Tag Archive | RPG

So You Want To Be A Game Master

Dungeon Master. Storyteller. Artistic Director. They all mean the same basic thing: Game Master. The person in charge of enforcing the rules and setting the stage for the players. I’ve played under some great ones, and some very terrible ones. And over the years, I’ve seen (and made) some common mistakes that many starting GMs make. Below are four tips for those thinking about running their own RPG.

NOTE: We’ve all made these mistakes. Yes, even you did. Admit it. It’s okay, I don’t judge you for it.

Tip 1: You Are NOT The Star

The first thing you have to realize is that the main characters in your story are the main protagonists. They are the focus of the game. You can create a world around them that is fantastical and awesome, but in the end the characters are the ones that should be driving the plot forward. It’s a bad idea to put a character that you control that is always with the PCs, helping them out wherever they can. If you’re short a character, having a substitute NPC is fine, but they should be a background support role, not really making any decisions for the group. Don’t make a Mary- or Gary-Sue character that represents you. Perfect characters are boring.

Tip 2: If It Isn’t Fun, Cut It

As you run adventures for your players, you’ll make mistakes that are not fun for your players. If something is boring or too hard, cut it. Ideas are worth nothing. Yes, even that one. Yes, that one too. It’s all in the execution. If your players aren’t having fun with a plot line or encounter, get rid of it. It’s not a precious baby.

On a side note, please don’t take the above as discouragement. If this happens, it’s okay. It’s a lot better for you make mistakes early so that you can learn from them and become better at running RPGs. You’ll think of something better than what you’ve done before, and your players will thank you for it.

Tip 3: Use The Same Rules As The Players

I’ve seen a lot of GMs make up their own rules far too often. It’s not a bad thing to make a rule or mechanic to go with an encounter here or there, but you have to do it sparingly. Players get frustrated when an ability or the like that normally works suddenly doesn’t. It’s okay if there’s something in the rules that prevents it, but if there isn’t, then it can be very jarring. Part of the art of GMing is getting creative while staying within the constraints of the rules as written. If you find yourself breaking the rules a lot, your game is going to suffer as a result.

Tip 4: Say No To Your Friends

While your job is to be the game referee and to maintain story continuity for the players you’re entertaining, you’re also not a door mat. If a player gives you a character background that would start them with a gross advantage, say no. Unless the other Player Characters are millionaires too, they can’t start with a massive fortune. No, they can’t have the magic sword of superdoomkill, it doesn’t matter if their dad gave it to them on their 16th birthday. If your players are smart enough, they won’t need to have a big starting advantage anyways.

These are all common problems that a lot of starting GM’s make. I hope that for those reading this that are thinking of starting their own games get some insight on what makes a great GM. Happy Gaming!

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A Review of Secrets of Magic LARP

This review is very very late, like many of my posts. But a new LARP has emerged, and it seems to be very promising.

Secrets of Magic is a fantasy-based LARP that has just opened up this year. I’ve had the privilege to attend two of their day events, and I’ve been very impressed so far.

Genre and Narrative

As I said before, Secrets of Magic is set in a Fantasy world where the various races of the world are very weary of one another. Humans were enslaved by the more monstrous races, such as the Drakekin and Ogerborn, and were unable to use magic the same way they did. That was until they discovered a new path of magic: Death. I don’t want to give too much away on this review, but it ended with many civilizations ending, and each race being scattered across the world, creating isolated settlements for themselves.

Then Darius comes to found a town in which all races are equal. He and his compatriots seek out adventurers to help settle this new town, which is where the PC’s come in.

The races are Humans, the only race that can use Death magic, as they are the only ones who are mortal, Drakekin, descendants of dragons who are proud, determined and fierce, Feyfolk, graceful and cunning descendants of Fairies, and Ogreborn, who are enduring and forceful descendants of Giants. Each have their own innate abilities, such as the use of specific Secrets, the term for the various types of magic within the game.

As things stand in the story, the town the game takes place in is nothing more than a person’s barn. However, the PCs have a chance to really determine the direction the town evolves into, for better or for worse. The directors have done a good job of involving the players as much as possible, giving them jobs and tasks to help the new town prosper.

Rules

Like Elegy, Secrets of Magic’s rulebook is very small. However, it wasn’t designed to be as unobtrusive as Elegy. This is largely because Secrets of Magic realizes that it is a game. Yes, there’s plenty of role-play, but that doesn’t mean that it tries to hide the fact that is a game.

Characters are not class-based, but are built around XP. You start with X amount of it, and purchase skills and abilities with it.

A unique function of Secrets of Magic is that if you’ve been playing at another LARP, you get extra XP for your first character. There is a limit here, but it helps a lot of you’re a veteran LARPer.

XP is gained every event, and how much you gain is determined by whether or not you have a Protagonist Token by the end of an event. This is given to each player, and is a sort of “get out of jail free card.” If you don’t have it, you get 4 XP. If you do, you get 7. Alternatively, you can use it to refund 7XP worth of skills on your character card to respend. This is handy if you don’t like a particular set of skills anymore, and want to get rid of them. I haven’t seen this done at a LARP before without having to jump through a lot of hoops within the game.

I do worry that the XP gain might be a little fast. I hit that starting XP ceiling my first event, and now I don’t know what to do with my build, as a lot of the skills my character would want is already known by my character. I imagine this is what will happen with a lot of other characters after a few years of playing.

That said, the skills themselves are pretty straightforward. There’s only a handful of spells for each type of Secret, and the same can be said for combat abilities. Crafting is remarkably fast as well, which is a good thing. A lot of other LARPS either have tediously long times for making things, or simply gives you a pool of points to spend on items at the beginning of an event. Secrets of Magic allows for the role-play of item creation without the long waiting times.

Player Base

What a friendly bunch of people these folks are! You can tell that they care about their players and make sure that they’re involved and having a good time. I like how there’s enough leeway with players and what they want to do, and plot reacting to said actions. There’s enough structure from plot that players don’t just go murder-hobo on everything, but players can still pursue personal goals for their characters.

Right now, the player base is small, only about 15 people total, so there’s only a small amount to handle, which is easy. I’m hoping that it can keep that spirit alive as the game grows, as more players means more individual desires to deal with. I also hope there’s a plan for that as well. Knowing the owner of the game, he probably does.

Also, ZERO drama. None. Or at least none I saw. This could be because of the small numbers, but as things stand for me personally, it’s a great change from other LARPS I’ve been to.

Other Stuff

Like I said before, Secrets of Magic puts a great emphasis on player-driven plot. But it does so in a controlled way. NPCs have given PCs roles within the town, and are given tasks as well as payment for said tasks every event. It actually functions well.

The game’s is the Badenoch Community Center in Guelph, Ontario. It’s a small site surrounded by crown land. Bring bug spray in the warmer months. The place does have bathrooms, but no showers. Which is fine, as the events this year are only day events. Also, bring your own food.

Overall, Secrets of Magic is a very well-run game that needs little resources to run smoothly, and has a promising future if it keep it up as their numbers grow. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a larp that has the players’ interest in mind.

Secrets of Magic Facebook Page

LARPing And The Aesthetics Of Play

It’s almost late, but I’ve posted after two weeks of inactivity, as promised!

I’d like to talk about Aesthetics Of Play, and how they relate to LARPing. Aesthetics Of Play are essentially what makes a particular game fun for the player. In a paper at Northwestern University entitled “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research,” the three authors describe eight different aesthetics of play: Sense Pleasure, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission (or Abnegation, as some prefer to call it). Every game may have elements of all of these, but only a few are considered core to a game and why those that play a particular one fun. Killer Instinct does have a story and plot, but that’s not why a lot of people play that game, so Narrative isn’t a core aesthetic of said game.

With all of that said, how can each one be used in a LARP’s design? I’m going to go through all eight of these (and throw in a ninth one, as identified by Extra Credits, as it makes a lot of sense to put in) and look at how it can be used as a core aesthetic.

  1. Sense Pleasure

Sense pleasure as an aesthetic is one where your senses are stimulated: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Games you keep going back to for a great soundtrack or stunning visuals uses this as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPs can use this by setting the physical space in the right way: decorations which reflect the intended setting and genre, music and sound effects to reflect the theme. What would be interesting to see at a LARP is trying to manufacture certain scents within a set, such as the damp, musty smell of an old decrepit cabin in the woods, or the sensation of a slight touch along the skin when a ghost walks by or through a player, but the player never sees the NPC.

This aesthetic is usually not used as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs, often due to budget constraints. But it’d be interesting to see a one-off or perhaps annual LARP game try to achieve this.

  1. Fantasy

Fantasy is the ability to step into a role you can’t step into in real life. However, in many games, this role is chosen for you. In Call of Duty, you’re a soldier. In the GTA games, you’re a psychotic criminal.

While in many LARPs, Fantasy in surely core to a game, but often goes hand in hand with Expression. However, the games mechanics often set the limits of that expression. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. It depends on the kind of LARP you’re trying to run.

  1. Narrative

Narrative is games as drama. This is what drama unfolds which the player witnesses, as opposed to the Fantasy they play through. Final Fantasy, Journey, and so on, all use Narrative as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPing is supposed to be interactive. You don’t passively watch events unfold passively. So this one is often passed over for Fantasy. Still, there are times where certain plotlines in many long-term LARP games may not interest your character, and you just want to sit back and watch the drama unfold.

  1. Challenge

This one is defined as an obstacle course of sorts. It’s a group of enemies in a module, or a puzzle. It’s a challenge where players must overcome in order to progress through the game.

In LARPs, this is often represented by groups of NPCs looking for a fight. Players have to use their skills, such as magic, or weapon skill abilities, to fight and take down the opposing NPCs. It’s pretty common. They can also be represented by logic puzzles, or even actual physical obstacle courses.

  1. Fellowship

This is working as a team to achieve a goal. Dungeons in World of Warcraft, team deathmatches in FPS games, and so forth.

This is often a vital Core Aesthetic in a LARP. Whether you’re playing a class-based or skillpoint-based game, often times you will need to rely on another character’s skill set to get you through things. Fighters need healers to keep them alive, mages need fighters to prevent others from killing them with ease, etc. If one person gets through an encounter meant for a group, you done goofed.

  1. Discovery

This is the act of discovering something new within a game. This can be discovery of a new land, or a new item that can be created, and so on.

While there is a bit of this in some LARPs, it’s not often used as a Core Aesthetic. Players who like to make things often like to find new things to make, whether it’s raiding a dungeon with big hero-types to find a new formula for a magic ritual, or discovering it on their own through experimentation. I’d like to see Discovery used more in LARPs.

  1. Expression

This is the ability for a player to express an aspect of themselves through the game. Character creation in games such as World of Warcraft or Skyrim are all forms of expression.

This is core to LARPs where the player creates their own character before they play their first game, and is used very often. I would even say that this it a defining feature of LARPs, and is a Core Aesthetic to all of them (or all of the ones I’ve played, at least).

  1. Abnegation

This is game as a pastime. This aesthetic is one where players play to just zone out and disconnect from everything. Skinner box games, or games that require grinding, are examples of Abnegation.

This one is often not intended as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs. Still, there are people who like to just role-play with their friends, and not participate in the plot. It’s just chilling out by a fire and just unwinding, which is still a valid way of enjoying a LARP.

  1. Dominance

This is the aesthetic that the Extra Credits added to their list if Aesthetics of Play. It’s the urge to show dominance over others. Call of Duty, PvP areas in World of Warcraft, even GTA Online uses it to some degree.

Naturally, all of these are examples of PvP, which I’ve already expressed my thoughts on. But despite my views on it, I still see it as a valid Aesthetic of Play that can be core to a LARP if the ones running it want it to be.

So what are the Core Aesthetics of any LARP? That’s a loaded question, as different LARPs over different things. Expression and Fantasy often go hand in hand to create role-play, however. And Fellowship often goes together with Challenge to create a group dynamic to overcome obstacles as a team. So those four are often the big ones in a LARP. If you can focus your mechanics to deliver the dynamics necessary to achieve those aesthetics, I think you’re on your way to creating a great LARPing experience for your players. But don’t forget that the other five are still valid, and experimenting with them is something that not a lot of people have really explored in a LARP.

I hope that you find this something to consider, as I’ve recently have been pondering.

See you in two weeks, max, folks!

Player Vs Player Needs Consent

In and of itself, I have no problems with Player vs Player in games. The idea of a “We Vs They” or “Everyone For Themselves” in games is certainly not new. Competitive games encourages sportsmanship, promotes teamwork, and can promote self-confidence, especially in physical sports.

When you enter into one of these games, you understand ahead of time what the rules are and the expectation that there are two or more teams competing against one another. The same goes for games such as League of Legends or Call of Duty (if you play it online) where it’s clear you’re going to be an a PvP situation.

Table Top RPGs and LARPs, however, do not have these built into their systems. There’s no PvP-only zones in a larp, and nothing saying you cannot attack or kill other players that are playing around you. This causes a problem with those that simply want to enjoy their LARP or Table-Top experience as presented to them by their Game Masters.

This is especially problematic when a person wants to play one of these games with the intention of doing a lot of Player vs Player. A person who does this is essentially saying “I’m going to have fun at someone else’s expense.” It shows a lack of empathy for other players, many of which bring the game world more to life with their character’s actions.

I personally find non-consentual PvP to be abhorrent. At best, it’s just rude. At its worst, it can completely ruin an event or evening for a player. I’ve seen many new players driven off from LARPing because of someone that simply wants to steal and kill everyone just because that’s how they get their jollies.

So, what to do? In the case of Table-Top RPGs, it should be discussed between the players and the Game Master as to what level of PvP is acceptable among the group. Once that is established, you can then move forward with the game with those parameters, and everyone will be comfortable playing at that setting.

For LARPs, it gets a bit trickier. LARPs are not as small or intimate as a D&D group. As a result, not everyone at a LARPing event will be familiar with one another’s comfort or views regarding PvP. Some, as I stated earlier, come in specifically to take out other players for fun.

A great technique I’ve learned from Elegy is the idea of talking to another player Out Of Game about the PvP you’d like to engage in. If they say no, then don’t do it. But if they do agree to it, with or without conditions, it’s all good! Why? Because now there’s consent involved.

A lot of great story can be developed and carried out between players that do this, and it can make an event even more immersive and exciting for everyone involved. In addition, because everyone involved consented to it, there’s no hard feelings at all, and everyone can still leave the game happy.

So talk to people you want to engage PvP with. No one will regret it, and it leaves your LARP or RPG game a better and more welcoming place.

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.