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Beet Party Uprooted: The Game

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Hello everyone! Great news!

The game that I Co-Designed and Co-Produced is on the iTunes store!

Beet Medley is an eclectic creative playground for children of ages 4 to 6 that features a collection of mini games and creative exercises that foster self-expression and inspire a love of music and rhythm. These mini-games add to the experience of the Freestyle game, a music-creation tool, which expands its capabilities as the players achieve goals and overcome challenges presented to them. Kids playing this game can create their own music to share with others.

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This game is for the iPad and can be found here, and by searching the iTunes store!

LARP Bullies

A while back I wrote about How To Win A LARP, and one of the first steps is to Be A Colossal Jerk. While people trying to win a LARP are almost always colossal jerks, there are other people there that simply want to push people around. I’ve identified three different types of LARP Bullies and described them below, though I’m sure there are plenty of other categories we can point out.

The Immersion Snob

Before I start in on this one, I will say that I do like a high level of immersion in my LARPs, but I also believe that immersion goes beyond costuming and props. I can also maintain my own sense of immersion while others are talking OOG, or eating a bag of chips in the open in a fantasy LARP. The Immersion Snob is the opposite. They put a lot of work into their costuming, make-up and props (which is to their credit), but they also demand the same from everyone else. If your costume or props are not up to their level, prepare for a lot of vitriol coming from them. Eat a granola bar, get ready to hear how you can’t eat that because they didn’t exist back in the Middle Ages. They expect you to bend over backwards, with no return on your investments or time and effort, so that they can have a good time.

While they want immersion, they often don’t add to the immersion beyond a superficial level. Sure their costumes are great, but they simply act like themselves instead of portraying a character. A player who acts out a character far beyond their own personality, but doesn’t have an outstanding costume adds way more to an immersive game environment than someone who has a great costume but acts as themselves the whole time.

The problem with the Immersion Snob is that it can be intimidating getting into a LARP for the first time. Rules can be daunting, everyone around you has great costuming, and so forth. That’s hard enough to get used to without someone coming up to you and telling them that what you’re doing is all wrong and that it’s ruining their time. It’s a very self-serving point of view that doesn’t help anyone, and can chase new players away.

The solution I’ve found is to point out that LARPing is indeed a game, and that not everything comes down to the accuracy of the setting. After all, most combat LARPs use weapons made from plumbing supplies and duct tape, and magic is often represented by bean bags. Camp sites often have at least some electricity, and therefore have power cables running along roads. Many cabins have plumbing and flush toilets on a septic system. There are plenty of things to point out, so maybe not having your nerf gun painted isn’t such a bad thing when all of these modern comforts are surrounding you. When you point this out, they’ll leave in a huff, often because they don’t want to admit that they’re behaviour only leaves to hurt feelings and new LARPers leaving.

The Brute

This person is simply terrifying. They play heavy combat characters, and really REALLY want to pick a fight with anyone they can. Largely because they want to do it in real life, but there are laws about that sort of thing, and prison is filled with people that are bigger, stronger, and tougher than they are. So they do the next best thing: do it through a pretendy fun-time game. They want to intimidate and physically bully everyone else around them in order to make themselves feel superior. It’s the classic depiction of the school-yard bully, but while pretending to be a Viking or an orc or whatever.

I shouldn’t have to point out the problems with these cretins, but let’s go over them anyway. Just like I stated above, LARPing can be intimidating for new players. Having a Brute try to push them around, especially early into a first event, can send new players packing. There’s also very serious behavioural problems that the Brute obviously has. Rageaholic isn’t the technical term, but it is a real thing, and it could be that the Brute has it or any number of underlying psychological problems that cause him to take it out on others. Add in the fact that most simply do not fight safely in combat LARPs, and you have a big, lumbering can of newbie repellant.

LARP operators have to be on the look for people like this. A LARP should be a welcoming place for new players, and having a Brute is detrimental to said environment. Personally, if I could, I’d ask the Brute to either take an anger management class or not come back. Barring that, I’d just ask them not to return at all.

The Sociopath

Far more dangerous than the Brute, the Sociopath doesn’t try to push you around physically. Instead, the Sociopath tries to elevate themselves through the coercion and manipulation of other players. They have no regard for the feelings of others, but will feign empathy if they know it will advance their goals. They treat others as objects, things to be manipulated rather than people. They will ruin an event or a LARP as a whole or another player for personal gain, with no regard for anyone else. They do not take responsibility for any of their actions, making fake excuses or throwing others under the bus, most often the victim of the Sociopath’s behaviour.

I don’t have to tell you that this person is bad for a LARP, or anyone playing it regardless of experience, or, frankly, anyone at all. This is a person that is definitely trying to win a LARP, and will do anything to do it. Cheating, targeting, lying to directors, backstabbing, the sky is the limit. This person gets their jollies from making others suffer, and it needs to be stopped before it starts, if possible.

The solution? The Ban Hammer. Get rid if this person immediately. Just like in any organization, this toxic individual can only do long-term harm to a LARP. Luckily, these people are few and far between, but as they say, one bad apple spoils the bunch.

Quit Hatin’ On Geeks, Geeks!

Recently I picked up a copy of Shadowrun 5th Edition. I brought it home and read it, and really liked it, and decided that I wanted to run a game at my place, announcing it on Facebook and seeing if people were interested.

While I got a few takers, another person posted how that the new edition wasn’t good at all, in his opinion. He went so far as saying it reversed innovations within the game industry as a whole, as well as posting a link to some guy who not only hated it, but wanted to hate it. This left a bad taste in my mouth, not because he trashed something I liked, but because his action discouraged others from wanting to come out as a result.

While I don’t think he meant it as bullying, it certainly didn’t help with me starting a weekly fun night of gaming at my home with friends. But it also brought up something that’s been talked about a lot within not only the gaming community, but other “nerdy” pastimes like Comic Books or the like, which would be bullying or harassing people new to these pastimes.

I’ve seen it a lot: Someone walks into a game store wanting to get into one of the card games other than Magic: The Gathering, and suddenly they’re met with ridicule by the M:tG players nearby, or the clerks at the front desk, making fun of them for liking something that isn’t as popular or even just different.

This happens a lot these days, and it’s pretty disgusting. Entire communities harassing people that want to get into a hobby or interest makes for a pretty toxic environment, and it doesn’t do well for our reputations. A lot of people think this is just a bunch of kids being bullies, but statistically speaking the majority of the harassment is committed by males in their 20’s and 30’s. The reason we think that they’re kids is because gaming is still viewed my many as a kid’s pastime despite the fact that games like GTA and Call of Duty are not meant for children at all. But I also think that it’s because most people expect that a person that old wouldn’t behave in such a way, making it easier to dismiss it as kids being mean to one another. Also, anonymity and lack of consequence play a huge role in this harassment as well. Lack of responsibility and the the fact that on one won’t be punished for this means that it will occur more often. It’s unfortunate, but most people do or do not do things simply from fear of the law, not by the ethics and morals they are supposed to have.

I really do not understand why this happens. Why would anyone have so much hatred for a person who likes something? I simply don’t get what is achieved by ridiculing someone else for enjoying an activity or hobby. Whether it’s a preferred table-top RPG, video game, LARP, whatever, it makes no sense and nothing is gained by anyone. If fact, it only serves to fracture our communities as a whole and make us look even worse than we do now.

Friends, this really need to stop. It helps no one. You gain nothing from bullying anyone for any reason.

I still plan to run Shadowrun at my place soon, and I’m sure we’ll all have a good time doing so. I’m not going to let someone else bully me out of my interests. I got enough of that in elementary school.

How To Win LARP

Ok, bear with me here.

There’s a common understanding among most LARPers I’ve met, and it is that you can’t “win” at a larp. Typically, all the players are there to enjoy the drama and action that unfolds every event, the plot continues over a long period of time, and no one is put on a pedestal at the end of a weekend and declared a winner.

However, I disagree. I’ve been LARPing for nearly 13 years now and I’ve seen a lot of different styles of play. The first LARP I ever went to seemed neat when I first started, but as I continued to play I noticed a lot of the same people getting all the plot and cool items and such. Eventually I realized that I would never get to see anything relevant to the plot and that I was just there to support their game with my money and be the occasional lackey. I left long after I should have, and I’m glad I did.

The people that were getting all the plot and wicked loot and In-Game political power were all friends along with everyone on the game’s plot team. If anyone of their characters died, plot would find a way to bring them back with no penalties to their characters. If those players asked for items far beyond the reach of anyone else, they would get them free of charge. These people could not be touched, ever.

So yes, you can win a LARP. And I have a step-by-step guide to being the king of all LARPers just for you!

Step 1: Be A Colossal Jerk

You need to be a horrible person in the first place to even considering trying this at all. Whether you’re a sociopathic bastard, love the feeling of schadenfreude, or just have a general feeling of apathy for others, this step is critical in winning any LARP.

Step 2: Bring Friends That Are Also Colossal Jerks

Even though you’re trying to be on top, there’s strength in numbers. Make sure you’re friends are on board, plan ahead, and make sure that they don’t care about anyone else besides your little clique.

Step 3: Make A Character That Is As Ruthless As Possible

Take a good look at all the options available to you, both in terms of statistics and skills, and in-game cultures and backgrounds. Pick skills that are easily exploited and get the most bang for your buck. For background, look carefully and choose whatever background to justify any and all of your power-gaming and gives you the path of least resistance. If there’s a race that covets power, pick that. If there’s a culture that believes the ends justifies the means, pick that. If there are options that allow for some political power right off the bat, pick the one that’s going to give you the most. Anything that will give you an edge over anyone else or justifies the abhorrent behaviour you’re about to embark on, go for it.

Step 4: Get Really Chummy With Plot

This one is pretty crucial. The greater a friend plot is to you on an Out Of Game basis, the more likely they’ll give you more to do than anyone else, and be more lenient when things go wrong. Invite them into your little clique on an Out Of Game level: invite them to barbecues, throw them birthday parties, anything to get on their good side.

Step 5: Be A Rules Lawyer At All Times

Argue everything. Deny being hit by that spell. Fudge how much damage you’ve taken (no one notices small amounts) and claim you still have health left if anyone calls you on it. Claim that mage didn’t say the correct words. No matter how trivial, argue it to no end to get the upper hand. Even be a rules lawyer when it comes to In-Game lore and background. If someone is being even one iota off from their race or background, tell them they’re LARPing wrong. The more someone outside of your group doesn’t want to play, the more play time for you.

Step 6: Get As Much In-Game Power As Possible

Strive to get as much loot as possible. This includes killing other characters, stealing (In-Game, of course), and so forth. Hoard as much of it as possible, and only bring it out when you know you’ll look like a hero that saves the day. Be chummy with the local NPC authority, if any, and if you do enough, they’ll make you a leader and give you the means to run the locale you’re in as you see fit.

Step 7: Never Let Anyone Else Get Anything Cool

Once you get political power, use it. If you see a new player get a neat item, take it from them and claim that you know someone that needs it more. If someone gets a leg-up, kill their character and claim they committed treason or the like. No one should threaten the power you and your clique have gained. Ever.

Final Step: Get Kicked Out

You made it! Years of being a dick to everyone that doesn’t matter has paid off. You have all the money in the world, you sleep on a pile of magic items, and everyone does what you say under fear of death. Plot comes to you and your friends and no one else, and even if you did fail somehow, plot has your back.

It’s usually at this point that the rest of the players start leaving in droves as a result of your power-gaming, and if the owners don’t have their heads up their butts, they’ll likely pin it on your posse. So they’ll take Out Of Game measures to make sure you stop this behaviour. They may tell plot to permanently kill your characters, strip you of political power, or just outright ban you from the game. And at that point, you win! No In-Game thing could stop your reign of terror and as a result the game broke, and now you’re being thrown out. Other LARPers in the area now treat this LARP like a joke, and will possibly never recover from your shenanigans.

Congrats! You win!

The Puzzle Monster

Whoa! A post not exclusively about LARPing on a site about Game Design! Wow!

Ok, that’s out of the way. On to the topic at hand!

A puzzle monster is an encounter in a game in which the standard beat it to death with your choice of death-dealing method doesn’t work, or is very ineffective, but has a weakness or strategy the player must discover on their own. You find these often with boss enemies in video games.

Puzzle monsters can be done very easily, but they can be also done badly. A good puzzle monster is one that can be defeated by any player, regardless of any skills or abilities the player may possess at the time.

E.V.O. The Search For Eden for the SNES has a simple puzzle monster at the end of the first chapter (if you’ve never played it, I recommend getting a SNES emulator and playing it. Great game). You are a fish at that point, and the boss is a Great White Shark. It charges at you often, and if it gets close enough to you, it bites you for massive damage. If you try to bite it normally, it will either bite you back or smack you with its tail, also for large amounts of damage.

The trick is to stay near one of the cave walls where the Shark dwells, and wait for it to charge, then move out of the way. The Shark will hit the wall, and become stunned, giving the player an opening to attack the Shark. Repeat a few times, and the Shark explodes into large portions of fish sticks (sorry if I spoiled this one for anyone, but later bosses are a LOT harder). Because of this strategy, you didn’t necessarily need to have all of the cool evolutions to beat the monster.

A bad puzzle monster, however, can endlessly frustrate the player. A couple of years ago, I attended a LARP which had a REALLY bad Head of Plot. Among many of his poor choices were puzzle monsters which had a very specific weakness, all of which were in the form of a skill in the rule book. A specific kind of magic spell or the like. If a character did not possess this skill, they had no possible way of defeating the puzzle monster. This led to a lot of frustrated players, especially less experienced players that left simply because the difficulty curve was just made too high as a result.

It doesn’t have to be hard to design a puzzle monster, regardless of what kind of game you’re designing it for. Simple examples include:

  • A monster that can only be damaged while standing in a specific area
  • A monster that can only be damaged while the player is standing in a specific area
  • A player must stand in a certain spot for a certain time to gain a sort of buff that allows the character to damage the monster, but has a very short time span, so the player must go back to that spot repeatedly.
  • The monster has a weak point that the player must hit in order to affect the monster in any way

Even a simple puzzle monster like the examples above can be rewarding for a player just for defeating it. Giving loot or the like as a reward isn’t always necessary as a result, depending on the difficulty level of the encounter. The player can walk away knowing that they took down something that was seemingly impossible to defeat with their own abilities, not being held back by the numbers on their character sheets.

Puzzle monsters can be challenging and rewarding, but if you design them badly, all you end up with is a bunch of pissed off players. Designing puzzle encounters around circumstances that anyone can pull off, regardless of the skills of the character a player is playing, will be far more rewarding than loading it up with skill immunities, and I guarantee it!

How I Rate A LARP

What makes a good Live Action Role-Playing game? There are so many just in southern Ontario, and so many more across the world, it’s hard to say which is right for you. Some go to be with their friends for the weekend to share a common hobby, while others play at different LARPs across the world. However, as a game designer and LARPer, I like to judge a LARP based on a few fundamental factors, that I would like to share with you today!

Genre and Narrative

These traits are what will define a LARP, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, etc. Genre only explains what to expect from an individual LARP, however. Narrative, the game background and lore, is what will set it apart from the others within a genre. A bad narrative can really mess things up for any game. So if the story of the game, why things are as they are in the world where the player’s are living out their alternate lives for a weekend, is terrible, then a lot of people will be turned off by this and likely walk away for a different LARP, and never take it seriously again.

Another good point for narrative is how well a new character’s back history can fit into that narrative. I believe that a good character history is one that adds to the narrative of the game, but still maintains its overall story. This addition doesn’t, and often times shouldn’t, be huge or game changing. Just something a good Head Of Plot can work with to create a great story. Having to jump through hoops just to get it right without being a carbon copy of every unoriginal hero origin story is just bad narrative design.

 Rules

Rules for any LARP are important, just like any other game. However, unlike computer games that can handle all the calculations that come with a game, a LARP has no computer governing its rules. It has to be done by human brains, on the fly. Therefore, simplicity in rules are vital for a LARP. If a rule is easy to understand and follow, it’s likely a good one. If a game has to stop every few minutes to clarify and debate rules, it clearly has massive design flaws. The first LARP I ever went to had these problems. I can’t for the life of me remember a time where an encounter was not interrupted at least once by someone debating rules, and arguing over who got who, what defenses were called, etc.

It should also be mentioned that safety rules are especially important at a LARP, as with any contact sport. There should be regulations for safe contact, safe weapons, policies for campfires and drugs and alcohol, codes of conduct, etc. These are all things a LARP should have, along with an insurance policy, which should govern everything mentioned above.

Player Base

To me, this aspect of a LARP is the most crucial, as it will dictate how often new customers will become repeat customers. As much as the owner(s) of a LARP want new players to come back to their sandbox, if the other players are being bullies or elitist about their game, not allowing them to play because they’re “not powerful” enough, or are constantly judging new players based on their costuming or the like not being up to par with others that have been playing for years, or worse, spreading rumours about new players for Out Of Game reasons to the current player base and ostracizing them out, then there’s a serious problem. Who an owner of a LARP allows in says a lot about the LARP itself. If it’s just the owner and his or her personal friends at the top, with no one else really able to get anywhere with their characters without sucking up to a more experienced player (take that as you want), then that LARP will have a lifespan of however long the “elite” feel like sticking around.

Typically, everyone is paying the same amount of money for attending a LARP for a weekend. That alone entitles a player, no matter how long they’ve been attending, to the same amount of fun as anyone else. Every person in a LARPs player base should understand that, and constantly demanding they be first in like for all the good bits and shoving the “noobs” aside is offensive to me. Owners must be aware of this behaviour, and do everything in their power to curb or stop this for the sake of their LARPs longevity.

 Immersion

One thing I DON’T judge a LARP by is its level of immersion. The feeling you get that you’re in a completely different place, surrounded by fantasy or sci-fi denizens. There are different levels of immersion and they differ from LARP to LARP. Some games demand a high level of immersion, while others have little to no immersion and just like to hit things with wiffle bats. Both of these levels, and every level in between, are all valid. It’s simply a matter of preference, nothing more.

 Conclusion

Those are my criteria for rating a LARP: Narrative, Rules, and Player Base. There are other considerations, such as distance, accomidations, etc. But those are all dependant on a player’s individual needs. Some like roughing it, others like plumbing and free Wi-Fi. Regardless, I think the three categories above, and the level of immersion that suits you, are the main points to a LARP, and determining if it’s right for you.

Metagaming and You

There are many ways of cheating in so many games. In video games, you can enter cheat codes to make the game easier, or if you’re savvier with programming, you could hack into the games files and make any alterations you want. In Table-Top Role-Playing Games, you can cheat by fudging your dice rolls, or improperly recording numbers on your character sheet to your benefit. In childhood games like Tag, there are plenty of arguments about who got who. By far, the most infuriating and hard to control form of cheating in RPG games, and especially Live Action Role-Playing games, is Metagaming.

So what is Metagaming? For most, it’s taking information you know about the game as the player, but your character couldn’t know, and using it as your character in the game to your advantage.  It is considered a form of cheating, and is a social faux pas in many RPG social circles.

For Example, Bob, who plays Bobbert the Horrid, is chatting at the bar with his LARPing buddy, Jack, who plays Jackininny, Viscount of Bards. Jack mentions to Bob after a few drinks that he managed to steal a valuable amulet from a local baron. They did not agree to share this information In-Game (or IG, as I’ll refer to it from now on), but talked about it Out-Of-Game (or OOG). Later, at the next LARP event they are attending together, Bob, as Bobbert, attacks Jackininny and steals the amulet from him. Bob used OOG information his character did not possess and used it to his character’s advantage, even though there was no way Bobbert the Horrible could have ever known that information. Bob has cheated.

Being on the bad end of this form of cheating is never any fun, especially when proving it happened is very difficult. I remember my early days at the LARP I go to now and witnessing this situation first hand. One player had a character that was very powerful, and had a decent-sized group that surrounded him. He had a reputation for taking whatever he wanted, and killing who ever he wanted (IG of course).  The problem was, whenever something bad happened to him OOG that involved another player, he would take it out on them IG. With his character’s reputation of being the killer he was, claiming any sort of metagaming was hard to prove. When this character was finally defeated (due to the rest of the player population banding together to do so), he and his friends gathered in an area designated OOG to talk about who was responsible, and plan retaliation. Metagaming even in defeat.

So from what is written here so far, metagaming is bad, right? For the most part, yes it is. However, there are some forms of metagaming that are not as severe, and some we don’t even consider metagaming. We just do them because they make sense, or sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Some examples include:

–       Metagaming for Safety

–       Setting the Scene

–       Accidental Metagaming

–       Meta-Metagaming

Metagaming for Safety is something that many LARPS do, and don’t really apply to any other forms of RPGs. At every LARP that I’ve been to, there’s a “Hold Rule.” This is when someone yells, “HOLD!” and everyone within earshot drops to one knee and looks at the ground. It effectively pauses the game. This rule is used mainly for safety concerns, such as an injury, or requesting to move the combat to safer ground so that no one falls on those big sharp rocks lining the side of that ravine they’re getting pushed into. Other considerations are for those running the Plot for the event, and need to change something in the scene rapidly (Setting the Scene).

Sometimes people screw up. They forget how much health their characters have, or forget about an effect they have that is detrimental to their characters. No one is perfect. Accidental Metagaming happens when some lines get crossed about what you know IG and OOG. It can also occur if you have multiple characters in a game. Having to remember what you know and do not know can be hard enough, it gets harder when you have to split all that knowledge between multiple characters. Were you there as Cuddles the Discombobulator when the Queen was assassinated, or were you Penelope the Pixie Priestess? LARPing is intense enough at times when you play one character. When you play multiple ones, it just adds to the difficulty.

Then, there’s something I never considered until I started writing this, but makes a lot of sense. Metagaming while Metagaming. Whoa….

This is common in situations with the Hold Rule. You’re in an intense fight, surrounded by enemies. Then someone calls a Hold nearby due to being hit in the head too hard, and everyone drops to their knees and looks at the ground.  Because you don’t have anything to do with why the hold was called, you have time to think about what you’re going to do. Formulate an escape plan, recall that magic item in your bag you forgot about.

Unfortunately, this is a form of metagaming. But it does happen. Our brains are wired for survival, even pretendy fun-time survival.  We can’t help it. And you can’t prevent it from happening. Sure, your head will still be down while in the Hold, so you can’t survey your surroundings, but you’re still formulating a plan in your head while the game is paused. There’s no way of preventing this sort of instinctive metagaming.

So, how do we prevent metagaming from ruining an event for someone? Well, metagaming for safety purposes doesn’t ruin anyone’s time. In fact, it makes it so it isn’t ruined for someone. When using it for setting a scene, if done correctly, can enhance the player-base’s experience. Accidental and Meta-Metagaming does happen, and it’s something that cannot be prevented. It’s not necessarily as terrible thing as intentional metagaming, however.

Speaking of which, intentional metagaming is a bad thing, as explained in the earlier portion of this essay.  It is a form of cheating and needs to be addressed. Preventing it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but involves conflict resolution on an OOG level. Those running the game should take the time to ensure that those that players that don’t get along OOG will not take it out on each other IG. A talk between all parties involved should be a necessary step. After that, the situation should be monitored closely for a while, to ensure that the chat had an effect.

Usually, if the metagamer really is metagaming, and doing it a lot, these people are usually found out and warned, and eventually removed from the game one way or the other, as was the case during those early days at the LARP I attend now. They usually leave on their own volition after complaining that no one wants to play with them, or are removed by whatever process the LARP in question has for handling such problematic players.

To prevent metagaming, however, is knowing what it is and being conscious of it when while LARPing, or just hanging out with the friends you LARP with. I for one enjoy listening to the stories of my friends’ character’s escapades, but I make sure that if I recall those things while I’m playing my character, to ask if I can recall hearing about it as my character. If I play multiple characters, I could keep a journal for each character I have so that I can look back and see if the character I’m playing at the time would recall  the relevant information.

My character also has secrets. Knowledge he doesn’t want to give freely, or items he doesn’t want anyone to know he has. I keep those to myself, even though talking about these things OOG would be cool. This keeps others from metagaming, even if it’s accidental when it would happen.

Some go as far as to not talk about what happens to their characters, unless it’s a story that a lot of people have seen already, or want to hear about other’s stories, so they don’t metagame later. I think it’s a bit extreme, but I get the point.

Metagaming is bad, for the most part. It can ruin an event for a player, especially if it is the cause of losing the ability to play a character that you’ve worked hard on over the years. But the bad metagaming is preventable.  It just takes a little forethought and practice.

In short, only you can prevent metagaming!