What’s in a name?

Apologies for the somewhat patchy update frequency recently, I’ve been stuck with this blog half written for some time now and the rest of it wouldn’t come and I struggled to write anything else with this stuck in my brain half-formed.  A more normal blogging schedule should now resume…

As any fictional demonologist worth his salt will tell you, names have power, a name to conjure by, a name to bind…

The name of a thing shapes our perception of the thing, be it a place, a person or anything else.  A rose by any other name, goes the counter-argument to this.  However send someone a dozen red Thornflowers  for valentines day and you’re going without a date…

In roleplaying games a name can be even more powerful, as the character in question isn’t someone you get to see outside of each of the players’ imaginations, and that is where the true meaning of “a name to conjure by” comes into play.  In games all you ever really see of a character (unless you have a talented artist in the group who draws them) is the player’s description, the name and the actions and dialogue that happens in play.

Add in to this mix the fact that some names just fit better onto certain characters or into certain settings than others and all of a sudden the decision gathers even more importance.  After all Judge Llewellyn declaring “I am the Law!” doesn’t hold quite the right ring to it, neither does Nigella the Barbarian, whereas Dredd and Thrudd fit onto those characters somewhat better respectively.

That said a little juxtaposition with names can work a treat, the most evil character I’ve ever played was a sorceror in Dungeons and Dragons named Elias Finch, hardly a name to inspire fear but he was an absolute terror.  One of the most memorable characters I’ve ever played alongside in Cyberpunk was named Jasper, not the most ‘Edgerunner’ of names but it worked and worked well, and that was some 15+ years ago…

A lot of people leave this oh-so-important choice to the last minute or even seconds before the game is due to begin. I’m not saying that this approach is wrong, after all any method for character creation which works for any player can’t be defined as ‘wrong’, but however you name your character holds the potential to make the character not quite sit right or fit perfectly with the concept in your head, so surely it deserves all the thought you can give it?

My preferred method is to start with a name and make a character that fits the name.  If you haven’t tried it why not give it a go? I find that the whole character fits together better this way and in fact you can end up with names that you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen that fit the character perfectly despite being unusual in the game setting.  I’ve found that this works best in a setting that you’re familiar with at least enough that you know how to create a character in that setting and what options will be available to you, but this is not 100% necessary.

However you choose to name your characters, a word of advice: Avoid the names of existing fictional characters like the plague.  I mean full names or very distinctive names, for example Harry is fine, Buffy not so much…  The moment a player hears a name that they’re familiar with be it from a movie, book, comic, whatever, two things happens.  First they will assume that you couldn’t be bothered to be creative, and given that a roleplaying game at it’s simplest is a bunch of people getting together to be collaboratively creative then that just looks bad.  Second is that names of existing characters come pre-loaded with conceptions and expectations, and unless you’re in an extremely cinematic campaign your character is almost certainly going to fall short and people, not least of which will be you, will be disappointed.

Discalimer: Any names used are done so completely without any permissions, it’s a short blog, completely not for profit, it’s not like I stole your I.P. for a multi-million pound blockbuster movie. Oh, and no, I don’t know any actual demonologists, nor do I condone demonology or believe that there is any link between such practices and roleplaying, unless someone is roleplaying a character who is a demonologist, in which case it’s all pretend anyway…

As always thoughts, comments etc are always welcome, feel free to leave one after the tone…

Beep :)

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So you’re in a Tavern…

Starting a game right can be vital. Get it right and your players will jump right into your world and reward you greatly (with great roleplaying and obvious enjoyment of your game, you’re a GM, it’s not a paying job). Get it wrong and half the party will go along for no good reason than because you want them to and the other half will want to derail your carefully crafted plot, either separately or en masse.

When planning how to start a game there are a lot of factors you want to consider, do the characters know each other? If so for how long? Are they going to be thrown together by circumstance or is the team being put together by a third party who’s either hiring specific people or forcing them to do his/her bidding? Which characters have your players chosen to play, or indeed do you wish to limit/guide them in this to ensure a working party? What will be the focus of your game?

As I said, lot’s to consider. Knowing what game you want to run and communicating this to your players is vital, a special forces strike team who are constantly on field ops has very little use for a world-class physicist, no matter how much the player wants to play one.

If your characters do know each other, then you really need to either create characters all together and talk about where you’re going with the characters and their pasts as defining shared history and events that the group know about can really help your players develop a group dynamic, a vital tool if you want them to roleplay having know each other for the past X years…

If however you plan on the thrown together by chance/hired/blackmailed by a third party then if I can offer one piece of advice it’s this: overcoming shared threats/dangers is a real bonding tool. Hell if it’s good enough for the armies of the world (creating the bonds of the squad through the hardship of basic training) then it’s good enough for your weekly gaming group. It doesn’t even need to be danger, a common enemy can bring people together just as well. All this aside you still need to have communicated with your players enough to understand their characters’ motivations. For an excellent example of differently motivated people I heartily recommend the TV show Leverage, it highlights some staggering differences in people’s motivations even if they’re basically ‘the good guys’.

If you choose to limit what your players can play, or plan to change character creation rules to suit your particular campaign style (a tried and tested method of not only flavouring your campaign but also nudging your players in the right direction), let your players know before they envision the character they really want to play next. If a player has their heart set on a particular character but it’s not feasible to create it in your modified system, it’s better that they never set their heart on it in the first place.

All that aside there will always be a place for “So you’re in a Tavern”, be it setting the tone for a beer-and-pretzels game or on the odd occasion where that’s where you want to start things (though in the latter case if you then turn everything on it’s head and shake the players up it can really galvanise their thinking).

But think back to your favourite games, I think most of the best ones have unusual r at least original beginnings, but then I once convinced a Cyberpunk 2020 party that they’d crash landed on the way to the partly-terraformed Mars penal colony when in fact they were in the Australian outback having crashed much earlier in the flight than they thought, so I’m probably biased.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on gaming beginnings, either good, bad or just memorable, so please, discuss…

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How I managed to co-op run a successful game for three years – with a little help of course.

First off, I’d like to point anyone reading this to the other half of the game team’s blog here http://shortymonster.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/how-i-managed-to-co-op-run-a-successful-game-for-three-years-with-a-little-help-of-course/

 

I’d also like to state that this is my thoughts that might help anyone wanting to co-run a game as I’ve expanded on them since reading Shorty’s blog and I thought I’d collate them here rather than commenting Shorty’s blog to death.

 

Secondly a disclaimer, this entry may at times seem like my ego has run away and written this all on it’s own, this is not true and I apologise for the appearance thereof.

 

Where to begin, when we took over the Independent Vampire game we had some real advantages going for us.  We inherited a game from a GM team who’d simply hit burnout after a quite a few years, this gave us an established setting and a core of players familiar enough with that to try some truly crazy but always amazing things. 

 

Having played a number of Live Action games we’d both seen what worked, what didn’t and what could work with a few tweaks.  I also had some experience of helping out the previous plot team and how they did things was a solid basis for how we operated.

 

We communicated.  A lot.  About everything.  This sounds like a very simple point and it is, communication is key, we spent a lot of time discussing the game and updating notes on each plot, each player, each NPC and how each one was progressing as time passed (whether our players had reacted to them or not).  We communicated about all this to a point that we could (and did several times) swap GM’s mid-scene on virtually any plot and continue almost seamlessly.  We tried to avoid doing this but if one of us wanted to run a particular scene or had to handle a specific NPC we might have to do so to avoid making players stand around and wait.

 

All of our players were equal in our eyes.  Again, sounds like a basic rule of running any game and it is, but in a live game if a player isn’t engaging with plot they’re just sat in a room wearing costume twiddling their thumbs.  I think our players, and indeed Shorty, would agree with me that to my knowledge we never knowingly left a player with nothing to do, and a busy player tends to be a happy player with the most rewarding games for us being the ones where we simply didn’t stop for over three and a half hours and neither did any of our players.

 

Consistency.  Again fairly obvious but in a co-op game it’s vital.  Consistency of rules, consistency of NPC interactions (if each GM has certain NPC’s which they handle this can greatly help this as even with all the communication in the world GM A and GM B are going to speak differently, may not remember exactly what they’d previously said etc.) and consistency of plot advancement.  This again boils down to communication.  Any rules call you make must be immediately communicated to the other GM(s), assuming they weren’t part of the decision in the first instance (which makes for a much happier and smoother running GM team).  Also any rules call made that does not appear in the rulebooks available to all players must immediately be communicated to all your players, otherwise you’re risk being seen as playing favourites for what could very simply be forgetfulness.

 

Make yourself available.  In a prior blog I stressed how character creation should be a dialogue between player and GM, well so should character progression and character actions.  We always made time for players to speak to us before each game, and after each game, with extra time for us to discuss the outcomes of what the players had raised with us.  We generally spent about 2 hours in the pub with any players who wanted to come along after each game, we had outside help to try and curb the game talk after about an hour and the buzz of excited players was all the thanks we ever needed for the work involved.  I’ve just realised I’ve actually been wasting your time since paragraph 6, the whole thing in fact comes down to communication…

 

We had to limit the number of players we had in the game, with a minimum of two plots per player and at least six over-arcing plots at any one time, there was a lot of plot maintenance involved.  This actually lead to a waiting list, and while I’m sure it could have been fun to see how big it could grow the fun would have lessened as it would have got out of control.  That wasn’t just egotism, there’s some real advice buried in there – know your limitations, and be prepared to admit them to the players and then stick to them, no matter what.

 

And finally some thanks, to Paul Thornton, my partner in crime, Craig Cartin the prior GM for the foundations that our game was built on, to Joanne Nixon our post-game froth suppressor, to Claire Porter for being our scariest NPC ever and to all our players for making us work like bastards.

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When less is more, and when it’s just less…

How many of you have been in a game where one person isn’t content with telling the GM what they plan to do with their 3/6/10 second action, but feel obliged to do so in the form of an essay question with a description that goes on for 10 minutes or more and includes how that should work out, often citing rules that don’t apply to this situation outside their own head?

This can be a truly nightmarish player to deal with, as another player or the GM.  You don’t want to encourage monosyllabic responses from players (more on that later) and that’s exactly what you’ll be accused of when you pull the plug on their attention-hogging.  Cutting them short after only 3 minutes of description leads to arguments and a lack of action on their character’s part as they hadn’t got to actually saying what they plan to do yet.  This type of player usually has a hard time seeing the game as not being GM vs players.

“But I want to show that I’ve put thought into my actions, how do I avoid becoming like this?”  Glad you asked, or this was going to turn into a rambling essay on the faults of a certain type of player.  Asking questions is fine, I don’t know any GM who objects to a player trying to clarify the scenario that they can ‘see’ within reason.

Stating that you wish to do X action in such a way that uses Y character ability is also fine.  The line appears when you are no longer telling the GM what you hope to achieve and slip into telling them what the consequences of your actions are.  Telling the GM that you hope that what you’re doing will have a certain outcome can often clarify exactly what you’re doing and how and leads to much better descriptions of the outcome whether it works or not.  Because everything players do should be leading up to one crucial step: The GM tells you the outcome and describes what actually happens.

This is the step that the scurrilous players mentioned above like to skip, usually because the GM couldn’t possibly make their character seem as cool as it obviously is.

To this I say: Nonsense.  This person has put a lot of work (generally speaking) into crafting a game for the entertainment of you, the other players and indeed themselves.  Give them the enough information to not get it wrong sure but don’t try to do their job for them.

The title promised two sides to this blog, so here’s side two…

We’ve all done it, perhaps it was towards the end of a marathon gaming session, you were kinda tired, or perhaps it was yet another fight in a game that where combat has a tendency to drag, or maybe it’s just how you play.

The super-short action declarations of “I hit/fireball/shoot it”.  This does not exactly give your GM much to work with, how many times when you’ve heard this style used has the GM had to follow that up with “which one?”.  When all of your actions are this generic and non-specific any GM is eventually going to run short of cool descriptions for what you actually just did, and the carefully crafted roleplaying game rich in detail and memorable deeds drops into being a wargame.  Please note here I have nothing against wargames, but what the payers are looking for in a wargame tends to be a bit different.  “Then I rolled 3 6’s and their infantry died to a man” is a very different result from “So my main gun jammed, I pulled the machinegun from the cold dead fingers of my former comrade and ran towards them screaming emptying a whole belt into the platoon.  I lived to tell the tale so how many of them do you think made it?”.

I’ve tried to make that fairly generic so that I’m not naming names indirectly, but I think it makes my point.

Sometimes less is more:  If you give the GM enough to work with but still give them enough wiggle room to fit the action into the game they’re running everyone’s game becomes more memorable.

…but Sometimes it’s less: Give the GM enough to work with, even a little, be it in-character comments or just a description of how you plan to try whatever it is, otherwise the game becomes more memorable, but not for the right reasons.

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How to create the best character ever in any system, and have your GM thank you for it…

No, I’m not talking about min/maxing, being a powergaming munchkin or abusing any rules.  I know that when I reveal the secret of this a lot of people out there will nod and smile as they’ve known this ‘secret’ for years.  I’ve had the good fortune to play with quite a few who know this secret, and the misfortune to play with a lot who don’t.

 The secret is this: The best characters are made when character creation is a dialogue between the player and the GM/ST/DM…

 When whoever is running the game fully understands what you’re trying to do with the character and has a chance to influence how that works in the context of the game they plan to run, the chance for greatness goes through the roof.  Through some of my own characters (and a lot of other people’s) I’ve witnessed this to be the case even if you never get a good dice roll, hell in some cases even if all you roll are fumbles/botches/whatever.  Because greatness comes from your character truly merging into the game world that the particular GM is running, and not through game stats.  Case in point, how often have you seen people who have had what they consider to be a great character idea but because they’ve just wandered off and made it on their own it just never seems to quite fit, or the GM through no fault of their own just doesn’t seem to quite understand the point of the concept? 

 If you’re running a game, the creation dialogue is where you can really get your teeth into the character’s past and intended direction, it provides personal plot hooks, you can guide the player to avoiding any really serious pitfalls (should you wish to, but it’s usually best if you don’t want disaffected players) and you can make sure that the player gets the character they really want rather than being crucially deficient in an area. 

 If you’re playing, the creation dialogue is where you can make sure the GM fully understands your character and doesn’t miss the point, you can make use of the GM’s knowledge of the game and his/her own take on the game world and you can score yourself some personal plot hooks.

 I know that probably the majority of people who read this know this stuff, in which case I hope you don’t feel you’ve wasted your time reading this and I hope you’ll add your own views to the comments below, but if this helps just one gamer who was left wondering why all the other players have characters that mesh so much better with the game world than theirs or why none of the players seem truly happy with how you’ve interpreted their characters motivations/history/skillset then it was worthwhile.

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Please allow me to introduce myself…

I’m a roleplayer, wargamer, former Larper and player of video games with 20 years of dice rolling under my belt, and this is my blog…

So recently I’ve been inspired by the works of ShortyMonster, I’ve commented on several of his posts but decided that really I want to put my thoughts on gaming topics out there without seeming to be trying to hijack his blog, when I can have a blog all of my own.  Slightly more long term I’ve followed the works of Armaitus and I’ve been meaning to get round to writing one and I finally made the leap .

It is unlikely that I will have a regular update schedule, I will try to keep updating this on a regular basis but we’ll have to see how we go.

The plan is to get another outlet for sharing thoughts, views, ideas, tips and some memories from (predominantly) tabeltop gaming, but maybe with some inspiration drawn from LaRP, video games, wargames etc…

Anyways that’s my introductory spiel complete with shameless plugs, enjoy…

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