Thursday, August 21, 2014

But It Hurts So Good

Elder Scrolls Online ... plots that hurt so good.
A recent article I wrote about an intense Changeling moment sparked some neat discussion in the comments about where the line between punishing scenes and dramatic scenes really sits.  In truth there are plenty of times when game masters cross the line into doing something that actually screws over the players and such times are gaily recounted by annoyed players the world over.  But isn't conflict the source of all story?  Are they really playing these games just to have everything be a push over?

Well, no, but as always the devil is in the details.

I've been accused of being an "evil storyteller" on several occasions, not in connection to anything but just as a vague reference.  While I've always found the phrase distasteful, they actually mean it in a complimentary manner in connection to my dark fantasy and horror vibes and assure me that it's because my campaigns hurt so good.  Since I have no actual horror players among them, I still eye the title with caution and don't wear it with pride (as some others do), but I mention it here since "hurts so good" is the name of the game and I thought I'd mention my rules of thumb in keeping my players happy with the pain.

So whenever I have a nasty plot twist or intense piece of drama in mind, I quickly pass it through a few tests on a semi-conscious level before fielding it.  Then tests include:

Does It Add Anything To The Story, Really?

You'd be surprised by how many things can fail this litmus test.  You might think that kidnapping a PC's child and leaving a ransacked room behind will add to the tale but in reality it might not.  Are you really prepared to weave a story out of that kind of tragedy?  Or are you using it as a cheap hook when any stolen stereo would do?  Worse still are when a beloved NPC is summarily killed off for drama but unless the next few adventures are going to involve funerals, shockwaves through the community, and changed relationships between the various characters, you're really just killing story options rather than creating them.

 If you have any punishing story element that doesn't go anywhere, you're not adding to the tale.  And yes, that includes mugging the PCs for an overpowered loot item and then having the thief get away.  If there's no thrilling What-Happens-Next element, it's pointless story-wise.  This can involve putting it through a television show test ... if the target audience would rage at it's inclusion, then it's probably not a good inclusion.  Figure out something else.

What Do The Characters Get Out Of It?

There should always be an upside to any punishing event.  It may not be equivalent in overt value, but it should give the suffering meaning.  The less inclined your players are toward horror and tragedy, the greater the upside.  If you steal away their sword, ensure that following the thief will take them to a treasure hoard.  If you give them a disapproving sire who downplays their every achievement, dangle the opportunity for either revenge or redemption in that sire's eyes.  If there is no joy to the situation, and no escape, then expect to have a very small target audience that probably doesn't involve your players.

Oh, and if your players are smart enough that they do something which would undermine or remove that great big negative, let them.  Don't just flex your godhood to keep things on the tracks.  If they would catch and knock down that thief, then preventing it through GM fiat will not be worth all the treasure chests in the world.  Let the players have their wins. 

Ensure that every dark spot has a bright light at the end, and the players will crawl toward that light secure in the knowledge that it will be worth it in the end.  Naturally this means that the carrot must be visible and occasionally grasped pretty frequently for most players lest despair and apathy set in.

If you're anything like me, you can spend freely with your good elements and moments of happiness because when you're dealing with the darker genres, the light enhances the shadow anyway.  Without the light, it all becomes irrelevant and you're just punishing your players for playing.

Would Your Players Actually Enjoy This?

When in doubt, leave yourself an out.  If the player grows stony-faced or visibly upset when their PC starts walking through their ransacked house, looking for their missing child, then rework reality and have their kid creep out from a hiding spot in a laundry cupboard.  Yes, the players might have eventually come to enjoy the kidnapping plot but often the little twist and the relief that comes with it will foster more attachment and a better storyline.  Who wouldn't love such a resourceful kid? 

Certain obvious triggers are best left to an out-of-character conversation and a little common sense.  Some players don't deal with frustration and uncertainty well, others loathe tragedy.  If something would stoke an emotion they're not ready to feel in-game, then approach them out-of-game first and ask them if they would be cool with that.  Yes, this does sometimes involve spoiling the surprise but if they were going to have a heavy reaction to an unexpected twist, odds are they'll still feel it when it happens to them, they'll just have more time to prepare.

Remember, too, that the uninvolved players should also have some say in it.  One player might writhe with glee at the carthartic sense of terror that comes from a potentially triggering event but including an alien pregnancy caused by a monstrous rape of a PC affects all party members, not just the one you target.  Ensure everyone is cool with it and don't just assume consent to those details just because it's the World of Darkness, or even Kult. 

If you subscribe to the theory that joining a game like Kult (or the equivalent) means accepting all kinds of nastiness, then fine, but list out those types of nastiness to new players because they might not know what that actually means.  While you're thinking in terms of rape, domestic violence and paedophilia, they're thinking body horror and occultism.  Make sure you're actually on the same page.

Finally, the question is also of value when thinking in terms of rewards.  For one player, the approval of their in-game father might be the best reward in the world.  For another, it's fame and fortune.  See what makes *them* light up, what they spend their time talking about, and give them their glory the way they most want to receive.

What's your advice?

Naturally these aren't the only rules of thumb you can use but they're the most visible to me and they generally steer me in the right direction.  What would you do?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Demon: Lore of Frequencies


Control Sound
You can increase or decrease the volume of sound or amplify sound waves near you so that something that occurs quietly thirty feet away can be clearly heard by yourself and (if you choose) anyone within a radius of up to yards x Faith of you.  This can last up to a scene.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Intelligence + Science + Frequency (versus Stamina + Power Stat for High Torment).
High Torment: You can cause a loud and vicious burst of sound by increasing the ambient sound around a particular individual which causes one bashing and a -2 penalty to all hearing-related perception checks for minutes equal to successes.  This power can be used once per round.



Soundscape
You can create elaborate soundscapes around yourself that appears to centre on you or a space within yards equal to Faith.  If you wish to duplicate a particular voice, you need to also successfully roll Manipulation + Subterfuge to duplicate the cadence of their voice.  These sounds could range from a musical performance (additional Expression checks required to make it sound any good) to a jungle setting (requires some knowledge and perhaps other checks if you wished to make it convincing to zoologists).  A soundscape can't remove independently generated sounds but it can mask them (much as any good stereo may do).  This soundscape can be manipulated for up to a scene.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Intelligence + Expression + Frequency
High Torment: You can instead adapt and change the quality of people's voices, underlining them to give them either an intimidating or seductive quality that provides a bonus to a single Intimidation or Persuasion roll.  The targeted individual must be within yards equal to Faith of you.  Since this doesn't affect them, per se, but the sound leaving their mouths it cannot be warded off using protection from mind control.  This bonus lasts for up to a scene.


Tune In
You can listen to sub/supersonic frequencies, including radiofrequency (RF) waves (a form of electromagnetic energy that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves) alongside the usual FM and AM radio waves.  You can use this to either send of receive mobile phone calls or listen in to one.  While it's easy to tune into the right radio station, it is more difficult to find the right mobile phone call (as there are so many bouncing about in most places) unless you can see the mobile phone in question (if not, suffer a -5 penalty on the roll to find the right one).  This can last for up to a scene.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Wits + Science + Frequency
High Torment: You can circumvent all radio frequencies within an area who radius is equal to 10 times Faith in yards which prevents the use of radios, Wi-Fi and mobile phones in that area (at least in terms of receiving and transmitting information).  This doesn't affect landlines or broadband internet.  This can last for up to a scene.


Transmission
You can use Control Sound and Tune In concurrently to send messages as though you were the speaker, effectively high jacking a mobile phone conversation and playing both sides against each other by maintaining two conversations in a way that leaves both parties unaware.  Due to your ability to capture previously used words and syllables from the conversation, or to simply warp current syllables to change the context, you gain a +3 bonus on any subterfuge rolls made to give this increased credibility.  This power can alternatively be used to warp any radio transmissions in a 100 yards x Faith radius of you so that those within that area who are tuned into the radio hear what you want them to hear (this can be broadcast seemingly across all radio bands - you may choose to exclude police and military frequency bands).  This can last up to a scene.
Action: Instant.
Cost: 1 Faith.
Dice Pool: Manipulation + Science + Frequency - Composure.
High Torment: You can bombard individuals within Faith in yards with all of the frequencies that are rushing around them, increasing them to auditory range and giving each a depth of importance that causes the brain to be unable to block the content.  This provides a penalty to all mental, social and hearing-related rolls equal to successes for minutes equal to successes.


Empowered Voice
You can blast an enemy with an overwhelming and powerful hit of sound that internally bruises them, potentially causing massive internal bleeding and organ rupture, which can deal aggravated damage equal to successes to a single living target. 
Action: Instant.
Cost: 1 Faith.
Dice Pool: Wits + Expression + Frequency - Stamina.
High Torment: Your empowered voice can also cause the knockdown effect if the target fails their Stamina roll.  If knocked down your target is also pushed back a number of yards equal to successes.  If this would lead them to hit an object, wall or person, they and the object will take an additional two bashing damage.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Intense Changeling Moment

I just thought I would relate a quick anecdote from my last solo game where I was actually playing a fallen in the new World of Darkness world and while playing through an adventure (from Cthulhu Britannica, no less) I found myself helping a true fae to clear out an evil wizard who had sacrificed thirteen people to build up wards to dominate her brother and drive her out of the location.

While the adventure was complicated when I immediately fell down one of the first pits in my attempts to smear the chalk outline (amazing how Cthulhu adventures can merge with World of Darkness), I managed to return to him and fulfil the quest.

So what does my dear new true fae pal do?  She asks me what I should like as a prize.  I ask to leave, having wizened up to their inhuman natures, but she refuses as she doesn't feel that would be reward enough.

Since I had previously reassured my human friend (and one-time thrall) that he won't always be so weak once I arm him to the teeth with magical weaponry (which fallen can do if they have the right lores), and having joked about getting him a flaming sword, I asked for such an item.  He was complaining about feeling ineffective and I had been needing to leave him behind while I go off and adventure, after all.

She grins and takes me through a portal to her world where she points out a sword embedded in a big stone.  I try to draw it, fail, and she hints that it may not be for me.  So I let my human buddy, Henry, grasp it and draw it.  Arcadia ... True Fae ... a mortal ... my demonic PC knew little about these factors.

Anyway he rolls up his sleeves and gets to it, straining to remove the blade.  As it slowly gets pulled loose, the rock begins to crack and lava seeps out of those cracks, splashing on his feet and then writhing up his body in tendrils, plunging below the skin and seeking out his heart.  Set alight as a human touch, he screams, and so I use my revelatory form's "Immune to Fire" ability (not that it helps against supernatural sources) and try to pull him loose.

No luck.

Finally it ends, leaving him obviously traumatised and with ribbons of glowing fire beneath the skin and the occasional heat spark dancing through his hair and a glowing flame in his heart.  He pulls the sword finally loose and stands there gasping.

The true fae then provides me my flaming sword, in the shape of my human friend, and says I will have him for a year and a day and that if he does not serve me admirably as my sword then he will return to her at the end of that time.

This is with that Shaitan character I've described earlier that I've played in numerous realities and universes (much like a beloved comic book character) because I'm lame like that.  Currently she's an anthropologist in the modern world (as we grew tired of that apocalyptic landscape previously described).

So having been resculpted into a living weapon herself in the time of the Fall, she's particularly sensitive to having essentially done the same to her friend through a foolish slip of the tongue.

Anywho, intense and a nasty surprise for any of your players should you be running Changeling.  The fae are dangerous to both cross and to help.

ADDENDUM: Conversations in the comments section reveals that a number of other players wouldn't be as cool with this as I am.  Thus I will add in a few details of what made this work in case you're thinking of trying this at home: Know Your Players (I mentioned this possibility with a smile; I spend much of my spare time daydreaming about worst case scenarios; I love deep and intense plot developments), Check With Your Players (I mentioned evil sword and he grinned before asking me if he should do it to which I responded that he might as well), A Prize For Every Cost (He will be far more useful now rather than being constantly sidelined and now he has a fancy sword), Style of Game (You can generally get away with more intense plot points in a solo game where you have adequate time to explore the ramifications and where you require more in-depth NPC characterisations).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

LARPs, World of Darkness and Equipment Bonuses

Just a quick thought on your higher immersion vampire LARPs.  If you want the equipment modifier, you need to have a physical representation of the item.  Otherwise you can have the object and use it but it's not particularly beneficial.

I think it's doable.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Character Questionnaires

I've introduced a character questionnaire for my LARP since I've found that most players (myself included) often have enough of an idea about their characters to be reactive but not enough to be good conversationalists.  Oftentimes someone will ask a question and get a very superficial response because you haven't really thought about it. 

Now while you can sometimes come up with something off-the-cuff it becomes more difficult if it involves history, work details or occultism you didn't research.  It also makes you less likely to ask certain questions that you don't know the answer for which cuts back on a lot of potential LARP conversations and means that what history you do have may well sit silent and unseen in your memory.

So I created a set of questions and offered a pretty substantial amount of free XP for those who complete it but taking another look at the questions I realised that those who slavishly follow them in all of their permutations may well end up with a massive document that doesn't touch on what I need to know.

Having helped a few players through it I've found that these questionnaires are better asked, developed and queried by another person.  In that way I can ask the main questions and then ask a few more clarifying questions depending on the player's answers.  If the player's answer mostly covers the detail or signals a greater understanding of that detail, then we can move on or use another permutation of the question to tease out further details.

So I would recommend that those who do character questionnaires sit down in pairs and read it out to each other or get the Storyteller to ask them and record the answers.  The human element also makes the whole enterprise a lot more fun and can get a player to look at things in a somewhat different way.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pre-generated LARP Character Booklets

Desna helping sort LARP props.
Ye gads, pre-generated characters have to be the pits in LARPs.  I mean, it's great because in a one shot you need to be sure the players have suitable motivations to play around with rather than the rock up and see mentality that most LARPers (myself shamefully included) have when arriving at a new LARP (or even a campaign one).  But on the other hand it is *a lot* of work.  I mean, quite a lot of work.

I have two page introduction sheets to the characters that gives a brief rundown on everything from basic history to costume tips to relationships to goals to talents and skills to dire warnings not to touch the audio visual equipment -- all written as briefly as I can.  I'm also creating little pocketbooks for the character sheets that distil the necessary details of a rules-heavy LARP into bite-sized pieces so people can know what Obfuscate actually means - presuming they have Obfuscate on their character sheets because you only get the details on what you have access to use.

At first I figured I'd make those pocketbooks with a proper stapled spine which entailed a rather complicated page spread since I was using A4 pages divided into 8 of the booklet pages that would be printed double-sided.  Then I decided that was a pain since you need to trim the pages in a certain way else the middle pages will jut out from the outer pages.  Oh, it was also a pain because it made editing the sheets onerous.  Oh, there's a typo on Protean 1?  Oh, please let me go back over every character sheet with Protean to adjust it only to find that there's another error on Protean 1.  Rinse and repeat.

So anyway I decided to just print the little pages in sets of 8 in any order, printed one-sided, chop them up and give them more of a primary schooler spine (i.e. staples along the left) with all of the disciplines on one set of such pages rather than duplicating them with the rest of the core sheet details (core sheet details being those details distinct to each character) so that I only need to edit them once.  This still is an onerous task as I need to go over all of the disciplines a few times to check for errors, rules comprehensibility and general readability but it's less onerous than spreading them out.

Of course, the core sheet details still need to be matched against the introduction sheets so that the characters can do what I have previously reported they can do -- which is an irritating task.

And this is all for characters I largely name dropped / ran in a previous LARP and therefore have a pretty good sense about which cuts down on the amount of file checking.  I can't imagine doing it with a whole new set of characters!  This is also only for 35 characters.

Ye gads!

At least once I have all of this done I will be able to readily and easily create character booklets for the PCs in the campaign LARP which'll help with those players who either don't know the rules or think they know the rules but are occasionally wrong.  Since all World of Darkness players fall somewhere along that sliding scale (there is no one who actually knows all of the rules since the book details are spread about oddly in a conflicting manner), this will help everyone and *especially* me.

I won't lie to you.  I will be asking to read the ability in their character booklet on occasion.  A big part of this work is for me in the end.

But yes, finally done about 70% of the work and it's taken me awhile.  At least I hope I've done 70% but one can never be sure how much  more work the next stage (printing and binding) will take until you get there.

And then I've got to prop check, ensure there's at least 2 things that utilise every listed skill, and once we're incorporated I'll have only 8 weeks to finalise all of this in.

On the plus side, we have enough LED candles to light up a small house.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Demon: Lore of Death

Read Fate
You can read the cause of death from a victim's remains as well as gather a series of vague sensory impressions (one per success) that reveal pivotal clues of their last hour of life.  If one were to do this to the remains of a malicious hit and run they might gather clues such as the precise sound of the engine, image of part of the bonnet showing colour and giving hints to make and model, a few letters from the license plate and a close up of a bee tattoo on the webbing between thumb and forefinger of the driver's hand.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Wits + Investigation + Death.
High Torment: You can tamper with the remains with a touch to change its appearance to match a different style of murder or to lay certain physiological clues that might implicate another person (i.e. change the pattern of congealed blood within the flesh to indicate that the body might have been moved).

Vision of Mortality
You can touch a victim to leave them shaken with a vision of their oncoming death.  This vision isn't the truth of their likely death -- it merely shows them one likely possibility (i.e. it reveals a car accident if they are near a busy intersection).  The victim takes a -2 penalty to all Composure rolls for the rest of the day.  They must roll Resolve + Composure or spend a willpower point per round to remain within the same area as the potential cause of their death.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Resolve + Intimidation + Death - Defence.
High Torment: The demon may choose the vision and pick a specific person, creature, place or object that could conceivably cause the character's death.  Use some sense when making your selection.  While this could be used to make a person terrified of a bed (for fear someone will smother them on it), it won't make them fear random pillows.

Decay
You can decay an object or creature with a touch which causes lethal damage per success.  Since this can be activated with the touch you can simply lay a comforting hand on their shoulder in conversation before activating it or use it while shaking hands.  This power ignores mundane armour and durability.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Resolve + Occult + Death - Defence.
High Torment: Everything around you decays in a radius equal to your Faith in yards - whether friend or foe.  You may select either objects (dealing bashing to creatures) or creatures (dealing half damage to objects) and it is presumed to either work on a horizontal basis (not affecting the ground) or a vertical basis (only affecting the ground and air above you).


Extinguish Life
You can grant a person a peaceful and instantaneous death that appears to be of natural causes through reaching out with your inner compassion to brush them with your oldest calling.  You can set this to occur at any time within hours equal to Faith.  This power has no effect on the undead or the possessed (i.e. Fallen or Sin Eaters).  You must touch the victim to activate this power.  You may only have one instance of this power running at a time.
Action: Instant.
Cost: 1 Faith.
Dice Pool: Composure + Empathy + Death versus Stamina + Power Stat.
High Torment: You may affect targets equal to Faith who are within a radius equal to Faith from yourself.  Undead or possessed targets will instead suffer the effects of a low torment version of Vision of Mortality.

Unlife
You may touch the dead remains of a creature no larger than Size 5 + your permanent Faith to animate it.  If the remains are fresh (deceased within hours equal to Faith) and intact you may choose to open the corpse to permanent possession by the nearest entity (normally a ghost or a demon) even if that entity couldn't normally possess a corpse.  If possessed by a demon it becomes a normal Fallen in a newly living body.  As a ghost or spirit possession it lacks the essential spark of Azoth to live (use of Awakening 5 brings them to life). 

Alternatively you may raise the entity as an undead creature under your control who follows your telepathic control (telepathy extends to 10 yards per Faith dot though if it has no current commands it will follow the last order given).  Either way the creature may only take bashing damage from any sources of injury and may heal if you give them Faith at a rate of one for every three bashing damage.  You may maintain control over as many undead creatures as you have permanent Faith at any one time.
Action: Instant.
Cost: None.
Dice Pool: Composure + Expression + Death.
High Torment: You can touch the remains of a corpse to raise violent undead who will attack everyone else in sight and whose bite infects others with your mystical contamination, raising them as well should they die within hours equal to your Faith after being bitten.  This power lasts for days equal to Faith.  Unfortunately as you have no power to control them, it's recommended that you destroy them yourself once they've done what you have needed them to do.  Such undead creations cannot enter holy ground, approach Faith 5 individuals and take aggravated damage from holy water (which may only be crafted by Faith 5 individuals with a particular custom merit - True Faith).