Saturday, May 8, 2021

Embracing "The Tiffany Problem" in Vampire

The coterie stood in the receiving chamber, the air thick with tension. They'd left a bloodbath behind them, and the Prince had demanded their presence. None of them said anything, but none of them had to. They were in very deep shit, and if they didn't make good on this then they might not get the privilege of seeing another moonrise.

The carved doors opened, swinging on silent hinges that didn't so much as hint at the weight of the reinforced steel beneath the antique wood. Inside was a quietly lit meeting room, with thick carpet that absorbed sound, and tasteful furnishings on the walls. A ghoul sat on a piano bench in the corner, the music floating on the air as the coterie entered. A pale woman with honey hair stood at the far end, her back stiff and her eyes forward. She didn't act as if she saw the coterie, but she certainly did. The bloody cadre stopped what they hoped was a respectful distance away. Before they could say anything, a pair of fingers with manicured nails snapped, and the pianist ceased playing.

Seated in a high-backed chair, her dark hair in ringlets, was the Prince. Her skin was nearly as black as her hair, and her dress was the deep, royal blue of another era. The gem round her throat was worth more than the bank accounts of several CEOs combined, and the rubies sparkled in the dim light. She crossed one leg over another, and looked at her guests. As she watched them, the coterie felt the veil over her Beast slip slightly, and the air filled with the coppery threat of her predatory nature. They were jackals in the presence of a lioness.

"Presenting Theophania of the House of Albret-" the pale-haired bodyguard began before the Prince flicked her fingernails, and favored her guests with a smile that was not a smile.

"You may call me Tiffany," she said in a purring voice. "Once, that is, you explain to me exactly why I have had to spend capital both political and monetary to clean up the seventeen bodies you all stacked up tonight."

The coterie glanced at each other. Every, single one of them was thinking the same thought.


History is an undiscovered country, kids!

Also, before we get into the meat of this week's discussion, I wanted to remind folks to sign up for my weekly newsletter if you haven't done so yet. And if you're looking for more World of Darkness nonsense to inspire, check out some of the following:

- 100 Kinfolk Project Bundle (1,400 kinfolk NPCs for Werewolf: The Apocalypse)

The Tiffany Problem Makes For Hilarious Vampire Moments

One of the interesting things about Vampire games (whether Masquerade or Requiem) is that they have the potential for characters to have seen history first-hand. Not only that, but they've seen our actual history from Earth (or at least the grim and grimy version we see in the World/Chronicles of Darkness), as opposed to the bygone centuries of a completely made-up fantasy setting. Whether it was someone who was embraced during the Roaring 20s, who saw the bloody fields of the American Civil War first-hand, or they existed in the days of Ancient Rome, there's just so much potential there.

However, something I see a lot of tables run into is The Tiffany Problem.

Yeah... Hollywood is at least part of this problem.

The short version is that The Tiffany Problem refers to how most people have a very skewed and factually incorrect version of what history was actually like, often to the point that when presented with facts about history they refuse to believe them because it doesn't jive with their preconceived notion of the past. Like how the name Tiffany actually goes all the way back to the 12th century, and isn't something from the 1960s just because that's when it got popular in America.

And I see this a lot when it comes to Vampire games where people just assume older vampires from certain eras will need to have modern ideas explained to them very gently. After all, they're very old and set in their ways, and the modern era can be very confusing and scary for someone not adjusted to it.

Take a kindred from the days of ancient Rome, for example. There will be some things that won't make sense to them, such as computers, smartphones, or the physics of the internal combustion engine. However, assuming they can make themselves understood in a modern language, there are going to be a lot of things in today's world they grasp easily, or which they'll see society as terribly backward on. A shopping mall, for instance, will feel very familiar, given that Rome had similar constructions filled with merchants and fast food thousands of years ago. They'll be able to recognize a boxing match easily enough, and the kindred might shake their head at celebrity endorsements since gladiators did much the same thing at the height of the empire (for much the same reasons). The only thing a kindred from those days might find confusing about the issue of gender and sexuality in today's world is why there are so many people who are so concerned with heteronormativity, as bisexuality was quite open during their time, and trans people were a part of everyday society. These were just standard, accepted facts, and seeing the arguments modern people have might leave them shaking their heads, asking why this of all things has become a hill people are willing to die on.

Embrace The Weirder Parts of Our World

The key for what I'll call a "Tiffany Vampire" is to take some aspect of history most people may not know about, and to make that a core part of your character's history or schtick. Playing a brujah embraced during the Victorian era? Make them a mixed martial artist who studied Bartitsu, and who is more than able to wax philosophical about the melding of unarmed combat styles. If your character is from the Viking age (easier to do in Requiem than Masquerade, but I digress), then make them someone immaculately groomed who challenges people to rap battles and uses the court system, as skaldings and legal cases were just as culturally significant in Scandinavia as piracy. At least give them a ghouled cat, since Vikings helped spread cats around the world.

And so on, and so forth.

History is a bizarre and undiscovered country. And whether your character was a female samurai, a pirate queen, an Olympic wrestler turned philosopher, or something else that sounds made up, you can find examples of all these and more in the annals of shit humanity has actually done in the past.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a game master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Sailcloth and Socialism in Silkgift, The Latest "Cities of Sundara" Supplement

A lot of the time when we look at fantasy cities we see they're built on a history of violence and bloodshed. They were often strategic military outposts, or places where great conquests have happened, and you often see timelines of wars, uprisings, pirate fleets, bandit legions, etc. in the annals of these places' histories. And while that's certainly one way to create a fun and unique part of the setting (and it was a strategy I used for Ironfire: The City of Steel for those who grabbed either the Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons 5E version), my goal with Sundara: Dawn of a New Age was to have places across the map that are different not just in appearance and culture, but also in history, philosophy, and goals.

Which leads us to Silkgift, a place where invention, ingenuity, and ideas are used to benefit the entire city, and to achieve things those who lack imagination would say were impossible.

This place is just as nuts, but from a different direction.

Before I get into the nitty gritty on this, don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to stay on top of all my new releases. Additionally, if you want to help me keep the wheels turning then consider becoming a Patreon patron today!

We Built This City on Community and Industry

Before it was a city, Silkgift (available for both Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition as well) was a collection of three villages. It had access to open water for fishing, and lumber for building, but it was the village of Archer that turned an unwanted crop into a necessity. Using spider weed, a plant that grew on the mountainside that seemed to have no real use, the spinsters of Archer created some of the strongest sailcloth anyone had ever seen. Able to withstand storms and last for years, it was relatively slow to make, but since it was so durable that never put a strain on the supply.

This cottage industry was enough to help support not just Archer, but all of the surrounding villages. Fishing boats used the cloth, as did windmills. And just as the labor to make the cloth was done as a group, so too were the resources it generated shared as a group, thus ensuring that everyone in the three villages had the things they needed.

What changed the scale of creation was the advent of Clever Elsie, and the institution she created known as the Ingeneurium.

Where ideas become reality.

Elsie understood the process for spinning and weaving the materials for Archer cloth, but it was not something her hands were skilled at. Fortunately, though, she was capable of making additions to the looms and spinning wheels used to make the cloth. When her additions increased the yield and decreased time and energy it took to make the cloth, Archer's spinsters were intrigued. And in a unanimous vote, Elsie was given a team of apprentices and told to explore until they found more useful discoveries.

And the Ingeneurium found answers. From more effective methods of irrigating crops, to breeding unique variants of spider weed and other plants, to storing energy from the wind by raising heavy weights via winches, to experimenting with compressed air tanks, the curiosity of the ingeneurs led to strange and bizarre discoveries. And in perhaps the most energy-intensive undertaking, it led to them cutting a huge canal through the countryside, effectively making Silkgift a massive center of trade when previously it had been nothing more than an out-of-the-way collection of towns with a unique product to trade.

Wealth, Freedom, and Community Support

Silkgift was based on the idea of community, and as it's increased in size and power that's only grown more ingrained into its official policies and government rules. With more work than ever before done with the strength of machines that utilize the wind, and the flow of water, citizens are allowed to reap the benefits. Everyone has a place to live in Silkgift. Everyone has food, clean water, and trades are taught freely to those who wish to learn. People are allowed to pursue their passions, and the city boasts a fair number of artists, crafters, and niche artisans who can pursue their calling thanks to the city's safety nets.

However, there's more that's unique to Silkgift than just its worker-owned means of production, and community-based decision making. Because those are the dropped stones that cause interesting ripples for the city.

Through cooperation you can do almost anything you set your mind to!

One major difference for Silkgift is that the city's setup eliminates several standbys of fantasy cities in RPGs. You won't find beggars in Silkgift because the city provides for all those who come to it that don't have the means. You don't find a lot of gangs or bandits for the same reason; when you have a house, a community that wants to help, and food in your belly, the potential of a violent death in the wilderness is a whole lot less appealing. You don't tend to find gaggles of mercenaries seeking work for the same reason; with no wide-sweeping threats to protect against, why would those in the iron trade be necessary on a large scale rather than as occasional guards for caravans or ships that are also just passing through?

Leaders are elected by the city, and profits from Silkgift's enterprises are decided by the residents, who own both the industries and the machinery that makes them run.

So Where's The Conflict, You Might Ask?

Silkgift, The City of Sails was a unique enough addition to the Cities of Sundara series that I felt I needed to add a section for game masters who wanted to use it. Because while the city has all sorts of unusual goodies like net launchers, aether weapons, and other unique tools for adventurers to get their hands on, it isn't the sort of place where the party gets caught up in street brawls between criminal enterprises, or where the local lord has raised crushing taxes, or is throwing political dissidents in jail.

That doesn't mean there isn't anything for adventurers to do, however.

Industrial espionage is one potential theme for a campaign. The Ingeneurium can be secretive, at times, and there are other organizations and powers in the setting that would like to steal research and ideas in order to turn them to their own advantage... or to bury them so it doesn't challenge their own power. Sabotage is another theme, as the Silkgift canal was a major game changer in terms of trade routes and travel, and it redirected a lot of people away from other cities who might want that commerce back. Some inventors might be fleeing shadowy pasts where they weren't as moral in their experiments as they might pretend, or prominent ingeneurs might be the subject of kidnapping by those who want them to turn their intellect to crafting weapons for a syndicate.

Those sorts of games might not be to everyone's tastes, and they may not be the first thing someone thinks of when they sit down to play a fantasy RPG. It is, however, the sort of things that Silkgift is best used for. Of course it's just one part of Sundara as a setting, and there are plenty of other corners you can explore to find the sorts of plots that appeal to you in this Dawn of a New Age!

The Setting So Far!

If Sundara sounds like the sort of world you want to get in on, there's several more installments yet to come! However, those that have been released include:

- Ironfire, The City of Steel: The center of the iron trade, the volcanic furnaces of Ironfire produce high-quality dragon steel, and draw every stripe of sellsword and adventurer from across the region. Available for Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5E.

- Moüd, The City of Bones: A lost city in a blasted desert, Moüd has gone from a necropolis to a metropolis once more thanks to the efforts of the Silver Wraiths. This guild of necromancers controls the city, sustaining it through their arts. Available for Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5E.

- Silkgift, The City of Sails: A place of ingenuity and invention, some are fascinated by the strange devices and methods devised within Silkgift. Others are just glad for the canal that turns months of travel into barely a week. Available for Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5E.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Specific Background Details Make Your Character an Organic Part of The World

Character backgrounds are sometimes a contentious topic. On the one hand, you want to have enough of a history to get an idea of who your character is, what drives them, and how they picked up the skills and abilities they possess. On the other hand, there are folks who argue that you can put in too much extraneous detail about your character. After all, unless your character's younger brother that you spent half a page talking about is going to show up in your story somewhere, or their childhood friend who joined up with the militia has the potential to become a plot point, there's no point in insisting those details take up space in the GM's memory.

However, there is something I've seen trip players up when it comes to figuring out who their characters are. Because too often players will make generic backstories hoping to ensure their characters can fit in a variety of game settings, but that can have the effect of making a character feel more like a sketch rather than a fully-inked design.

My character? Yeah she's from... "small fishing village." No, I don't know where it's at!

That's why this week I want to talk about the little details you can add to make your character feel like an organic part of the world where the game is actually taking place. As always, if you haven't signed up for my weekly newsletter yet, consider doing that to get all my shiny updates right to your inbox!

Where Are You From... Specifically

When most of us make characters we tend to start with rough concepts. We know our paladin grew up in a remote farming community, or our sorceress is from a noble family in a major city, etc., but too often we just leave things at that point and forget to go back in and fill in the blanks.

If you're going to focus on necessary, impactful details that tie you more closely to the world you're actually playing in, that's a good place to start.

There's a hot spring in my wizard's home town. Where is that? Ugh...

The devil is in the details here. Because there's a difference between being from "a small faming community," and being from Astspear. The former is a general, vague sketch of a place, while Astspear is a town that focuses on fishing and farming, where there's a tradition of militia service among all young people of a certain age, and where there is a vehement anti-piracy stance. It's a place with a specific culture, and which has unique locations like Scalawag's End or Fletcher's Finds in it. Even if the party never ventures to this location, it provides concrete history for a character, along with references, and an idea of the particular forces that shaped this character. Also, if you look at where this town is, and where the party is now, you can see all the areas they traveled through to get where they currently are, giving you an idea of the sorts of sights they've seen and experiences they've had along the way.

For those who are curious, Astspear can be found in my 10 Fantasy Villages supplement.

And if your character is from a city rather than a smaller town or village... well, that's when these details become extremely important. Because if someone tells you they're from a city, that's a generic idea of the sort of place they come from. But the difference between New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Paris, or a hundred other places is marked, to say the least. So while knowing your character is from a city is important, the culture, styles, fashions, norms, etc. of that particular city can make them feel like they're a more organic part of the setting as a whole. Especially since cities can pack so much culture and variety inside them that you can really get down into the nitty gritty of a character's history.

For instance, a character that's a generic big city enforcer who used to work for a gang is a good starting sketch. If they were an Ironfire duelist who fought in the Red Circle, though, that's vastly different than someone who was a grave robber in Moüd, or someone who worked the canal docks shaking down sailors in Silkgift. Not just because each city will have its own gangs, its own guards, and its own laws, but there will be unique cultures and opportunities, as well as certain groups you may or may not have crossed paths with that can give a character a unique perspective on the setting.

Also, for those who are curious, each of the cities mentioned are part of my Sundara: Dawn of a New Age setting, and details can be found below:

- Ironfire: The City of Steel for Pathfinder 1st Edition and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
- Moüd: The City of Bones for Pathfinder 1st Edition and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
- Silkgift: The City of Sails for Pathfinder 1st Edition and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

Always Be Specific Where You Can

While the place a character is born and raised is a good spot to start, this same attitude can apply to every major aspect of the character's history. For instance, if your character is a noble, be specific about what kind they are, and what that responsibility entails. What is their title, where are their lands (if they have them), what's their crest, family reputation, etc., etc. I covered a lot of these things in 5 Tips For Playing Better Noble Characters, but since noble families are one of the bigger parts of any social fabric, you need to know how your character is tied into that society specifically instead of just in a vague sense.

You can apply this to basically every aspect of your character. If you were a criminal what gang did you run with? If you were a mercenary, what was the name and heraldry of your free company? If you graduated from a wizard's college, what is it's name, and where was it? If you were trained as a priest, who taught you, what branch of the church handled your tutelage, and what specific location did you live in while you handled your studies?

And so on, and so forth.

Any time you can tie an aspect of your character to the specific world you're actually playing in, do that. Because not only does it integrate your character with this setting in meaningful ways, but that is how you give your GM the strings they need to tug on. Because now you're not just creating random details; you're marking locations on their map that matter to your history, and which can be used as tools to motivate and reward your character.

Additional Resources

For those looking for additional inspiration when it comes to making their own settings, or finding details to include if a world doesn't have what you need, take a moment to check out some of the following:

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Fluff post!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my alley cat thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my recent short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Monday, April 26, 2021

Game Masters, Be Careful of The Behaviors You Reward in Your Game

Games have rules, and RPGs have more rules than most games to try to cover the wide array of situations and conflicts that might arise. However, very often the rules are written in such a way that they enforce certain ideas, and certain courses of action at the table. As a Game Master it's important for you to be aware of these things, and to ask how they're going to affect your game. Because if you don't pay attention to these incentives (whether they're put there by the original designers or via your own house rules), you may find yourself scratching your head about why your players take certain courses of action, or choose certain options.

The actions your reward are the actions you will continue to see.

Before I go any further, remember to sign up for my weekly newsletter if you don't want to miss out on any of my updates. And if you haven't seen it yet, consider checking out 5 Things You Can Do To Be A Better Ambassador For Your Hobby, as I feel it dovetails nicely with this particular topic.

What Gets Players Their Rewards?

The most basic question regarding a game is what actions will get the players rewards, and which ones will not. While some players might not put it into words, these are the things they're paying attention to, and what they see will drive their actions going forward.

Numbers look good on that strategy. Repeat until it stops working!

As a basic example of this practice in action, look at XP in your game. In a lot of RPGs you get XP for disarming traps, or for defeating monsters, because it's expected that the players are going to do those things. However, say your players use an alternate method to bypass a trap (turning ethereal, leaping over the pressure plate, tumbling past the triggers, etc.), do you give them the XP reward for that? What if they bluff their way past the monstrous guards instead of fighting them? Or sneak past unseen and unheard? Do they still get XP for those actions?

A lot of that will depend on you, as the GM.

For example, do you give the players the reward no matter how they solved the issue, ensuring their XP stays on track and they can level up appropriately? Or do you insist that they don't get the experience unless they roll initiative and do things the bloody way? Because whichever choice you make, players are going to take a cue from it, and incorporate it into their future strategies.

And it's one reason you'll see players become murderhobos. Not necessarily because they aren't creative, or can't think of situations beyond extreme violence, but because that is the requirement the GM sets (knowingly or unknowingly) for the players getting their rewards. And when you realize that using persuasive rhetoric or stealth isn't getting you what you need to advance, you stop trying, because it's been discouraged.

This is, honestly, why a lot of GMs have switched to Milestone Leveling (which I talk about more in Run Smoother, More Enjoyable Games (By Removing XP) for those who are interested). It removes the need to keep track of numbers, yes, but it also means that players are given the freedom to decide which strategy they want to pursue based on their skills and talents, rather than worrying about not leveling up if they don't do things the expected way.

This Applies To All Aspects of a Game

No matter what aspect of a game we're talking about, you can often get a new perspective on it (and on your group's behavior) by asking what actions you're encouraging, and which one's you're not.

For example, if players can talk to intelligent monsters, bandits, etc. and find some solution without combat, there's a good chance they'll at least try that option more often. If taking prisoners, or disarming and releasing beaten monsters leads to a growth in their reputation (see Character Reputation in RPGs: The Small Legend for more information), or if they can recruit/reform those NPCs, then mercy is going to seem like a viable option instead of just a chance to let the GM stab you in the back. If they are rewarded for solving issues and finding solutions (say with gifts from the quest givers for a job well done), instead of only being able to get monetary rewards from looting corpses, you'll see players broaden their thinking when it comes to finding solutions.

It all depends on which options you as a GM reinforce, and which ones you don't.

I'm an ambassador... I'm supposed to talk to people!

While there's plenty of advice out there about which actions you should actively discourage, and how to deal with problematic players, a lot of the time you can find solutions in asking how to better use the carrot instead of the stick. Especially if it turns out you (or the rules) are actively rewarding things that, in retrospect, aren't actually the directions you want your players to go.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

A Mechanical Review of Changeling: The Lost's 2nd Edition (And What Went Wrong)

Regular readers around these parts know that if I'm not playing Pathfinder that I love me a good Chronicles of Darkness game. Of all the spheres I've played, Changeling: The Lost is my favorite. The combination of twisted fairy tales, beautiful madness, and cosmic horror is the perfect brew to slowly sink into and immerse yourself, and the game was flexible enough that you could make basically any concept you wanted to play. When I heard there was going to be a 2nd edition of the game I didn't rush in and follow every development as it was happening. I waited calmly and patiently for the smoke to clear, and to see just what had happened.

My current verdict is that if you have to choose between the original Changeling: The Lost and the newer second edition, just play the first one. It doesn't commit the sins I'm about to get into.

There's no beauty here... only madness.

For folks who want to check out some of my World/Chronicles of Darkness content, consider checking out my 100 Kinfolk Project, as well as my 101 Savage Kinfolk and 100 Stargazer Kinfolk for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, as well as my recent release New World Nights: 100 Ghouls For The American Camarilla. I've got some Changeling: The Lost content coming down the pipe, as well, and if you don't want to miss out on it then make sure you sign up for my weekly newsletter to get all my updates sent straight to your inbox!

Soft Where It Needs To Be Hard, Hard Where it Should Be Soft

Similar to what I said a while back in my mechanical review Chronicles of Darkness Second Edition... What's The Difference?, the second edition of Changeling is pretty recognizable in a story sense. Changelings are still people who are stolen by the True Fae, their souls torn on the Thorns between worlds, and the gap filled with fey magic. They are still Other, altered to become whatever the True Fey needed. Escaped back to the Real they are creatures of two worlds, now, and they are hunted. Changelings still form courts for mutual protection, they still use Contracts as their magic powers, etc., etc.

If you're familiar with the first edition of the game, the broad strokes are still there, and still the same.

Now we get into what's different.

Aside from the difference in the core game that I already covered in my previous review (the beats system for gaining XP, the Doors system for achieving long-term goals, etc.), if I had to explain what's different in Changeling: The Lost now it's that the game has been over-scripted, and shrunk down, so that you feel like a character caught in a web of conflicting laws and promises, but in the worst possible way.

A concrete example of this is the changes made to Pledges. Changelings are creatures who can bind people to promises spoken, in keeping with fey lore and the themes of the game. In classic Lost there's one chart split into four pieces. You have the Task (what the person has to do), the Boon (what they get for doing it), the Sanction (the punishment for breaking the pledge), and the Duration (how long does it last?). There's a simple chart with attached numbers, and as long as all the numbers add up to 0, the pledge is ready to rock.

The second edition, rather than just having this single mechanic with a basic chart that lets you compose the pledge, has several different varieties of oaths, all of which are only applicable in certain situations. They each have their own caveats, and long-winded explanations, but there's never a chart explaining how to use them in a practical sense, or how they're supposed to function. Instead, it feels like reading a product user agreement read by a frustrated fantasy writer trying to spice up their day job.

And that's the new edition in a nutshell; it takes simple, functional, practical mechanics of the original and softens them until they melt like wax. Often to the point where, though I can see what the designers were trying to achieve, they just end up making a more limited version of the original game. Or, worse yet, they take aspects that were left vague and open-ended for players to fill in themselves, and create rules for how you have to play certain aspects that limits your freedom and options.

More Examples and Frustrations

While what happened to Pledges is emblematic of the changes made, there are a lot more examples I want to talk about, because I feel they're indicative of the direction the game was moved in.

First off the list, Clarity. While a lot of folks hate that Clarity was just a list of Thou Shalt Nots in terms of actions that forced you to roll, I'd argue that if any game will accept an arbitrary system of rules that characters have to follow even if they disagree with them, it should be those bound to the fey. That said, Clarity has become an absolute mess. The new edition treats Clarity checks as a mental attack, with a huge list of complications and modifiers that made my head spin just trying to figure out what it was trying to say. Not only that, but it enfolded the Virtue and Vice system from the previous edition, allowing players to (at least in part) custom make their own Clarity, what they draw strength from, and what triggers affect them. A nice idea in theory, but one which is so soft that it feels almost pointless because it leaves the players to do all the heavy lifting on their own with only a bit of guidance. It's a perfect example of an idea that was deemed too simple, then overcomplicated till it just became a confusing morass.

But what about stuff that was open-ended that's been codified in ways that hurt the game, since I mentioned that, too? Well, another thing that's changed is the Seemings themselves. The broad categories of changelings (Beasts, Darklings, Ogres, Fairest, etc.) are all still here. And as folks know in the first edition they could spend glamour to increase pools involving certain attributes or skills associated with their Seeming (Strength for ogres, Stealth for darklings, etc.). This created a system where certain varieties of changeling had certain mechanical strengths, but it was still loose enough that the line of changelings coming in an infinite variety that's sometimes hard to codify felt true. In the second edition that was done away with entirely, and from what I read there's now no abilities that increase your attributes and skills via glamour at all. Instead, every seeming gets one magic power. Darklings turn invisible, for instance. All darklings, of every variety, have this one power. Might just be me, but that feels like it's solidifying those lines pretty damn hard, and nailing down specifics of what you are and aren't in ways that were previously up to players.

There's also a third category of mechanical change... the Nerfing. And despite being some of the most mortal and vulnerable supernatural creatures in the Chronicles of Darkness, the new edition slapped changelings hard with the Nerf bat.

I'm still trying to compose my brain after some of it.

Contracts is where some of the biggest Nerfing took place (aside, of course, from the complete absence of the ability to increase your dice pools with glamour the way you could before from what I saw). Because the Beats system means you're getting less XP overall, and it takes a lot longer to acquire it, this system did away with the exponential cost for new dots. Now you just pay a flat XP cost for any additional thing you want on your sheet. So whether you had a Strength of 1 dot or 4 dots, buying the next dot is just a flat 5 XP now.

That sounds nice in theory. However, it meant that since Contracts can basically be purchased in any order a character wants (instead of having to buy a set from 1-5 dots to get to the really potent ones), that all of them had to be made roughly the same power level. And it was a bizarre experience seeing Contracts that were once big deals sitting there as a ghost of their former selves, hollowed-out husks of their old glory. The Lord's Dread Gaze (the Summer contract that let you shoot beams of solar fire that was usually only had by one or two people in the entire court) is a perfect example... it still lets you shoot lasers, but now they do bashing damage and aren't nearly as potent. You'd be better off just getting a gun and shooting someone with it. Even old standbys like Might of The Terrible Brute (a 1-dot Contract used by any melee bruiser that let you boost your Strength for a round) has now been made into something that only works for grappling, and has a bunch of other caveats attached to it.

Practically every aspect of the game has been made smaller, less potent, and in many cases actively punishes the player for attempting to use it (goblin Contracts, for instance, now incur phantom "goblin debt" which seems to only come into play if the ST remembers it's there, and is willing to do something with it, rather than the clear drawbacks of the earlier edition). Lastly, frailties (inherent, fey weaknesses in the character) are now something you pick up as soon as you hit Wyrd 2, when they used to not come into play until you surpassed normal, mortal requirements around Wyrd 6 or so. Changeling now get actively harmed by cold iron, as well, when they used to be able to wield it as their one, real advantage over the Gentry (it still cut through magical defenses, but it was mostly a single-edged sword).

It's still recognizably Changeling, but it feels like it's been in a major accident. It can't do the things it once could, and it's got a whole new list of weaknesses and day-to-day frustrations you never even considered before.

If you were wondering whether the second edition improved anything, I would be hard pressed to tell you yes. Unlike the core book for Chronicles, which at least had some ideas and systems I could get behind, Changeling: The Lost's second edition is just a frail shadow of its former self.

Play the first edition. It's still out there, and you'll likely have a more satisfying experience with the support and cleaner rules it offers.

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That's all for this week's Crunch topic! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well! And if you'd like to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little bit of help can go a long way, trust me on that one.

Monday, April 19, 2021

GMs, Don't Make Players "Prove" Their Classes To You

I want you to take a moment and ask how many times you've had a really fun idea for a character that you were really excited to play. Maybe it was a swashbuckling bard, or a longbow wielding paladin, or a wizard astride a proud, white charger. If you are a fortunate player, your GM looked at the character, made sure it didn't break any agreed-upon rules, and said sure, sounds good!

However, there are a lot of GMs out there who will simply fold their arms and refuse unless your character looks and feels the way they think a member of this class should look and feel. This sort of behavior never improves a game, and it will always drive a player's interest right into the ground. So please, my fellow game masters, open your imagination and try to see things from your player's perspective.

Barbarian prince? No. You can't even read, much less run a country.

While we're on this topic, I'd urge readers to take a gander at my ever-expanding Unusual Character Concepts list to see some more examples of the sorts of characters that a lot of GMs will flat-out refuse even though they don't break any rules. Also, while we're at it, consider signing up for my weekly newsletter to make sure you don't miss anything that comes out in the future.

Lastly, for GMs who are looking for a new addition to their settings, "Silkgift: The City of Sails" is now out for my Sundara setting! Aether weapons, brigandines, net launchers, and a bunch of other nonsense is in this one, so check it out for either Pathfinder Classic or Dungeons and Dragons 5E!

Flavor To Taste (And Don't Keep The Gate)

Any time I suggest that GMs give players more freedom and options, the response is always something along the lines of, "Oh, so I should just let players bring a half-angel, half-demon dragon to my game? Uh-uh, not happening!"

So in the interest of crystal clear communication, I'm not saying that GMs should open up every book in the whole game and let players go wild. I'm saying they should stop gatekeeping the options the players actually have available to them (the ones in the character creation section, not the entirety of the Bestiary/Monster Manual) and demanding players somehow "prove" that their character should be allowed if the concept they're proposing doesn't violate the ground rules of the game.

Meaning they have chosen a class (or classes) you said were available and allowed, pairing them with a creature type that you also said was available and allowed. But, for one reason or another, you don't like the flavor of the character because it goes against what you think/feel/believe it should be, so you make the player jump through hoops, or outright deny them the ability to play that concept.

Should is open to interpretation. If the concept doesn't break the rules, let your players have their cookie.

Trust me... they will love you for it.

Like I said, dig through my archive and you'll find dozens of articles that have polarized GMs. Some of the more common include:

Some of the debates over these concepts have been interesting. Others have been incendiary. But the point at the heart of it, nine times out of ten, is that the DM who would ban characters like this (base classes played in an unexpected way) simply cannot conceive of these characters in any way outside of the box they've been placed in either by their experience as a gamer, or in popular fiction. In their minds druids are always tree-hugging hippies who live in the woods like bears. Wizards must be geniuses who study for years of their life, rather than someone who develops an intrinsic grasp of the math of magic via an accident or injury. Bards are singers and storytellers, not bellowing commanders slinging spells and steel on the front lines. Sorcerers are either born that way, or they're not, they don't just gain spell slots by exposure to a lab accident like in a comic book.

Of course, none of that is in the game as it's written. There are tropes and stereotypes, and examples of classic versions of these characters, but there's nothing actively preventing these concepts in the rules. A barbarian can be a prince or princess as surely as they can be born in a windswept crag somewhere in the northern reaches, and a paladin can be a scarred, sour enforcer in studded armor with a longbow as surely as a beautiful knight in shining armor.

By all means, ask for a backstory. If something doesn't add up, ask for an explanation. But don't waste your GM fiat on telling a player no because their elf isn't barbaric enough to fit your pre-conceived notion of what a barbarian "should" be.

The class is just a rules chassis; the character isn't part of a union that demands codes of conduct, and will show up to take their class card away if they don't act a certain way. All they have to do is obey the rules actually written into their class, and if the class doesn't say they must be or do X, Y, or Z, then it isn't mandatory.

The "Well in My Game" Defense

Again, in the interests of clarity, this advice is to be taken for games as they're written, and as they're portrayed in common world guides for those books (Golarion, Forgotten Realms, etc., etc.). If you have made your own, custom game setting with additional red tape that isn't in the common rules, then there is no possible way I could know about it when writing this piece. However, before leaving comments, consider the wording of what I said above.

If a player's concept does not violate the rules, don't make them jump through additional hoops. That includes any additional rules you have put in place for your setting, or as part of character creation at your table.

However many rules those are.

As an example, if the major religions of your world are at war with arcane magic, then sure, it wouldn't make sense to have a sorcerer as a holy warrior beneath a church's banner. Same way that if you have decided paladins can only be made by taking vows before a holy order and being anointed by them, then of course you can't have someone being chosen out in the boondocks by a divine force to act as their champion.

But if a player's concept follows all the rules (including the ones you have added for whatever custom world you've made), then you're not doing yourself any favors as their GM by making them write a dissertation about why they should be allowed to play their concept. Because just like how railroading characters onto plot leads to player disconnect and a drop in interest, railroading their creativity can suck out their enthusiasm before the game ever really starts.

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. To stay on top of all my content and releases, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page!

Again, for more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my cat noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Organized Play, Universal Rules, and Frustrations of a Traveling Gamer

Regular readers know that, before the pandemic at least, I was a fairly regular LARPer. In fact, a majority of the World/Chronicles of Darkness games I've been a part of have been LARPs, rather than sitting around a table rolling pools of d10s. And while one or two of those games have been independent, most of them were (or at least claimed to be) part of an organization.

Not all organizations are created equal, though. Which is why I'd like to talk about something that seems to crop up time and time again, and it's a massive frustration that I'd highly recommend folks do away with entirely in the future. Because if you're going to claim you're all playing the same game, you need to actually be playing under the same rules and canon.

This isn't "A Tale of Two Cities" RPG edition.

Before we get into the meat of it, make sure you sign up for my weekly newsletter if you don't want to miss any of my new releases and upcoming content! Also, if you're a fan of the World of Darkness in general, consider checking out my 100 Kinfolk supplement bundle for Werewolf: The Apocalypse (with 100 Stargazer Kinfolk as an extra), as well as my fresh-off-the-presses supplement New World Nights: 100 Ghouls For The American Camarilla.

And now, on with this week's tale!

How Organized Play is Supposed To Work

For those who've never come across organized play for a LARP before, the concept is actually pretty neat. The way it's supposed to work is that all the games being run by the organization are part of the same overarching chronicle, and the events that happen in one location can affect events happening across the board. Not only that, but players can take their characters on the road, showing up at sister games and bringing their characters to meet new folks, engage in away plots, etc.

It has the result of making a chronicle actually feel big, rather than just being told it's big even if the plot ends at the boundaries of your venue.

No condensed world for me, thank you!

For games to work on this scale, though, it's important to have a universal standard when it comes to the rules that are in place, and to make sure that communication is happening to prevent glitches in stories.

And, for all of the things I didn't like about it, Mind's Eye Society (formerly known as the Camarilla, I believe) managed this aspect pretty well.

For example, they put forth a list of official organization modifications and house rules for players in all venues to follow, and storytellers had to adhere to these rules. This prevented different venues from running drastically different versions of merits or supernatural powers, or having one venue that completely barred certain abilities that were allowed in a neighboring game. If a particular power or ability was considered rare or unusual then a player could file a request for it, and if the request was granted it would be attached to the character sheet and honored at every venue. Even if the ST of a particular game didn't like that your character had access to a rare Discipline, or they possessed a merit that was usually restricted, if you put in the effort to get it approved, then you could use it in play. And if STs were abusing their authority there was someone over their heads a player could reach out to in order to file a complaint. While there's plenty of folks who've pointed out this option wasn't always effective, the fact that it existed is still something I considered a positive aspect.

Additionally, the use of canon resources was tracked to make sure that the games had a unified feel to them. As an example, if a storyteller wanted to bring an important, named NPC to their venue for a particular game, they had to notify the organization and get it approved. Not because the character was so special it could only be allowed out of the toolbox once an ST proved they were responsible; rather, it was to make sure you didn't have the same character in half a dozen games at the same time, screwing up the canon. Similar notifications would need to be submitted for effects that could affect other venues, as well as national or global plots. It kept everyone on the same page, and ensured the world fit together properly.

In short, your game was not allowed to be an island. If you were part of an organization then (at least in theory) you were agreeing to be part of a greater whole. You could still run your own plots, create your own NPCs, and do things your own way, but there were limits imposed on the amount of discretion you had if it went outside of certain bounds.

What I found out as I sought out other games is that there are a lot of storytellers who use the phrase "organized play" to describe their games, but who don't seem to realize it doesn't mean what they think it means.

You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

When I stopped attending Mind's Eye Society games (drive was too long, wasn't feeling the current chronicle, attendance was down, etc.) I started seeking out other games to fill the void. I tried Werewolf, I tried Vampire, and I even managed to find a Changeling game or two. Nearly every game I attended lured me in with the promise that, though they were part of a smaller organization of games, they were definitely an organization. So my vampire, my werewolf, my changeling would always have at least two or three sister games they could go to, giving me access to a variety of weekend games whenever I had the time and desire to attend.

It was exciting... until I realized that my definition of organized play was wildly different from the one a lot of these storytellers were operating under.

What? No, that's not how that works here. I don't care what Geoff does in his game.

What many of these smaller gaming groups meant when they said they supported organized play was, "We have a loose canon with the other games, and we agree to allow players to travel and bring their characters so we can all play together." The aspect they didn't mention, though, was there was no universal, agreed-upon set of rules we were all using. And worse, every ST ran their game their own way.

It was exhausting to keep track of. In one venue certain vampire Disciplines worked one way, but in a sister venue they worked a different way. In a third venue only one or two powers from an entire Discipline were allowed, even if you had dots for the others. One venue had expanded social penalties for werewolves who used firearms, despite it not being canon to the game. Another venue ignored that entirely. One venue approved a custom made magic item for a changeling, and another one refused to allow it at all.

It was enough to make your head spin.

For some of my fellow players, this wasn't really an issue. Their characters were using the most common paths of progression, and they weren't really affected by too much by these changing paradigms. Other folks were frustrated by it, but they enjoyed the social aspects of the game enough to put up with the unique idiosyncrasies of the different venue storytellers and their staffs.

However, once it became clear that every storyteller basically wanted to have their own game run their own way, I was out. And nine times out of ten I felt like a canary in the coal mine, because the games almost always folded not long after I walked out the door.

Storytellers, This Isn't "Your" Game

If I had to address one lesson I learned throughout this journey, one central problem that I felt was foundational to all the other issues, it would be to remind storytellers out there that this isn't "their" game.

What I mean by that is every storyteller needs to remember that it is their job to create something for players to enjoy. However, too many times storytellers get their egos caught up in the process, or they insist their way is right, or better, or simply that no one else is going to tell them how to do things in their own game. Sometimes they just slap players' hands because the players want to solve plot in a way the storyteller doesn't like, or didn't expect. That's bad enough when it really is an independent venue, but if you're even putting out the pretense that you're part of an organized setup it can be downright toxic to player enjoyment and confidence.

If you tell your players their characters are part of an organization that allows them to play in multiple venues, then those venues need to all be running on the same rules and baseline assumptions. Otherwise it's like you're trying to watch different episodes of the same show, but the art style is completely different, the setting details change from one episode to the next, and none of the abilities they have in one season seem to apply in the other.

In short, what's meant to be a major selling point turns into a slurry of nonsense that can undermine trust. Because if you don't deliver on the promises you make to your players, that's going to make them trust you less and less as the game goes on. And if your players don't trust you, pretty soon you won't have any players at all.

What's Next on Table Talk?

That's it for this installment of Table Talk! What would you like to see next? Or do you have your own story you'd like to share with folks?

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. Or, to check out books like my hard-boiled cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my recent short story collection The Rejects, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.