Archive for July, 2012
Houses of the Blooded
John Wick’s “anti-Vampire” game, Houses of the Blooded, has a fantastic LARP setup called Blood & Tears. I’ve played this multiple times and was a co-ST twice (once because I was killed partway through and hung around to help, and once from the outset). It’s a total fucking joy to play Houses.
This is a courtly LARP, where a party’s thrown and political machinations begin. But unlike other courtly LARPs, there are no NPCs — no characters that the Storytellers need to set up as plot machines. Everyone is a player-character (aside from the two or three STs). One person is set up to be the host of the party, and various players how have experience in this LARP act, on their own, as plot generators for other players.
There’s one simple mechanic, the Style point, which works as a way to bribe other players to accept facts and do favors. Style is this fantastic, amazing currency that I cannot explain well enough in brief. It’s used to get other people to do things for you, to create Rumors on another person (sticky notes on their backs that people in the party know about from whispers), for use in Duels, and so on.
What’s really awesome about this: the Rumor mechanic is about authoring scandalous content about another character that may or may not be true. Things like “Ruts with her servants” (which is considered disgusting in the culture) or “Dabbles in vile sorcery” (which is forbidden in the culture, even though every single character has technically done it at least once) are good rumors, as are plot-based ones like someone being in love with another character. You can also try to convince someone else to spread a godo rumor about you — last time I played, I had (paid) a friend to put “Not to be fucked with” on my back as a rumor.
And I love the dueling system. In Blood & Tears, duels are fun. Here’s how they work: once you’ve been given permission to have a duel by the host, then the duelist and a ST go out into the hall to script it. Everyone pools style together, and the ST puts a bunch more style in this pot. Then he asks the duelists: “So, which one of you loses?” while holding some of the style from the pot out to the one willing to say “I lose!”
That continues with”So, does one of you die?” It’s acceptable to say “no,” though last time I played a duel I said “Listen, I’m Not To Be Fucked With, right? You should totally fucking kill me. You’ll be SO BADASS.” :) Further questions and scripting are prompted, with style handed out as awesome moments are described. Then the duel’s practiced, and once the duelists feel confident, then they go back into the party and the party stops to watch the duel.
There’s much more to the Style economy and what you can make, but we’ll stop there.
There is another mechanic, called “Private scenes,” which addresses the issue of other LARPS where you have this awesome idea for a scene that everyone should see because it’ll help them hook into ongoing machinations, but everyone’s doing their own thing. You can ask the ST for a private scene, and at a point he’ll shout and get everyone’s attention. He’ll collect style from anyone in a position to see this scene in character, but otherwise it’s just player knowledge. And they you’ll play out your private scene.
Seriously, I love playing Blood & Tears. But all said, I do have to say this: much of the great stuff in the LARP is poorly displayed in the book. Fair warning. (And in LA, we have tweaked the rules a bit, to what we call Queensbury rules, but that’s mostly about the off-scene stuff that happens between one LARP and the next.)
Next time, I’ll talk about parlor LARPs.
In the last few years, I’ve started experimenting with live-action roleplaying. In my youth, I looked down on it — particularly on Vampire LARPers, because that’s all I knew about LARP. Today, I’ll talk about how this non-LARPer starter approaching LARPs.
(Holy crap, this got super long. I’m going to split this into multiple posts over the week.)
My first foray was a bit of a doozy. At Dreamation 2008, I played in my first jeepform game. In Scandinavia, LARP is huge, far bigger than tabletop. They’re massive events. So, a number of people same to the same idea: what if we challenge all of these assumptions in our hobby. The jeepform movement was born, which is pretty much to Nordic playing as the Forge is to North American gaming culture.
(Note: before you click on that link, if you’re the sort of person who needs trigger warnings, be warned. One of the games there is…yeah.)
Jeepform draws more on improv than any other tradition I’ve played. There are no resolution mechanics in these games, but that isn’t to say there aren’t mechanics and structure. I’ve seen some jeepform games with inherent pacing mechanics. Others with mechanics revolving physical space — the Upgrade! (which I’ll get to in a moment) has this. Structures like “the story will end with this scene, no matter what.” Roles that change the social dynamic, like one person playing the inner thoughts of other characters.
I played in a game of Night of Nights (the site lies; it’s old, there’s no English version forthcoming), a game about a 20 year old college student and virgin who meets by chance a 40 year old prostitute, and they have a romance for a night. I was playing with Jason Morningstar and Alexander Newman, so I was honestly nervous. In Night of Nights, two people play the lovers, and one person is the GM, playing any other character that has to come up, and whispering what our characters are really thinking into our ears.
Focusing on that bit, a technique called “bird in ear,” that’s really fascinated me. Alexander played the GM, and he played up the shame my character (the 20 year old virgin) felt at being a novice when it comes to wooing and sex. I would say something nervously, and Alexander would stage-whisper “Look at her. She’s beautiful. What hope do I have?” Alexander was playing my self-doubt, and in a way that allowed Jason (obviously playing the whore) to hear it as a player and work with that, just as I was able to work with that prompt.
It was an amazing moment with a lot of poignancy. I wish the English translation was available, because it’s a beautiful game.
The next game I played was The Upgrade!, which I’ve played and run multiple times. It’s great for introducing people to jeepform, because it takes a large group (7 to 10 players) and uses a number of jeepform concepts. And it’s wacky! It’s essentially the horrible reality show “Temptation Island” as a LARP. What’s really interesting about it is that it uses space in different, deliberate ways. The conceit is that this is the show’s finale episode, with most of it done as a clip show of events over the season. There’s a main stage area, where those clips are played out. There’s an audience area, where the contestants and host sit and play out the occasional moments that are live (like answering embarrassing questions), a “past” stage to the left of the main one, where we as the players get to see what happened in the past, and a “possible future” stage to the right, much like the past stage.
The past and possible future are sort of like advanced “bird in ear” techniques, and they showcase another element of jeepform where “character monogamy” is eschewed. (That’s the idea that you entirely own your character and just your character.) Other people can step up to a past or future stage while you’re playing something out, and play your character in the past or possible future to give that scene nuance.
Enough about jeepform. I love it, think there’s a lot in jeepform to explore for other games, and will happily run The Upgrade! if given enough people and space.
Next time, I’ll talk about Houses of the Blooded!
 This is because my GURPS friends did this, and I didn’t know better, so I parroted them. If I had known that they were full of shit, and that being a Vampire LARPer would have gotten me laid, my tale would be different today.
Since quite a few people have already heard about it from other channels, here’s the news: I am no longer a part of Evil Hat Productions.
This is the result of a long conversation between Fred Hicks & myself, and something we’ve both been thinking about for a while now. It’s the age-old story of a company’s success, and how people grow afterward. And while I am saddened at having to leave the projects I’ve been working on — Fate Core & Don’t Hack This Game — Fred and I decided that this would be the best time for my departure.
I have faith in the team coming in to replace me and augment Lenny on Fate Core, and I know Fred will do right by my Don’t Hack This Game writers. Doesn’t change that sense of guilt that comes from having to leave writers on a project — something I’m familiar with when working on the Leverage RPG core book. But Evil Hat has plenty of skilled developmental editors in the wings to pick up the slack.
My fingerprints will be on a few Evil Hat products still to come out:
- The recently funded Race to Adventure
- Fate Core (and by extension, Atomic Robo RPG)
- The Paranet Papers
- Don’t Hack This Game
And I wish the Evil Hat Productions family the best of luck on those and the many other things in the pipeline. Also, don’t take this as a statement against Fred Hicks — if you work with Fred, he’ll treat you right. He has with me over the years, no doubt.
The silver lining is that I have more time to explore working with other people. Earlier this month, Eddy Webb mentioned that I’m working on a White Wolf project:
I’ve talked with Ryan Macklin about Ascension stuff, so that seems to be moving forward.
(Note: no, Eddy’s not talking about M20.)
I’m going to go back to my roots some, like in 2007 when I was a kid who put out a little game as part of the Ashcan Front. I’m working on little projects here and there: the Emerging Threats Unit, Halfling Kingdoms, Mythender (final edits & RKE bonuses), various machinations with Josh Roby, some small LARPS, etc. And I’ve got those Master Plan episodes to put out! And I may even make some Fate stuff, just independently — after all, I’ve had a hand in shaping Fate over the last few years.
The future is wide open. Let’s rock this motherfucker.
P.S. This means a number of things will be incorrect going forward — my entry in the Gen Con program, some podcast interviews I’ve done, etc. Since I haven’t mastered turning back time, those will just have to stand as-is. :)
P.P.S. And when I do master turning back time, I’m so fucking playing that close to the vest. ;)
Hey, you guys know about Guide to the Village by the Sea, right? It’s a systemless source book with a modern take on gothic horror, set in a little town in Northwestern Washington state.
Here’s the interesting kicker: the book’s voice & point of view character is synesthetic, as is its author. The Kickstarter campaign for it as 10 days to go. Here’s the video (and below that, a bit on how I’m involved):
Aspects of the Village
In speaking with Lillian, I mentioned that it would be cool to add aspects from Fate into the book, like what we at Evil Hat did with the Dresden Files RPG, notably in the Baltimore Nevermore chapter (which you can download for free). Given how many games these days use aspects and similar mechanics, it seems like a cool thing to add in that fits well into the narrative nature of the book.
Short answer: Lillian said yes and is bringing me on board to make it happen! The project’s got less that 25% left to reach it’s goal, so I hope you’ll help make this book happen!
Here’s some (unedited & unformatted) sample, to show you how it’d work:
The tuberculosis sanitarium on the edge of the Village
Staring up into the empty and ruined eyes of its windows, I wonder if ants were Melanie’s way of describing the bursts of static in my mouth. Highly charged and violent, the electric snow almost buries the feeling that I’m drowning. I keep my eyes on the front of the building, looking over its withered, once proud face. It’s sunken with time into itself—I’m surprised there’s still a front entrance. Savin Hall had been a multi-story wonder in its heyday, tarted up in sunshine. A lick of artificial cheer.
They told me the last time anyone had seen Sara-Beth, she’d been headed for the Children’s Ward.
- Long Since Abandoned (by People)
- Old Pain and Malice in the Air
And that’s why I like aspects in games. They can provide subtext to a scene, situation, or character.
 Just off the top of my head: Houses of the Blooded (and the larp, Blood & Tears), ICONS, Chronica Feudalis…
Many of you are familiar with This Just In…From Gen Con, which is doing its crowdfunding campaign at the moment. For those who aren’t:
This Just In…From Gen Con! is a special podcast produced live at Gen Con Indy. Hosted in 2012 by Rich Rogers and Alex, Steph and Ed from the Yellow-Menace Podcast, they work hard to capture the excitement and mania that is Gen Con — both for listeners who can’t make it and for those who sync their MP3 players at the show!
But that’s just the beginning of the story. This Just In was an idea that Paul Tevis has back in 2008, and over IM, he asked me if I’d like to be the producer on it. His plan was to get corporate sponsorship, which he did by talking with the folks at DriveThruRPG. And the first year of This Just In…From Gen Con was born.
I worked my ass off that year. We did shows at 11am and 5pm, Gen Con Thursday through Sunday. (These days, we don’t do the 5pm show because of hall logistics, and that’s what a wrap-up show’s for anyway.)
Here was my daily life at Gen Con 2008:
10am: (When the Exhibit Hall opens) Look around for something to talk about in an hour. Possibly also wrangle a guest.
11am: Get to the conference room that was our makeshift studio. Hook up our equipment (in the first year, my Zoom H4; in later years, my Zoom H4N) by connecting one of the mixer board XLR outputs that normally went into one of the speakers in the room into my device instead. Explain the format to my guests, including the in unison “This Just In…From Gen Con!” bit and how they shouldn’t feel obligated to chime in. I showed the hand signals for things like “you’re too close to your mic” “you’re too far away from your mic” “you speak next” and “dear god please stop touching the table I can hear that in my headphones.” Then we’d prep the guests by making sure they had something to talk about, and asking if there was something for them to plug.
11:15: Typically by now, we’d start recording. Sometimes we’d have an audience as as many as six people! But, of course, the live audience wasn’t the point. We’d record for 15-20 minutes. (We used to shoot for 10-15, but didn’t work well having two guests and two hosts.)
11:45: By now, the recording’s in the can. Paul’s free to go off to do stuff, and my job was to go do the audio production. Unlike Master Plan and my other shows, I didn’t edit this one for content or flow. No time to. But processing it still too time, to take a live-ish recording and make it not suck. This is where SoundSoap was handy for any recorded hum, and Adobe Audition was great for doing hard limiting. (I really dislike Levelator. It makes crap audio. But it’s free, so I can see the appeal to other podcasters.) Then I stick the pre-recorded intros and outros on, mix down to an MP3, add the ID3 tags & artwork, and then…
12:05: Struggle to find a place to upload it. The press room’s Internet access was okay, sometimes. In later years, I would sometimes just pay for Internet in my hotel room, but we didn’t make enough off of TJI in those years to warrant throwing away $10.
12:30: If I was lucky, the show was up and announced by now. Time for lunch!
1pm: Socialize with people, maybe get a convention demo in, something that was actually me-time.
4pm: Everything I did at 10am, starting all over again. Sometimes I would have already seen something be now, and sometimes I was just spending a couple hours hanging out with friends I rarely see.
5pm: The second show of the day! See everything from 11am on.
6:30: If I was lucky, my TJI shifts for the day were over, and I was a free man. (Though, that didn’t mean much on Friday night, when I went and did the ENnies, so I could talk about it the next day.)
So…between 10am and 6:30pm, I got around three hours to myself. And that’s if everything went well. Sometimes I had to scramble to find a replacement guest. And the last year I did the show, I also worked the IPR booth at the same time, so I didn’t have any real free time that year (and that lead to a couple shows that were late, because Kevin had problems doing the audio production on my laptop.)
That’s why I believe that This Just In is worth funding. They’ve hit their goal, and are working on a stretch goal: at $2500, they’ll bring on my former arch-nemesis, Clyde Rhoer:
…we will be adding a new team member, and additional coverage of Gen Con 2012! Clyde Rhoer, host of the awesome Theory From the Closet podcast, and one of the best interviewers in the RPG podcasting scene will join our team at Gen Con 2012, and will record a series of four long-form, Theory From the Closet-style interviews at the con, one for each day of the show!
Speaking of Money
The first two years, we got $350 (if memory serves). Paul & I split that on the first year, and I kept it on the second as the only showrunner that year. The third year, I entertained the idea of doing crowdfunding, but then Sandstorm offered my $500 for the show (split with Kevin Weiser that year, as my co-host). Still, it never felt like it was really worth it, because Gen Con is so expensive and I was running around working during half the event rather than actually enjoying it, which is why I handed it to Rich Rogers and Daniel Perez last year.
And that’s when I had really decent equipment and software for the gig, and accepted the pre-Gen Con and post-Gen Con shows as unpaid work. So when I see the $1500 and the four people involved, I see Rich and company as being far smarter about it that I was in years past, especially when I was doing all the production on my own. (Which caused said burn-out.) After IndieGoGo’s cut, after any equipment or software expenses, they have enough to split amongst them to make the hell of making TJI happen worthwhile.
After all, going to Gen Con can easily cost you a grand…if you’re doing it on the cheap. So TJI isn’t a money-making enterprise — it never will be — but it’s a damned good thing to support.