Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Who Can Say No To Who?

In a friend's game recently he made a point while presenting a group of people that they had servants, not slaves. After the session we were discussing the game, and he asked if there was anything he could have done better in presenting the people the PCs met. We talked a bit about his goals, and it sounded like his hope was to present how these people operated quickly so we could get a sense of how they were similar to what we expected, but also different from other groups with a similar background (incredible amounts of wealth, fashion, the 'elite' of society as it were.)

For this I honed in on the servants. Part of this is my own character has a background of being a slave. They know what it is like. Also, from their background, they will notice if servant is just a slightly better compensated slave or actually deemed a full on person with rights, responsibilities, and treated as such. I mentioned this, that seeing more of how the servants were servants would be a very efficient way to show the character of the people we were working with.

Monday, June 29, 2020

"Making" A Game Session

I've been reading Adam Savage's "Every Tool's A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It." I took the book recommendation from a John Roger's tweet thread I've linked before about using notebooks. I figured I could use more non-fiction in my life, and I could definitely use more organization, and if the book helped John Rogers maybe it could help me. I'm not sure if it has yet or not, I'm still in the process of trying to create some good/better habits for myself. However, reading about Adam Savage's making process definitely got me thinking about GMing and creating sessions.

In my opinion, there is a lot similar between "making" something and running a game. The tools and results may be different, but at the end of the day you are making a creative work, and doing it on a deadline too. Which means the same order of operations can work for creating a session. Let's break down what that could mean.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Discussion: How Do You Keep Your Game Safe?

There have been a lot of allegations and witnessed fuckups when it comes to violating consent, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the table top rpg, comic, videogame, and writing communities that surround this fun hobby of ours. It's brought up a lot of the same topics we've gone over before. Believe women. Believe people when they come forward about issues like this. They're important.

It also brings up the question of how do you keep the players in your game safe? I don't mean the PCs, but the players. How do you make sure they feel welcome? How do you make sure they're comfortable? How do you make sure they feel safe so that they can enjoy the game and are not worried about being emotionally wounded or hit by some averse comment or the content of your game?

It's important. So how do you do it?

In the newer of my two D&D games, I used Monte Cook's Consent in Gaming form. In it every player fills out a list giving a green light (enthusiastic consent, or no problem with), yellow light (touchy, but good with forewarning/discussion), and/or red light (absolutely not, do NOT want) for a large list of common topics to come up in gaming. There is also space for more things to be added. I had every player fill out a form and submit it to me anonymously. I filled out a copy myself. Then I shared a 'master' copy with every line filled out with the harshest light it had received from anyone.

Yes, if one person marked anything as a red light, that thing is not allowed to happen in the game.

Also, I did not show the players my own form. I just included the results in the master form. Why? Because this way if anyone had a question about "why is X a red light? It's not that bad!" I could simply say "I marked it that way, as it's not something I'm interested in having in the game right now at all." Simple.

Beyond the Monte Cook form, I use a 'Session 0' for all my campaigns. In the Session 0 we talk about the themes we want in the game, but I also talk about things people do not want in the game. I generally bring this up bluntly, asking people if there are any topics or things they do not want in the game at all, or only with forewarning. I then go on to add that common things I add to these lists are on screen torture of PCs, on screen rape of NPCs, and any sexual assault/rape of PCs.

Finally, I do regular check ups and check ins with my players. I make sure they're having fun. I give opportunities to share if they have problems. And if anyone is acting off or quieter than normal, I make sure they're ok, and ok with the content of the game.

One thing to note here though is that the groups I'm running for have been playing together in some form or another for years. We all have a fairly good rapport. There is built up trust. Even still, I do all this because I value that trust and don't want to lose it. Trust, once broken, is very hard to mend.

How about you? Do you do anything special?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Travel: A Journey Or A Hassle

In your game is travel a journey or a hassle?

In a kinder, or more extended way, is the journey, the trip, the PCs are taking a part of the game where what they do along the way is a thing with effort or is it just something to get through in order to get back to the real game?

It's ok whichever way you answer that by the way. In my own games - for literal decades - I never thought of the trip between two points as anything more than just something that had to be done. If I was running a game like D&D, I'd roll for random encounters and other hazards on the way, but otherwise I'd be just as prone to hand wave the whole thing with a simple "it takes you 5 days of travel."

This amuses me considering how much of my own advice to myself has been that it is ok to slow down and really enjoy the moments that happen in the game. There's no rush to get to the next big plot item. The campaign is not a race. Really, unless you have to do something by a certain time - i.e. you're running a game at College and everyone leaves mid May giving you 3 sessions to wrap up this adventure - it's ok to slow down and indulge. In fact, your game could be better than it.

So why did traveling escape me?

Well, for one, it's part of who I am. I'm not the kind of person to go off exploring in real life. To the point I couldn't tell you what restaurants or shops are in the town center not 5 minutes up the road from me.  I flat out never really thought about it. It was just "we want to get to X location for Y reason, and to do that we have to travel Z miles." And put like that, why would you even consider that the Z miles could be as meaningful to the game?

And it turns out quite a lot.

The Lord of the Rings 5e books talk about how the 'Journey' the venturing out into the wilds is an adventure into itself. Complete with modified rules to make it something for the PCs to pay attention to, while also pointing out all the ways this can help your game. Further conversation with a friend, and some recent real life experience, fills the rest.

By focusing on the journey you can do a lot of good. A few examples being:

Give The Players A Chance To Express Their Character
Indulging in the journey gives players a chance to express their character when the action of the adventure isn't on full bore. What does being at camp look like for the group? Where do people sleep? Who cooks? What does the morning look like? Is anyone a late sleeper? A light sleeper?

If you are doing a more sci-fi or modern game with vehicles, who is prone to breaking off and exploring the local towns and municipalities or planets that you come across?

Does someone collect souvenirs? Are there neat sights to see along the way? Speaking of...

A Real Chance To World Build
Having big cities and stuff is cool and all, but if you want to sell your world you also need to sell the space between those destinations. The wilderness, plants, weather, natural wonders to see, people to interact with, these are all ways to build your world. If most of your game takes place in cities, the traveling gives you a chance to contrast all the established facts with how life is different out in the country, or on the road.

You can sell how dangerous the wilds are with how other people talk about and do their travel. In fact, this can be better than just having random encounters. A random goblin attack at night on the PCs camp is one thing. Seeing every traveler on the road going in groups complete with armed guards to keep them safe? That can do a lot more to sell the danger of what is going on.

'Side' Quests and Other Encounters
Journeys also give you a real chance to bring in side quests, personal items, and all sorts of other - combat and non-combat - encounters. It can let you challenge PCs in small, interesting ways to go along with the larger ways that the main plot and events do. It can let you show the change in NPCs, or highlight changes in PCs.

You can also have small moments, or even try to foreshadow things. A deer watching the PCs then scampering off is a nice descriptive detail. That same deer being found dead later on can be a warning. And if it died in flight from a perceived danger that sent it into the real danger, you can establish that theme before trying to spring it on the PCs themselves. Maybe they'll notice. Maybe they won't. Subconsciously most will probably pick up on it selling the feel even more.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The 4, 5, and 6 "Man" Bands of Gaming

Most table top groups tend to be about 4-6 players. There are some indie games that are aimed for 2-5 players, but in general most games I've seen are aimed for 4-6 people. This coincides with the general idea that a 6 player table (not counting the GM) is a "full" table, while a 7 player table is "oversized."

In those games an "optimized" group tends to have certain roles covered. This was a common practice for so long that a lot of experienced players will default to trying to "fill roles" around this when it comes to making characters - and in some cases will complain about their being gaps if people make their characters without knowing what everyone else is making.

Newer games, even mainstream games like D&D 5e, have tried to break this but it is very heavily baked into the lore as much as the mechanics. Even fantasy, sci-fi, anime, and comics will play into these roles when there is a team more than a solo or duo book. So what are they?

Friday, June 19, 2020

Discussion: Impostor Syndrome

Do you suffer from impostor syndrome when it comes to your GMing?

Are you aware what it is?

For those that don't know, Impostor Syndrome is when your brain tries to convince you that you're a fraud at whatever it is you are doing, and that it is only a matter of time before everyone figures out that you've been fooling them this entire time. It frequently happens for people regarding either their talents when it comes to creation (artists of all types talk about it a lot), and can also happen with regards to someone's job especially after they get a promotion.

In short, it is insecurity fucking with you.

The thing is, I've seen people who GM games have it too. Hell, I have had it. I have it semi-regularly. It makes sense. GMing is a creative endeavor. Your players are looking to you for a fun time. It is easy to convince yourself that you're a horrible GM, that you're a fraud, the game is only fun because of the players and that any moment they're going to realize that and then...who knows, cut you out? Stop playing? Have someone better take over?

The thing about Impostor Syndrome is it can also put a lot of undue pressure on you. You feel compelled to do more prep, to try harder, to reach for more than maybe you're currently able to handle with your sessions. You hold yourself to unreasonable standards. Comparing yourself to GMs like Matt Mercer when it comes to portraying NPCs even though you're not a professional voice actor with years of experience and education in acting and portraying characters. Or to other GMs who also have their own games, own players, own styles, and own games.

To be blunt, Impostor Syndrome sucks. However, it can be fought.

The first thing is to recognize it for what it is.
The second is to apply logic. People would not be part of your game if they weren't having fun. If you ask your players if they're having a good time, and they consistently say yes you can believe them. If people are looking forward to game, regularly attending, and showing up on time/staying for the whole session without 'other plans' regularly getting in the way? Those are all strong indicators they're enjoying the game.

You don't need to be a Matt Mercer, Matt Colville, Brandon Dixon, Chris Perkins, Shareef Jackson, or Satine Phoenix. You just need to be you. You have your strengths and weaknesses, just like they have theirs. So be the best you, and run your game.

You got this.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Gods & Culture

I had a long conversation with a friend the other day about worldbuilding, the cultures for his world, and the gods. During the conversation I was in the somewhat awkward position of being asked how I approached my own gods/world building and how it worked with the cultures of the world. I say awkward as while I've wrote this blog for 10 years now, I never think of myself as an authority or source someone would go to for information on the bigger tools of GMing and writing. I'm an enthusiast, not a master. Still, the conversation had some points that may be helpful on the larger scale. They helped me at the very least.

Gods Reflect Their Cultures, And Vice Versa
The first thing to remember when making gods and cultures for a fantasy universe is that gods and cultures reflect each other. A culture big on fighting and war will have a lot of warrior gods - look at the original Shinto gods of Japan where even the god of love has warrior  aspects to them, or the Irish and Norse gods for more western examples.

When world building this means you can approach two ways: you can make some gods, and then figure out what culture would come from a place with those gods active in it. OR, you can make a culture and then figure out what types of gods would stem from that culture, or be accepted and nourished by that culture.

Gods Answer Questions
Gods, Religion, and Science all stem from a place of the same desire for humanity. We want to know how to explain things we can't explain. Scientifically I can tell you that a river forms from erosion of water as it  carves through the earth and makes a path for itself through the land. An older river is straighter because water wants to go one way, and over time it will get that wish. A young river has curves as parts of the earth that are harder to carve through will make it easier to go around all the while being worn down by the river.

To a society without  science - or one with active gods - this is where the spirit world and gods take over. Someone made the river. Someone formed it. Someone made that crater. There are stories there. And maybe an individual river wasn't made by a god, but instead by a hero. This river came when the hero dug an irrigation ditch for some grand king, and that is why the land is so fertile and the river comes through in such a  great defensive posture for the city by it.

The Events of History Modify Culture
If it hasn't been clear to you just from shifts in global cultures from a few months of Covid19 pandemic, the events of history will modify cultures. This is how you get from the base culture - what the gods made, or what made the gods - to what you present in your world/game/work.

Wars will slam cultures together, and as they slam together bits of each other will break off and spread through the other. People near borders will see a blending and merging of their opposed cultures as their proximity to each other enables interaction and over time makes them more alike to each other than they are to the people of their kingdom that live 50 or more miles away.

The Details Of Stories Can be Contradictory Depending On Region And View
When it comes to gods and the stories we tell about them, there really is no one set way of doing it. Even modern Christianity has dozens if not hundreds of variants of the bible and the stories in them. And in a fantasy world, traveling 50 miles (or less!) can change the story of what happened with a god depending on how it impacted those people.

This happened in the real world as well. In a Greek Mythology course I took, the teacher pointed out that it was common for researchers to find similar but different stories of gods and heroes around certain exploits all the time. Neither was "right" or "wrong" but just how the story went there.

One of the examples that always stood out the most to me is the story of Actaeon and Artemis. Actaeon was a hunter and a devotee of Artemis. One day he came upon her and her handmaidens bathing. In one version of the story Actaeon immediately backs away and apologizes for his slight. In another version of the story, Actaeon moves in on Artemis and her hand maidens (all of whom are sworn to be virgins) and attempts to force himself on them. In both versions the response from Artemis is to turn Actaeon into a stag and have him ripped to pieces by his own hounds.

So which one of those versions is true? Did Actaeon try to force himself on a goddess and her maidens while they bathed? Or did he back away and apologize? Which version of the story you heard depended on where you heard it and where you grew up. And the same can be true for gods all over. Maybe there is a true event, but the story will still go around and in that you can have different aspects of your god.