many WoD LARPers, they have been a major part of the WoD scene going back to Mind’s Eye Theatre in 1993; an important point when you consider Martin Ericson’s LARP passion and experience.

Returning to the article’s title, no matter what happens with the oWoD make it ‘Your World of Darkness (yWoD)’. Personally I am not worried about the future of the World of Darkness, and whilst I am somewhat impatient to get specific information about the One World of Darkness (WoD), I am not panicking.

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Humanity has been repeating and altering stories since the dawn of civilisation, from simple tales to epic myths. In addition to retelling the ancient classics, consider the countless versions of Shakespeare’s work alone, or the comics-industry’s obsession with reboots and alternate realities. So it is normal human behaviour for role-playing to be receiving the same treatment via new editions, and even complete cosmology redesigns. Since there are already different versions of the World of Darkness, I have no issue with having something new to explore, again. Following on from this is an often cited opinion about the importance of legacy. Personally, I find debating the legacy of things to be odd, more so when the logic involves highlighting different predictions as part of any rationale. I don’t feel that my past experiences are invalidated, and certainly not by alterations to a product after the fact.

Even if you don’t like a version, tweak it, borrow from it, and let your passion guide you to new inspiration. After all creativity is a key aspect of role-playing, welcome the freedom.

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.

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.

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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.

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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!

The Gamer Who Cried White Wolf

I have written an article for Noobgrind, but first an explanation about why this matters so much to me, as well setting the stage for forthcoming articles. “White Wolf is coming!” I have been thinking this for over a year, ever since the Paradox Interactive announcement, I’ve been desperate to know what is going to happen. Writing about the subject of White Wolf feels bizarre to me; my head is full of conflicting inner-voices, different narratives competing for the privilege to justify particular opinions. This is in part because I know how important this is to some people, like myself, as well as to defend against the many anti-White Wolf role-players. Back in the 90s I ran some unusual games that helped me get a gaming job; for example a yearlong 16 player play-by-mail style World of Darkness games, which I will write about soon.

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I often find talking about White Wolf games, in particular Vampire, is similar to discussing Dungeons & Dragons, the games mean different things to different people. It’s common to hear RPG generalisations further simplified in to meaningless soundbites like: “D&D is crap”, or “Vampire players are pretentious”. Years ago at conventions I’d meet players who hated White Wolf, but typically they struggled to explain why. I even came across claims that Vampire in particular had usurped D&D, which was a strange statement given the age and sheer size of D&D. Even quirkier since those conventions always had more D&D games being played than anything else, and this was before 3rd Ed came out. Also those people tended to conveniently forget what happened to TSR, it’s not that White Wolf beat D&D it’s more that they filled a void of sales at the local games shop. Maybe this type of chat was a big factor as to why so many players were offended by the idea of White Wolf, never mind the other big speculative factors I’ll not go in to here. Since White Wolf became a big deal in the RPG community, it was no surprise so many opinions were thrown around, since the games certainly sold.

Old World of Darkness, Trinity Universe, Exalted, Street Fighter

 

I have been accused of being a White Wolf fanboy, mainly by strangers; it’s a common enough insult some use when debating. Granted I have played the games a lot, yes for many years I was crazy and purchased all the books, as well as the spin-off games (CRPG, VTES, Rage, Changeling’s: Arcadia The Wyld Hunt, etc.), and even quite a few accessories. Once the old World of Darkness and Trinity Universe stopped I became a lot more selective about what I purchased. However, my regular players have played in a wide variety of role-playing games I’ve run (Cyberpunk, L5R, D&D, Champions, Warhammer, etc.), and as a group we have been critical of specific parts of all systems. I don’t think any rule system can be all things to all people, nor cover every possibility, thus I appreciate that my opinions of their products are very much subjective. I don’t see myself as blindly devoted, but I am definitely invested.

I don’t see myself as biased, just that I am invested.

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In the 90s playing Jyhad (VTES) at The Tache (my regular nightclub)

I have written an article on Noobgrind about the recent Werewolf announcement, which can be read here. This news has helped motivate me to write some more gaming articles, in particular about some of the more unusual games I have ran.

I have previously written about the old White Wolf mostly excellent Street Fighter setting.