Saturday, July 25, 2009

Single Serving Adventures

As I get older, I find myself relying on printed material more when running games. I suspect that’s because I’ve only got so many hours in a day, and I can’t devote as many of them to creating chronicles whole cloth the way I used to. That’s fine, because most games have more than enough information to play them for years without ever resorting to making up a thing. In particular, most games have pre-written stories (also called adventures, scenarios or modules) that GMs can run for their groups.

You can’t usually just pick one of those stories up and plug it right into your game, though. There’s definitely a certain amount of skill that goes with running such stories, and in this essay, we’re going to discuss the tips and tricks of doing so.

First Step: Know the Material

If you’re considering running a scenario for your group, the first thing you need to do is read it in its entirety. Read all of the characters and their statistics (if provided), look over the maps, read through the descriptions of the rooms or the events and make sure you understand what the story is about. If the scenario references books or rules you haven’t read in a while, go back and re-familiarize yourself with them.

The reasons for this scrutiny should be pretty clear. For one thing, if there are mistakes in the scenario, either in the rules portions (it’s not uncommon for writers of scenarios to be a little fuzzy on the system parts of the game, so make sure that the numbers make sense) or in the events of the story (plot holes happen, after all), you’ll want to know about them ahead of time so you can correct them.

More importantly, though, you need to figure out if this scenario would work for your group and your chronicle. Some scenarios are meant for beginning characters or, in some cases (such as the demos for Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken and Mage: The Awakening) for a specific group of characters. In games that work on a level system, scenarios are usually labeled as being appropriate for characters “of 4th to 6th level” or the like, but in games without such yardsticks, you often just have to read the scenario and go from there.

Sometimes the tone or content of the scenario is completely wrong for your purposes, too. The very first book I wrote for White Wolf was Giovanni Chronicles IV: Nuovo Malattia for Vampire: The Masquerade. It included some adult subject matter, asking the characters to procure prostitutes, commit murder and undertake all manner of unseemly actions (and that was before they became vampires). Even a group accustomed to the blood, violence and torment that Vampire can include might balk at some of the material in that book. Likewise, if your players like to throw down, as it were, and the scenario doesn’t include any winnable combat, you need to be aware of it.

Second Step: Customize, Customize, Customize

I’ve run a great number of pre-written scenarios in various RPGs over the years, but I don’t think I’ve run a single one of them without making a few changes. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking a character or two so that they fit better into what I’ve already established, other times I’ve excised whole portions of the scenario because I had my own ideas about where the story should go. After you’ve read and digested the scenario, be willing to pull it apart and put it back together in a form that works for you and your group.

One important point of customization is making the story your own (and by “your own” I mean the entire gaming group, not just the GM’s). That means that if the scenario includes a slimy informant that the characters need to shake down for information and one of the characters in your existing chronicle already has such a contact — wonderful! Use the existing contact in place of the character in the scenario. Some pre-written games actually abstain from detailing non-essential characters, simply mentioning a “leader” or “lawmaker” so that the Storyteller can customize freely.

Customization also has the advantage of preventing a player who has read the scenario from automatically knowing everything that is going on. I personally can’t imagine what benefit there is to reading a scenario before participating in it as a player, but some players become stuck on “winning” the game (which is, as you probably know, not possible in any conventional sense in an RPG).

That said, however, I don’t advocate changing details in a pre-written game solely to “make it different from the book.” If there’s no real reason to alter the material…don’t. Don’t be resistant to the players’ changes to the scenario (because, of course, no game survives contact with the players), but don’t feel the need to change things around pointlessly. I’ve met game-masters who feel lazy or cheap using pre-written scenarios as written. I even endured jibes from a player when I used printed material at all, rather than writing my own games (although she quieted when I pointed out that I’d developed much of the material originally anyway). But using printed material in an attempt to save time and effort is a perfectly acceptable reason for doing so, especially if that material is well-written and appropriate for you game. As the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As an expansion on that last point, be careful about pulling the rug out from the under the players, if they have expectations going in. What I mean by that is, if the players have created their own characters, they have a sense of what those characters can do and probably have plans. They might look forward to casting a particular spell or using a particular maneuver or power, or they might just be interested in some aspect of the game. If you turn around and alter things in the game so as to make that power useless or that aspect absent, you might wind up cheating your players.

By way of example, I ran a one-shot game of Necessary Evil, a setting for the Savage Worlds system (you can learn more about Necessary Evil here, and about the game I ran here). The book includes a whole chronicle, not just one adventure, and so I picked the one I liked the best to use as the one-shot. It involved breaking into a dead supervillain's lab, and the way the game was written, it would have involved the characters shrinking down to ant-size to get in to the miniaturized lab. Nothing wrong with that, very in-genre, and if I'd been running the whole chronicle, I'd have used it as written. But for a one-shot, I felt that dumping the players into that situation wouldn't fit their expectations of the game, and that it would detract from the overall feel I was going for. I might be wrong about that, but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry (and anyway, it wasn't a hard fix; the mutated fire-ants just became giant mutated fire ants!).

Third Step: Rehearse

Many scenarios include blocks of text with instructions to read them aloud to the players. Even those that don’t have these helpful sections still include descriptions of rooms, characters and situations that the GM can simply read out of the text. It’s beneficial to read such sections ahead of time, making sure you understand the material being presented and how to pronounce and define all of the terms used, and, of course, checking to see if you want to change any of the details. Reading directly from the page with no rehearsal (what’s called “cold reading” in theatrical terms) is difficult even with training in public speaking. It’s easy to stumble over words, slip into monotone and generally lose your players. The best course of action is to absorb the information that you need to convey and present it in your own words, using natural speech and pausing to see if your players want to ask or do anything during the description.

Expanding further on that last point, another part of the rehearsal (and even the customization) phase is making sure that “cutscenes” (sections during which you’re reading and the players are listening) make sense. If the characters are expected to sit through a long section of dialogue, what’s to stop them from interrupting, or leaving, for that matter? If the characters are slaves on a ship and the scenario assumes that they have been for some weeks, what stopped the sorcerer from magically lifting the keys? This all goes back to knowing the material, but taking the time read aloud pertinent sections of the text will bring to your attention details that you otherwise might have missed, and allow you to make sure that your players’ characters actually fit into the scenario as presented. It would be intuitive to think that all pre-written scenarios are playtested with a group of real gamers, and such kinks worked out (or at least addressed) before the game is sent to press…but that’s not what really happens. Some scenarios are playtested, but other times deadlines intrude, and some game writers don’t actually play RPGs (which still wierds me out). As such, don’t take for granted that the scenario you’re reading will naturally work itself out. Take the time to read it and look for plot holes.

Likewise, take time to consider how your players might approach the problems in the scenario and decide whether you need to change anything based upon that assessment. For instance, if your players have a habit of jumping at plot hooks without bothering to do any investigation, a game rife with red herrings is probably going to be laborious because they’ll pursue any apparent lead. A group that shoots first and asks questions later probably won’t do well in a scenario in which the opponents are all high-powered and bloodthirsty. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the scenario, it just means you have to do some tweaking. In the first instance, trim the red herrings down and make sure that any lead the players can follow serves a purpose in the greater scheme of the plot, or at least has some interest to the characters and might merit revisiting later. In the second, you might consider having the characters hear rumors of how other people have been slaughtered to a man by the fearsome Death-Bears (or whatever), or better yet, have them witness themselves being thusly slaughtered in a portent or vision of the future.

Running the Game

When you actually sit down to begin the scenario, consider how you’ll bring the characters into it. Some scenarios, like the aforementioned “slave ship” situation, have a prearranged beginning point…which might not work for your chronicle. If you’re beginning a chronicle with a pre-written scenario, such an opening can actually be helpful (because pulling a group together is difficult, as discussed in this essay). But if you’re working the scenario in your ongoing chronicle, you’ll have to do some spackling to make sure it fits. A good method for building up to the scenario is to work NPCs from the scenario into your chronicle before the main action start. For instance, if the scenario requires the characters to converse with a morally shady sorcerer, seed some rumors about this person in an unrelated story or have the characters meet him on neutral turf. That way they have some history together, even if it’s just a brief exchange, and you’ve got some practice portraying him.

This is true of the end of the scenario, too. Some scenarios include an “Aftermath” section that discusses what future ramifications the game might have on the world at large, but not all do, and none of them are written with your chronicle specifically in mind. It’s easy for scenarios to feel like sitcoms — at the end, everything is back to normal. That probably isn’t the feel that you want, though, unless your chronicle is meant to have a TV-episode vibe to it. Consider how the events of the scenario are going to change your chronicle, and whether or not you want those changes.

Something to consider is how linear the scenario is. That is, how many different methods can the characters use to get from one plot point to the next? If they need to get through a magic portal to continue with the game, does that portal have more than one key? Can a magic-using character cast a spell to open it? If the pathway through the scenario is too rigidly defined, you’ll have to exert a great deal of control over the characters and their actions in order to keep the game on track, and that feels constrictive and frustrating to the players. The option, though, is to allow things to veer wildly off course, moving away from the plot of the scenario and letting the story evolve on its own.

If you’ve read my other essays, you can probably guess how I feel about that latter course of action. If the players are having fun, if their actions are guiding the plot and they are interested in what their characters are doing, go with it. If you can steer the action back to the scenario’s plot later, fine, but if not, remember the goal (to have fun and tell a compelling story).

Player Issues

I mentioned before that some players don’t like pre-written scenarios or feel that the GM is being lazy by using them. I disagree; scenarios are tools for the GM, and so we’re perfectly justified in using them. The key is to make them work within the chronicle, rather than letting the chronicles themes, tones and history take a backseat to what a book says. What specifically can the GM do to make the players feel as though the story is still about their characters, even when it was written by a total stranger?

• Know the characters. Good advice for GMs in general, but especially appropriate here. If a character is arachnophobic, maybe that encounter with giant spiders isn’t such a great idea (then again, maybe it’s ideal — depends what game effect the phobia has in your chosen system). If a character is married or has a strong love interest, supernatural seduction takes on a quite different tone than for a swinging single.

• Don’t bury your nose in the book. Know the material, know the twists and turns of the plot, know where the stats are and know what comes next. If the players see you reading right out of the book, their eyes will glaze over and they’ll lose interest. I said before that using pre-scenarios is not laziness, but using them in lieu of preparation is. That said, if you're running a system for the first time, of course you're going to be checking rules a little more, and everyone should know that up front.

• Decide on alternate endings. If the scenario is written with the assumption that the good guys (or at least the players’ characters) will prevail, is it even feasible that they might not? If the players make some really bad decisions or suffer a run of bad dice-luck, can you help them salvage victory without relying on NPCs or GM fiat? (This is one reason I’m leery of running stories with world-shattering consequences; if the players screw up in a story in which only their lives or the lives of those close to them are at stake, the world doesn’t change drastically and the outcome matters more to them, to boot.) Figure out ahead of time how things might turn out, and be ready to veer off the beaten path if an outcome not in the book would be more true to your players’ characters.

• Work with the bookworms. Suppose a player has already read the scenario. You could exclude that player (bad idea), you could rewrite the game so that he doesn’t know the details anymore (OK, but unnecessary and a lot of work for you), or you could enlist his help. He might know what’s going on behind the scenes, and he might know which wire to cut (so to speak), but he doesn’t know how the other players will react and he doesn’t know what the dice will do, so there are always some unknown elements. Plus, this puts a player with a good sense of being Conscious in the position to nudge the plot along if it gets bogged down or starts to wander.

• Take notes. You know what might happen, because it’s there in the book. Jot down what does happen. Note how the characters react to NPCs. Heck, note differences in how they’re portrayed in the book and how you played them. Write down what your players did and how it changed the world (on whatever scale). This is good policy for Storytelling in general, but especially with pre-written scenarios, since reading the book as a reminder can be misleading.

In closing, pre-written scenarios can be an overworked GM’s best friend. Even if you can’t just crack the book and run a game, having a plot and supporting cast lightens the load considerably. Just know that it doesn’t take all the work off your shoulders, and you (and the players) are ultimately still responsible for making your own fun.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 4)

We all have goals, and so should well thought-out characters. A character’s goal may range from revenge to domination to leading a normal life, but players don’t always define those goals well enough to pursue them.

A player with Initiative, however, does. These are the players that start trouble among NPCs, that organize raiding parties on the villains: in short, players that are pro-active. Quite a lot of players react; they wait for a situation to present itself or an adversary to act against them. Players with Initiative (the adjectival form would be Initial, I suppose, but that’s a bit much!) don’t wait. They create the situations, in so doing, do much of the Storyteller’s work for them.

As such, it’s a matter of opinion as whether or not Initiative constitutes one of the traits of the Beautiful Player. Some Storytellers like to keep a firm grasp over the plotline of the story and it annoys them when the player come up with their own machinations that matter more than the presented story. I’d like to remind such Storytellers that the point is to have a good time, and if the players are having fun and agreeing on a course of action, you are doing your job by encouraging it. So what if your ingenious and sinister plotline gets thrown by the wayside? Save it, spruce it up and serve it later. Reward the players’ Initiative.

Pro-active players are often the ones that have been gaming a while. They create characters who have agendas and follow those agendas, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. For some Storytellers, who run character-driven games and keep their plotlines loose, this can be a godsend. For others who run a tighter ship and have intricate stories that require the characters to stay focused on what’s presented them, it can be a nightmare.

A player with an agenda will analyze everything the group comes across in terms of that agenda (not unlike real people with agendas). Keep this in mind - you are fully justified, as the Storyteller, in exploiting a character’s drive to achieve his/her agenda. A driven character (and said character’s player) may let little inconsistencies slip by her if she’s focused too much on the proverbial brass ring. That kind of oversight can be the source of some great role-playing later when said oversight causes the Big Plan to fail - or causes all kinds of other problems but aids the Big Plan. At what cost success?

Initiative can apply to situations as well as entire stories, of course. A player who acts as leader in a group (pack alpha in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, for example) is probably someone who inspires the others. She must be perceptive enough to recognize each other characters for their talents and capabilities and decisive enough to utilize those talents. A player with Initiative is often one of those rare individuals who can give out orders and make them sound like suggestions (because while characters may understand the need for a chain of command, players rarely enjoy being ordered around). A Clever player may decide on the strategy before the assault, but it’s the player with Initiative who assumes command when the dust starts flying.

The differences between Cleverness and Initiative are subtle but distinct. A Clever player enjoys problem solving, but a pro-active player cares more for the results than the process. The Machiavellian world of Vampire: The Requiem and the survival-horror milieu of All Flesh Must Be Eaten reward Initiative - those with the courage to act are noticed and rewarded. Those who flinch fade away (or are devoured, in the latter case).

One of the big advantages to having Initiative-laden players around is that they will pick up on your hints and act on them. With such a player in your group, you won’t have to do much prodding to get someone to suggest investigations; the player’s Initiative will provide the motivation. Likewise, this is usually the player to whom you’ll have an NPC make a suggestion or confess a secret to - the player who will take the bait and look deeper. Oftentimes, the player does this out of a desire to find out the plot of the game, and is therefore helping said plot along by investigation (which overlaps a bit with Consciousness, of course).

A pro-active player doesn’t always concern herself with foresight, however. Throw a clue to such a player and she’ll pursue it, sometimes putting her character at risk. Such players’ characters are great stalking horses because they’re easy to lure, but don’t rely on that. If the character picks up on a clue in a way you hadn’t anticipated (an NPC is seen as dangerous rather than intriguing, for example), she may act in ways that derail your plot. Again, about the only thing you can do is be ready.

When a player makes it obvious that she will investigate any clue the Storyteller provides, the temptation arises to exploit that tendency mercilessly and lead the character into all kinds of bad situations. Resist the temptation…to do it too much. Using Initiative as a plot hook works once or twice, but after the fifth time that peeking around a corner after a shadow has resulted in sudden ambush, the character will stop peeking (and her character will stop picking up your cues). Then, you’ve lost a pro-active player, and that definitely is a loss.

Do you take the Initiative?

Are you the official or unofficial leader of your group?

Does your character description include words like “curious” and “inquisitive”?

Do you take notes?

Does your character often try to stir up trouble for the ruling classes?

Have you ever uttered a phrase like “Viva la RevaluciĆ³n!” in character?

Has the Storyteller ever given you OOC information because she knew you’d do the right thing with it?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’re probably quite pro-active.

As you can probably guess, any given gamer is capable of being a Beautiful Player, given time, guidance, and the right circumstances. The “example” players above fit any number of players I’ve had the privilege of knowing over the years, and of course a player’s comparative “stats” can vary greatly from game to game. Also, some stats are more important in some games that in others (you can be as Clever as you like in Paranoia, but you aren’t getting any breaks!).

The overriding theme here, as you may have noticed, is for players to be aware of the game and the group around them. The best moments in gaming, as any “vet” will tell you, are when the group functions well together, and the players leave feeling they all accomplished something. It’s at moments like that when you have not a group of Beautiful Players, but a Beautiful Group of Players.

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 3)

Appearance, or What? I’m Only Three Hours Early!

I’ve long been plagued by non-punctual gamers. I had given it up as a regrettable, if necessary corollary to gaming: people just can get to the game on time. It always starts an hour later than the “official” start time.

Then, I moved to Cleveland, and started a new gaming group. The first few times we met, I tried to make it clear that because we were playing on a Tuesday (school night for some of the players) and because a couple of players had to leave at certain times (work, curfew, etc.) I wanted people there by six. That didn’t seem to help much; I had a couple of problem players who showed up a half hour late consistently. By the third week, I was annoyed, so I took them aside and explained that I was serious about running this game and that if they were serious about playing in it, they would show up on time or at least call if they couldn’t.

They showed up early from then on. I love it when people pay attention.

Appearance has nothing to do with how a gamer looks (mostly, it doesn’t, but we’ll get to that). It has to do with putting in an appearance. An Apparent player shows up on time, with all the necessary accouterments: his/her notebook, a pencil (they disappear real quick around my place), and dice in hand, ready to play. It all goes back to the gaming group being a commitment, and respecting that.

Are there acceptable reasons to be late or to miss a game? Of course, and even the most Apparent player will run afoul of these things sometimes. However, whereas a non-Apparent player won’t call, or waits until the last possible minute to do so, an Apparent player calls as soon as a crisis emerges, so that the Storyteller can compensate. An Apparent player realizes that the Storyteller should never have to play a player’s character because the player didn’t show and the character is too important to sideline. I commonly cancel games or run one-shots instead of the planned game because of one last-minute no-show, just because the missing character was that important to the plot. I have also given characters fates far worse than they deserved because their players weren’t there to save them. (Vengeful, yes, but it’s therapeutic, and even death’s reversible in some games.)

So, showing up, as Minnie Driver says in Grosse Point Blank, is a good start. But there’s more to the Apparent player than simple physical presence. The Apparent player considers the feelings and preferences of the group and tries to work within them.

For example: I hate cigarettes. Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m a total psycho about smokers. I have bad habits, too, and I do unhealthy things to my body, but the difference is that what I do won’t give anybody else health problems. You may smoke, but if even one gamer in your group doesn’t, you should respect her wishes. It is not disrespectful or inconsiderate for a non-smoker to ask a smoker to go elsewhere to indulge; it is inconsiderate for the smoker to do so.

That in mind, the Apparent player does not show up smoking and expect to be let in, if the rules of the house prohibit indoor smoking. Players who smoke should also wait until their characters are not immediately involved in the action or until a break in the game to trot outside to smoke. And, once outside, they should pick up their leavings and throw them away, not leave butts all over the place. Eww.

The Apparent player also knows how to abide by house rules. By “house rules” I don’t mean rules of the game (though that’s a consideration, too) but literal rules of the house. If the Storyteller doesn’t want the player drinking alcohol during the game, the players need to abide by that. If there are players in the group who are underage, this shouldn’t even be an issue. This principle also applies to other mind-altering substances; the Apparent player not only shows up on time for games, but shows up sober, or at least able to function. I knew a fellow who routinely showed up to our games high; I didn't notice until he mentioned it. It's great if you can do that. I can't, I'm a total lightweight, so I don't alter my brain chemistry with anything but coffee during games.

Apparent players must also be aware of their general appearance. I’m not referring to physical beauty or attractiveness, of course. By appearance I mean silly things like hygiene. One of the unpleasant stereotypes about gamers is that they are plump men who don’t bathe and wear the same clothes day in and day out. The Apparent player breaks that stereotype over his knee. Show up for games clean, and using the proper tools of personal cleanliness (toothbrush, deodorant and so forth. And before the female gamers reading this get too smug, I’ll gently mention that the only instance in which I actually had to speak to a player about this involved a female player. I won’t get into detail, but you can probably figure it out).

On the subject of physical appearance, one last note should be made. A lot of younger gamers live with their families, and that might mean that gaming night is held in mom’s basement under her good graces. I was fortunate in that I have parents who didn’t regard gaming as a demonic act and were kind enough to buy us pizza or cook for us quite a lot. However, the Apparent player understands that sometimes parents get freaked out easily and that means that weirdness sometimes needs to get curbed. That can mean not dressing like a total gothed-out freak, going easy on the makeup, turning a piercing so it isn’t visible, and choosing one’s T-shirt with care. It can also mean being careful with language, both in terms of profanity and subject matter. Rant all you want about how folks can be closed-minded and how they don’t understand about gaming but in the end, respect the people to whom the house belongs and try not to offend them. (This is especially true if they happen to be your parents!)

Sometimes, players get a little too zealous. This drives them to show up early (anything more than about 20 to 30 minutes before the established time should merit a phone call), or bring guests along to play or watch.

Some Storytellers might have issues with uninvited guests showing up. I don’t mind so much as long as they abide by my rule for “gaming voyeurs” - which is, simply put, “Stay out of the way and shut up.” If you want to bring a friend along to the game to watch, ask them to bring a book or some homework, in case they get bored. Make sure they understand that you won’t be able to explain everything to them right then, as you’ll be involved in the game. You should probably make sure that the Storyteller doesn’t have a problem with an audience, if for no other reason than it might require an extra chair.

If, however, you want to bring a friend and actually have them play in the game, you must clear it with the Storyteller first. Some games are loose enough to allow a character to float in and out in a single session without wrecking the game’s rhythm too much. Much of the time, however, it’s difficult to suddenly introduce a new character without either leaving the new character largely out of the action or forcing him into it. Neither of these options are good starts to gaming.

If you’ve got a friend who’s interested in gaming but doesn’t wish to or is unable to join an existing group, talk to the Storyteller about running a one-shot or a spin off of your current chronicle. Do not bring someone along and say “We made a character this afternoon. My friend can play, right?” I’ve been put on the spot like this and I’ve turned down such requests. Remember, gaming is communistic, and the Storyteller has to make the decision that works best for the group as a whole. If you make those decisions easier for the Storyteller by giving him/her warning about guests, you’re making a good Appearance.

By the same token, stay off the phone during games. If you’re having family or relationship troubles, don’t try to work them out over the phone during a gaming session. If it’s that serious, apologize to the Storyteller and the group and leave. But don’t put the entire game on hold while the group waits for you to sort things out with your girlfriend. That’s inconsiderate (of both you and her), and it puts the Storyteller in the uncomfortable position of having to either listen to the arguments or wait for them to end.

How’s your Appearance?

Do you show up twenty minutes early for all games and pass the time chatting with the Storyteller about the ongoing chronicle?

Have you ever broken a date because it conflicted with a game?

Have you ever voluntarily missed a concert, play, or other one-time-only event to make a game?

Do you take notes?

If other players are short on pizza money, do you cover because “it’ll all equal out sooner or later”?

Have most of your friends “guest-starred” in the game you’re playing in?

If you answered affirmatively to any or all of these questions, it’s apparent that you’re Apparent.

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 2)

Consciousness, or Sleeping Through the Apocalypse

Gamers love their hobby. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. It takes a certain amount of trust (read: masochism) to lovingly craft a character, place their stats with care, design a background, and then hand it over to the maniacal genius that is the GM. Enthusiasm is important. Once you’re at the game, you’re there to game, not to sleep. But there’s a lot more to Consciousness than remaining awake.

A Conscious player remains so during the entire game. She doesn’t nod off on the couch or wander into other rooms to play video games when her character’s involved in a scene. (If the Storyteller is cross-cutting between two groups of characters, of course, this is probably acceptable, but you still might want to ask.) Most especially, a conscious player does not begin chatting OOC with other players during important scenes (at least, not in the same room). This kind of behavior is rude, and belittles the time and energy the Storyteller puts into the game.

Conscious players often take notes, whether or not they are currently involved in the action. I’m of two minds about this. The strict GM in me says, “Nope, if you’re not there, you won’t remember it, so don’t be writing it down.” The Storyteller in me says, “It’s a game, Matthew. Besides, if s/he doesn’t write it down, who will? You?” I usually let it slide except in extreme cases. Besides, if players get in the habit of taking notes all the time, odds are they’ll write stuff down that they think is important. Then, I can look through their notes later (backs of character sheets are good places to take notes, and I always hold onto character sheets) and find out what they thought was important, and adjust the plotline according, if necessary.

Another hallmark of the Conscious player is staying in character, especially during interaction with other characters. Some players route all interaction through the Storyteller, even when the person to whom their characters are speaking is sitting next to them. I prefer dialogue, complete with eye contact and everything, because it’s great role-playing and it’s fun to watch. Conscious players do not drop out of character every other sentence, to quote movies or make silly jokes. To a degree, that sort of thing’s okay. After all, it’s a game, it’s a social situation, you’re here to have fun with friends, right? So what’s the big deal with making a few jokes?

The big deal is when it gets distracting and annoying. A gaming session is not a party; it’s a gaming session. If you’d rather watch a movie, invite the group to your place to do that sometime. But don’t start quoting during an intense scene and don’t slip out of character to make dumb jokes when the dialog train is starting to chug (and by the way, I've seen way, way too many GMs burst in on that dialog train with a setting detail or a correction - don't. Consciousness applies to the GM, too).

An example of what a Conscious player wouldn’t do: I was running Chill a few (well, a lot) of years ago. I ran a game where the group ended up locked in a factory with a huge, spider-like beast called a chimneyrue that lives on smoke. (You can find this creature, and 66 other nasties that work incredibly well for all sorts of horror games, in GURPS Creatures of the Night by Scott Paul Maykrantz.) The thing was stalking them and they didn’t know what could hurt it (they all carried firearms, but were quite used to them not having any effect whatsoever. That’s Chill for you). The factory foreman, standing close to a vent, started babbling about “the ‘rue! The chimneyrue!” He told them to kill it, they asked how. He screamed (I didn’t really screamed, just tensed my voice. Learn to do that; screams in close quarters are bad form), “Kill it with your glack-”. He didn’t finish the sentence because the chimneyrue had crept up through the vent and put one of its claws through his stomach. He meant to say “guns”, of course.

One of the players, however, picked up the cue and finished “glack” with “enspiel!” (Get it? Glockenspiel?) Everybody cracked up. I could have killed him. Until then, everybody was tense, a little shook up, picturing the smoky, darkened factory, the foreman’s sweaty face and darting eyes as he raved…and with that one little joke, it all fell apart. I was pissed. The fact that the joke was funny as hell isn’t the point. A large part of being a Conscious player is being conscientious, and that means not mucking with the Storyteller’s moments.

Staying in character in the face of adversity, including the opportunity to make your fellow players laugh, is a hard task. I appreciate that (and it’s not like I’ve never broken character to lighten things up, either). However, try to have some sense of tact.

On that subject, a Conscious player knows what subjects to avoid. In my essay entitled "When Things Go Horribly Wrong," (which I haven't ported over yet, but it's here for now) I mentioned a number of topics that are sensitive spots for many people (specifically, rape, molestation, drugs, pregnancy, and family member death). These things can and do happen in real life and can happen in a game as well. Understand, however, that you should no more use these topics for their reactionary value that you should slap a player in the face to get a reaction. This goes for players as well - if you know that a fellow players has issues with a topic, avoid them. If you don’t know and someone brings it to your attention, respect that. If you have issues with a given topic, tell the Storyteller as soon as it becomes a problem. Communication is key: be Conscious of that fact.

Another common practice of the Conscious player is helping the Storyteller out. Some players feel that they are going the extra mile by taking actions which result in problems for their characters (or the entire group) and saying, with a pained expression, “But it’s what my character would do.” To that I usually respond, “Nah. It’s what your character might do.”

Think back to the last choice you had to make, important or not. Was there only one decision you could have made, or could have chosen to do several different things for different reasons? People are unpredictable, and you won’t catch any flak from the Storyteller for finding a way to include yourself in the proceedings, even if doesn’t seem strictly in line with your character’s concept at first blush.

Yet another example: I played in a game of Hunter: The Reckoning that probably should have been more structured. The Storyteller really hadn’t considered how he was going to get all of the characters into the action, just assuming that we’d fall into place somehow. That’s a dangerous assumption. One of the characters remained alone at her apartment for most of the game, out of the action, because her player didn’t feel it was “in character” for her to follow the messages she was getting and drive to where the action was. In this instance, while the Storyteller certainly could have planned things a bit better (especially considering he had seven players who weren’t connected in any way, which is a bit much), the player should have been more Conscious. (She did, eventually, decide that the messages and hints drove her to distraction enough that she had to get in her car and drive “wherever”, just to clear her head. That’s a great way to get characters involved, by the way).

Being a Conscious player doesn’t mean you make choices that are totally opposed to your character’s concept simply to further the plot. It means that you don’t go out of your way to make trouble simply because it’s “in character”. It’s a fine line, and a certain amount of self-limitation in the name of concept is a good thing, but at the same time, if the game is obviously straining because people are drifting apart, you might consider taking another course of action that your normally wouldn’t, if only to give the Storyteller a break. (Storytellers, again, reward this behavior.)

The last trait of a Conscious player is the most obvious. They pay attention. That means no sleeping, no chatting, no reading or drifting off to La-La Land while their character is ostensibly present during a scene. No damn laptops at the table, either, or at least keep them closed unless you're using them right at that moment. If you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, take your medication. If you’re easily distracted by books, write on a clipboard and keep the books out of arm’s reach. Take notes - it’ll give you something to do with your hands, but keep you in the moment (beware of doodling, though). If you find yourself growing tired, sit up straight, drink a can of pop (soda, to all you non-Ohioans), ask the Storyteller for a stretch-break, whatever. If you find you really can’t remain awake or Conscious anymore, ask the Storyteller to sideline your character (or play him/her as an NPC, which is something I refuse to do) and go home. The other players will find your absence preferable to your unConscious presence.

Are you a Conscious Player?

• Do you write down everyone’s characters names and descriptions, so that you’ll remember when you speak to them in character?
• Do you take notes?
• Have you ever cried in character?
• At 4 AM, when the Storyteller is yawning and getting ready to call it quits, do you encourage “making this an all-nighter so we can get to the bottom of this”?
• Have you ever written down a thought or joke that was funny as hell, but would have completely ruined the moment?
• Have you ever suggested making a spouse, sibling, or good friend character to one of the other player’s characters?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’re probably Conscious.

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 1)

(I originally posted this essay on my website back in 2000 sometime. I like it, though; I think it's one of my better ones, and so I'm starting my transfer-of-essays with this one. It's long, though, so it's in two parts. I've done a little bit of editing, but the content is the same.)

Much of my time and energy goes into being a Storyteller, but not a player. As I’ve mentioned in other essays, it’s task that’s stuck with me for years, and a hat (black, natch) that I wear well. When it comes to role-playing, I prefer, hands down, to be in the proverbial driver’s seat.

But then, it’s nice to get to play, too. Focusing on one character is great, rather than trying to wrangle a bunch of supporting cast. It’s nice to try to decide where to spend experience points, to try to figure out a Storyteller’s next move (dangerous on the best of days).

All of which got me thinking about what makes a good player. The knee-jerk response is “creativity”, but frankly, that doesn’t say a whole lot. After all, a painter can be creative and not be able to role-play his way out of a paper bag. So, to define a “good” player, we need to be a bit more specific. I’ve divided the traits of a perfect gamer into four categories. We could call them Attributes, or Characteristics, or Basic Abilities...

Ahem. The four traits (Traits works, too!) are Cleverness, Consciousness, Appearance (it’s not what you think) and Initiative.

Cleverness, or Oof! No Illusory Walls Here!

We can’t all be geniuses. We all try to come up with witty one-liners, great dialogue, and combat tactics so incredibly simple-yet-effective that William Wallace would smack his forehead and said “Ach!” But it ain’t always so. Some players, however, have minds like steel traps. They seize upon whatever crisis or problem you present, looking for a way to solve it.

A Clever player knows the spirit of the rules, as well as the letter. If a tactic or twist on a rule is theoretically possible but either unlikely, totally out of character, or completely outside of the game’s tone, a clever player will ignore it and think of something else. However, a clever player knows the rules. In fact, it’s the clever ones who say to you, “Hey, I had an idea for a new spell/Gift/Discipline/skill/whatever that my character could learn or create. How do this system look for it?” A marginally clever player will drop the idea, but not bother with the system (which is fine; it gives you free reign to tweak without stepping on anybody’s creative-toes). A very clever player will give you the system and say, “And I know how to work it into the plotline that we’ve got going!”

Clever players are observant, too. They ask questions. Lots of them. They ask for names for any NPC they meet, as well as descriptions. It can get annoying sometimes. Never, ever let it get to you. The clever player asks for informational purposes, not to tax your Storytelling ability. Answer their questions, and be patient.

Tactics are the clever player’s bread and butter. Some clever players enjoy chess or go or other strategy-based games, and enjoy applying that kind of logic to the problems presented in role-playing games. That’s fine. Throw them subtle clues, literary allusions, deviant behaviors in NPCs, and other puzzles. They’ll miss some of them, but that’s why you give them more than one clue. Watch which clue a player picks up on - it’ll give you some ideas as to how the player’s mind works.

Dangers of the Clever Player

Well, the first one should be obvious. Clever folks can sometimes skip to step C without going through A and B. And that can be annoying as hell, if the Storyteller hasn’t thought through to C yet. The only thing the Storyteller can do is try to get a feel for how his/her players think, and try to step one step ahead of them. (Hint: If you’re making it up as you go along, they can’t outfox you. You can, however, outfox yourself, which is fun.) Don’t - repeat, don’t - get annoyed and penalize players who think of ways out of or around your insidious little traps that you hadn’t considered. Reward that behavior. That’s good; it tests your abilities and makes them feel like a million bucks.

Clever players can be excitable, and sometimes they blurt out their assumptions or conclusions even when their characters aren’t present. An example: I ran a Vampire: The Masquerade game wherein one of the characters (Jack), weakened from hunger and stressed beyond belief, knocked on the apartment door of one of the other characters (Nova). Nova’s servant (a ghoul, which means still mostly human) opened the door and Jack immediately flew into a hunger frenzy, pounced on the ghoul, and started drinking. Nova pulled him off, but not before he’d drained most of the blood from the ghoul’s body. Nova’s player (and Nova herself) wasn’t really cognizant of what was involved in creating another vampire, she only knew that her friend was dying, so fed him some blood to try and revive him (this, by the way, is how you create another vampire: drain someone of blood, then feed them some of yours).

Meanwhile, on the other end of the couch, two Clever Players were whispering “Aw, shit, she’s going to end up turning him into a vampire.” I docked them both a point of Willpower. I let them off that light because nobody heard them. If Nova had known that was going to happen, she might have acted differently - or not. But she didn’t, and neither did Nova’s player, and I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Note, by the way, that this isn't about keeping secrets from your players. But dammit, you only get one chance to learn that Luke is Darth Vader's son (too soon?). After that, you might appreciate the moment when you see it, but you can't really get surprised by it, and that "gasp!" moment is fun. Don't take it away from other players.

If you get a reference or a clue that no one else does - and your character has no way of saying anything - don’t give it away OOC. Sit there and squirm. Pass a note to the Storyteller if you must. I’ve actually had people leave the room because it was too painful to watch other players struggling with a riddle they’d figured out ten minutes ago. Do whatever you need to do, but don’t give away information your character doesn’t have.

Another problem that clever players tend to have is remembering that the game is about role-playing, not problem-solving. A clever player’s character may be dumb as a box of rocks, but that player still retains her intellect and she forgets to curb it. I recommend not playing characters that you have to dumb down - it’s hard to role-play, and I don’t find it to be a lot of fun. If you’re capable of playing a less-than-bright character, however, and you’d be entertained by that sort of thing, go on ahead. Just don’t be surprised if the Storyteller asks for Intelligence rolls to see if your character can come to the same conclusions you can. (The corollary to this, of course, is not to player characters that are too much smarter than you, but that’s hard to gauge.)

Finally, clever players don’t always ask what they want to know. They’ve got everything pictured in their minds, so when a player asks, “How wide is the alley?” what he might really want to know is, “Do I have enough space to charge the thug and knock him over, or should I just walk up and slug him?” Often, questions aren’t nitpicking, they’re part of a logical chain of thoughts that the Storyteller isn’t privy to. So, if you aren’t really sure how wide a city alley is (24 paces in Cleveland. I checked), ask why the player wants to know.

Are You a Clever Player?

• Does your Storyteller pause between details during descriptions to see if you’ve got anything to ask?
• Do you take notes?
• Within ten seconds of meeting an NPC, do you have her class/clan/tribe/tradition/race/whatever pegged?
• When your Storyteller drops a subtle clue and your character isn’t there to hear it, do you have to bury your face in a pillow and scream?
• Does your Storyteller often glare at you and hold up a gag or roll of duct tape?
• Does your group look to you for rules clarifications more often than the Storyteller?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, chances are you’re a Clever Player.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm on the Internet!

I mean, you knew that. But I got interviewed or podcasted or whatever the hell it's called over here at Atomic Array. Go check it out!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Origins 2009 - A GM's Report Card, Pt. 4

And now, the exciting conclusion.

So, Friday night, we sang, other people danced, we went to bed. Saturday, we woke up, and headed downstairs for more gaming!

Saturday morning, my 10AM game was Edge of Midnight, the second of the games that I ran. I've been running a chronicle of this particular game since December 2008, and I'm really enjoying it. Partly, that's because I've run little else than World of Darkness games for a long time and it's nice to keep the dark but play with a new setting and genre (noir), and partly that's because Edge of Midnight is just an awesome game and it's a hell of a lot of fun. So getting some new people to play it was a good plan, I thought.

The scenario was a murder mystery. Basically, prominent citizen dies at a club, and the PCs have until sunset to figure it out or else the victim's fans are going to riot. Oh, and the victim (and said fans) are gaunts, and a riot would tear the city apart. The characters got a chance to play with magic, investigation, learn about the city of Terminus (much like New Orleans, which is where my ongoing chronicle is set, too) and generally a good time was had by all. If I have one regret, it's that I didn't find a way to work in a more involved fight, but I hadn't set up the scenario to include combat and I didn't want it to feel forced (no orcs, thanks). I think the players dug it, though.

Following the game, Michelle and I headed to the dealer's room again. I scooped up a copy of Ars Magica, Fourth Edition for all of four bucks, and I finally bit the bullet and bought Unhallowed Metropolis. I've played UnMet a couple of times, I've really enjoyed it, and it's the sort of game I should own. And I've got players that I think would really get into it.

I also talked with Filamena Young and her husband, and got a chance to meet their delightful little girl, Tina (sadly, my family had already left by that point, so we couldn't see the singularity of cuteness that would occur if Teagan and Tina got together - maybe next year). Too brief a meeting, but I had a 6PM game to get to.

And that game was...Hollow Earth Expedition. Last tabletop game of the con, and the one I had the highest hopes for.

See, Hollow Earth Expedition is a pulp game, but unlike Spirit of the Century, it gives you a very specific setting - the Earth is hollow (bet you figured that, yeah?) and there are natives, dinosaurs, Amazons, the whole bit. I bought and read the game last year following GenCon, and I've been very keen to play it ever since. This particular game had a blurb that involved dinosaurs and capturing a tar pit. Awesome.

Warning sign right off: The GM hadn't made characters for the scenario, but had just photocopied the pre-gens from the book, put them in plastic sheets (OK, this is maybe just me, but I think it's cheap when players can't at least keep character sheets from con games), and handed us a great big stack. I picked on at random (the Big Game Hunter), and we started out on our airship in Hollow Earth.

Yep, just like that. No attempt at backstory or group cohesion. No explanation for why these characters were together. Just, here we are, on our airship, and then the air pirates attacked.

Now, at this point it's pretty clear we've into beer-n-pretzels, and that's disappointing, but OK. I co-opt Jonathan's Hyde's character from Jumanji to inform my portrayal of Col. Stanley Admunson (I promplty get a style point for naming my character, which encourages everyone else to do the same) and we get down to the business of killing air pirates. We win, but our ship is damaged badly, so the Fortune Hunter (played by a 16-year-old boy, who seems to have the emotional maturity of, say, 13) puts the ship down. The rest of us don parachutes and bail the heck out.

Splitting the party is fine; I do it all the time. But five to one isn't a split I like, because it puts too much focus on one dude, and that's especially true if the one dude is being...well, a fishmalk. So while the five of us are fighting a T-Rex, he's met a tribe of crazy Amazons (led by a woman named Sinestra) and patching the hole in the blimp with a bag of monkeys.

Things, clearly, are getting out of hand.

Eventually, we meet up with the other tribe of Amazons (at which point the GM makes it a point to tell us that some Amazons remove one breast, but not these Amazons...sigh). The gamer OMG GIRLZ is getting a little thick, especially for Michelle. I remind the 16-year-old that there is, indeed, a woman present and maybe he should be quite so juvenile, but his dad (also playing) is encouraging it a bit. We keep things on track, more or less, fix our blimp and land in New York City with a crew of Amazons (this is a shift from the GM's original intent, but it was the ending we liked).

Now, a little GMing theory: If you've reached the end, stop. We landed in NYC, the blimp burst through the subway tunnels, we're given applause and fame, awesome. That's the end of the story. Except, just then, not only did the Amazons reveal themselves to be the bad Amazons, but the freaking T-Rex jumped out of the hole and attacked. It had been tracking us. From the ground.

GMs, not every game has to end in a fight, even at a con. Here, watch this episode of Dexter's Laboratory.

Note that when DD runs the game, she keeps things exciting, she pays attention to what the players want for their characters, and she doesn't waste words or events? That's good GMing. (Yeah, she needs to learn the rules, but that'll come in time.)

Thoughts on the game: Pre-gens, cookie-cutter story, villains that show up once and never again (what happened to those ors, er, pirates?), gratuitous breast references, and an overdone ending scene? Man, it could have been so much cooler. My grade: D+

After that, I had to rush downstairs to play Rising! Only I didn't really have to rush, because the 10PM game didn't have any players but me. So I arranged to play in the 11PM game, which was a VIP event (and turned out to be all kinds of fun), went back upstairs for a while to watch Michelle sing karaoke. I didn't get to sing; the rotation was insane at that point.

Then, back downstairs for Rising. The VIP event involved them handcuffing us, blindfolding us, and letting us fight our way out of the lab that was doing experiments on us. They even took our pictures and did up little dossiers (apparently, my previous occupation was "cartoonist", which is funny if you've ever seen me try to draw). I played an engineer, which means I got to solve puzzles, and I discovered, now having played all four classes, that I'm happiest with Marksman. Engineer's fun, but I don't really solve puzzles under pressure all that well. Hunter isn't bad, but I like guns. Doctor's OK, but then you can't fight as well and you rely on other folks for protection. Nah, gimme guns.

Thoughts on the game: Rising isn't strictly an RPG. It's a LASH (Live Action Survival Horror), and mostly you don't really play a role as much as play yourself with some weird skills and rules with zombies trying to eat you. That said, Zombie Buddy Productions went the extra mile on the game, so RPG or not, it was bloody awesome. My grade: A

So the scenario ended, I survived, got my swag bag (awesome), and headed the heck to bed.

Sunday: We got up, got packed, took our stuff downstairs, and hit the dealer's room one last time. We (Michelle and I) had originally been scheduled for a game of Eclipse Phase, but that got canceled, and our other choice just didn't happen. So we wandered a bit, played some demos, did some more shopping. I picked up a copy of Agone for $2 (even if it sucks, that's less than a cup of coffee some places) and a copy of Trail of Chthulu, which I'm informed doesn't suck. That brings the total of new RPGs to five; that sounds good. Also bought a cool board game called Gemlok, which Heather enjoyed and wanted to grab.

All in all, lots of fun this year at Origins. Definitely got me in the mood to start serious essay writing about GMing again, so I'll get right on that.

Meantime, next con is GenCon, even if only overnight. We'll see how the grades fall out there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Origins 2009 - A GM's Report Card, Part 3

Right, moving on. Friday!

Friday, we got up and grabbed some breakfast. Michelle and I had a 10AM game of 7th Sea to play.

Now, I'd never played 7th Sea before, and I don't own a copy. I know about the game in a vague sort of way; it's about swashbuckling and sailing and pirates and Musketeers and that sort of thing. Since several of my other games this year leaned toward pulp, I figured this wasn't too far off the mark.

Promising start! The GM was there before we were, had character sheets and drama dice spread out, had his screen and his books and whatnot set up. Michelle and I grabbed characters. I always grab a character at random for con games, if I can. That forces me away from playing to my usual standbys (whatever those are - jumpy/flippy characters, going by my chargen project) and makes me flex my improv muscles a bit. This time, I got Felix. We were all Musketeer-types, fighting on the side of the Emperor of Montaigne (which is "France" in the same way that "Rokugan" in Legend of the Five Rings is "Japan," I suppose). Felix was a gun-fighter, in a setting where guns aren't terribly accurate and have one usuable shot before you have to spend an hour reloading them. And that's fine; some gun-fu is never inappropriate.

The rest of the players showed up and picked characters, and we got our set-up: There's an assassin on a boat coming from "England," we need to intercept it and stop him. That means getting to the coast and getting a ship. Most of the scenario was the "getting to the coast" part, and that wasn't bad, though I do think that the GM could benefit from considering Chekov's Gun a bit. That is, if you see a gun on the mantle in Act One, it needs to go off in Act Three. Our "Act One" was taking horses to the river and then sailing up the river to the coast, and we got jumped by some highwaymen.

While I was happy to have a chance to try out the combat system, I had two problems with this set-up. First, they highwaymen fought like orcs.

OK, a slight digression here. One thing that annoys me in RPGs is when the bad guys fight until they're all dead, even after it becomes clear that they're going to lose. That reminds me of old school Dungeons and Dragons, where the enemies were "monsters," even when they were supposedly intelligent. I once threw a DM for a loop in a D&D game by pointing my bow at the last surviving kobold or goblin or orc or spee-lunker or whatever we were fighting and yelling "Surrender!" See, my character didn't see the monster as just a vehicle for XP, and this being, y'know, a role-playing game, I figured I'd play the role.

And yes, I know there's a place for beer-n-pretzels gaming. That's why we have Kobolds Ate My Baby and HoL. Anyway.

So, the highwaymen didn't exactly fight to the death, but pretty close. And then it turns out that they were just...highwaymen. They weren't in on the plot, they weren't trying to stop us from finding the assassin, they had no connection to the story at large. Just a random encounter. Bad form, GM.

Well, we made it to the coast, chartered a boat (and that scene went on way too long, which wasn't entirely the GM's fault; we were making it harder than it needed to be), got out to sea, boarded the assassin's boat, and killed him pretty handily. In most systems, I find, five dudes vs. one dude means a quick fight. Which is fine, incidentally; I have no problem with the final fight of a game being not much of a fight, provided that solving the mystery or otherwise getting to the fight is satisfying. This...was kind of a foregone conclusion.

My thoughts on the game: Now, for all that, the game was actually pretty fun. I didn't find myself looking at my watch (well, I did, but because I had a game to run at 2PM and I didn't want to be late), and I enjoyed the game and the system and even the story set-up. Some of the other players spent a little too much time boozing and whoring (all together now: "If there are girls there, I wanna do them!") and ignoring the fact that, hello, there was an actual woman sitting at the table, but not everyone in our little hobby has figured out that a little decorum is not a bad thing. I just wish the story had been a little tighter, and our choices would have influenced said story a little more. My grade: B-

And then, zoooom! Across the hall to run Geist: The Sin-Eaters. Now, Geist is the next World of Darkness game from good old White Wolf. They weren't actually at the convention, however, and my game was the only Geist game being run. They sent me some copies of the quickstart (which you can download here) to hand out, and I had a copy of the pdf of the book (which I'm not linking, obviously) so I could run the game.

I made up characters ahead of time, and did my usual blurb + six questions routine. The characters were all people who wound up on a bus in NYC for various reasons, and then "died" when the driver got distracted and drove them into the river. They bonded with geists, became Sin-Eaters and formed a krewe (which is not a mispelling of the word "crew," by the way). This particular story saw them investigating a warehouse in which ghosts dressed in fashions of the last 50 years were partying away, but there was no evidence that they'd actually died at that warehouse (if you know how the World of Darkness treats ghosts, that makes a little more sense).

The players got into it well, even considering the massive info-dump that's involved in playing a new World of Darkness game. I run investigation-heavy games, and the characters did well with splitting up (which allows me to cross-cut, which allows players to get food or do potty breaks without wasting too much game time) and using their powers in interesting ways. They tracked down the blood bather who was killing lots of people every decade and took her down; again, it's not about the final fight, it's about getting to that fight.

I'm not grading myself, but I'm happy with the way the game went. There are some tweaks I'd make if I run it again, but mostly just so the story flows a little better.

Following Geist, Michelle and I headed to the Big Bar on Two and sang karaoke a bit. I didn't do anything challenging; "Zoot Suit Riot" and "Fortunate Son," both of which I'm familiar with and I sound pretty good doing, I think. I did, however, come to a conclusion:

If you are putting in your slip for karaoke, and you think "Turn the Page" is a good song? You are already drunk, and should not be allowed to make decisions.

Last post coming soon.