ReCast: TotalCon 2008 – Wargaming Recon #34

Naval-TC

Due to illness and scheduling conflicts Aaron Bostian couldn’t do the show. So, NO NEW EPISODE right now. To make up for it we’re sharing this episode from the vault. The classic episode comes to you from the dark ages where the show had a different name. Since this is a CLASSIC episode some of the links, content, giveaways, contests etc may be out of date or ended.

Don’t worry! Next time we’ll be back with a NEW episode of Wargaming Recon.

Host Jonathan J. Reinhart releases a short show discussing some collectible miniatures (War at Sea and World of Warcraft). The highlight of the show is coverage for TotalCon 2008. This marks the first time Jonathan discussed TotalCon on the show.

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Wargaming Recon #101: Jay Libby and Dilly Green Bean Games

Jay Libby and Dilly Green Bean Games

Jay Libby, indie game designer and co-owner of Dilly Green Bean Games, joins us. He discusses indie game design, New England game conventions, and mentions some of the great products released by Dilly Green Bean Games.

This episode discussed:

Some Reminders:

Continue reading “Wargaming Recon #101: Jay Libby and Dilly Green Bean Games”

The Player’s Perspective: Proactive v Reactive Players

dice

Hello there folks, I am back with another viewpoint from the player’s perspective. Today I want to talk about a topic that made me decide to start writing these articles in the first place. When it comes time to sit at the table and play are you proactive or reactive?

Let’s start at the beginning, all players fall into one of these two categories. The proactive player takes charge of the situation and takes action. In doing so, they move the plot forward and keep things rolling. The action taken does not need to be relevant to the current plot hooks. Simply by taking action they are causing an event to unfold that will move story along. Examples of this can be as simple as a warrior inquiring about available mercenary work in a local tavern. The point is, rather than waiting for the GM to sink the plot hook in and pull them along, they go and look for the hook. On the other hand, the reactive player often waits for the GM to prompt them into action. This player is still making things happen; however, they are not the catalyst of change.

The players are the protagonists of the story, which implies a certain level of necessary action. If the hero of the story just sits on their hands then nothing happens and that is not much of a story. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a player complain of being bored or feeling left out; meanwhile, during the game they took no effort to integrate themselves into the action. The PC’s in any game are always amongst the most significant people in the world, which is why we are telling a story about them in the first place. Long story short, you are the hero SO DO SOMETHING!

As a player I cannot help but be proactive, it is simply in my nature. At times this can create issues at the table. Taking the proactive urge too far can come across as selfish and start to deprive others at the table of a good time as one player dominates the spotlight. If you have this issue at the table it is most likely the result of one of two things. First, you have a GM that is either playing favorites or needs to work on pulling everyone into the spotlight. This is most common amongst inexperienced GM’s. Let’s be honest, running a game is a juggling act and takes a certain amount of finesse to pull off well. The best way to fix this is to talk with the GM, if they address the issue and attempt to fix it then you are in a good game, if not just find a game more in line with your needs. Second, and probably most common, you have a one proactive player with slot of reactive players. This combination can give the appearance of one player stealing the spotlight.

For example, I was playing a Pathfinder game being run by my brother. The campaign had been running for roughly 9 months before I joined the game. At my first session I quickly found myself embroiled in plots that had nothing to do with me and quickly felt out of place. Naturally the other PC had a lot history and back-story driving things that I had no part of because it happened before I joined. Instead of being a spectator I started making a place for myself in the framework I was given. I took actions that made sense for my character and found ways to integrate myself into the story. Instead of waiting for the GM to write me into the story I wrote myself into the story. Eventually I started becoming a center point of the story because I was doing things to progress the story, I was taking action. This resulted in the others players at the table complaining about what they called “the Jason Show”. The thing was that the GM was not writing this plot for me specifically, I was only at the center because I was taking action and interacting with the world the GM created. There was nothing special about what I was doing; I simply took action instead of waiting for the GM to tell me where to go next.

Quite simply, I guarantee, that if you are proactive as opposed to reactive both you and your GM will have more fun. By taking a proactive stance you are providing everyone else more to work with and it can turn into a domino effect. A group of proactive players is crucial to well executed collaborative storytelling. Even if the players don’t always agree on what to do, the conflict between them can make for great stories, provided it remains in character. Even if you pay no heed to anything else that I write just remember, be the hero and DO SOMETHING.

The Player’s Perspective: Negating the Premise

Improv

Some years back I was helping some friends of mine run a LARP. It was actually a reasonably large operation; we had around 20 to 30 players if memory serves. When discussing my LARP activities with non-gamers, I found myself describing it as an improvisational acting group. At the time it seemed to make sense and was a lot easier than telling folks that every other weekend I pretended to be a vampire. While I was using this as a ruse to hide my geek activities from those in my life that wouldn’t understand, it was, on some level, true. When you really break it down, role-playing games are projects in improvisational acting.

The degree to which this idea relates to your gaming table is subject to your group’s play style, but on some level, it still rings true. Everyone at the table is playing the role of one or more characters, there are no scripts (although extensive notes may or may not be used), and the outcome is uncertain.

So why am I talking about improv, and how will it help you as a player? Well in improv there is a very important rule: do not negate the premise. The idea being, when you are working with someone and they throw an idea out there, do not shut it down and try to make things what you want them to be. Instead, work with what they gave you and build on it. When employed correctly at the gaming table, this can be the difference between a great session and a night of disappointment and resentment.

Let’s face it, everyone at the table wants their time to shine. So when the quiet guy in the corner finally speaks up and does something, only to have it shot down by others at the table because they think it is dumb or want to do something else, how is the fun of the group being served? By no means do I mean this as a pardon for the completely ridiculous, but on anything short of the absolutely absurd what is the harm of going with the flow? I am willing to bet that you will tell more interesting stories that way and everyone at the table will have more fun.

At times this will require players to compromise current desires for the sake of the greater story. In turn, this means that everyone has to trust each other to work towards the goal of telling a great story together and having fun.

I am sure most of you out there have been playing a game where there is that one person at the table that just does not want to do what the rest of the party is doing. Now when I am a GM, I absolutely love this, because it gives me a lot of ways to pull the party into the story. But even as a player, I can use this to my advantage.

For starters, it is always possible that this character has an idea for the current scenario that is better than my own. Sometimes even if I do not see the merit of the character’s actions, it can be the catalyst that brings me to the solution that was eluding me. Finally, there is always the option to use the character’s acting out as a distraction.

In one of my former gaming groups, one guy insisted on charging into battle every time, no matter the circumstances. At first this would drive me crazy because I normally play the strategist/scheming kind of character, and this would invariably throw a wrench into my finely-crafted plans. Eventually, I realized that nothing was going to stop this guy from his mad charge into battle, and getting angry over it was pointless. So I started planning for this guy to charge blindly in and often times used him as a distraction to make sure the enemies never knew where I was coming from.

At the end of the day, if all you want is to be the hero of the story and get exactly what you want, then it is far easier to play a video game or write a story. When you sit down at the gaming table, you are doing so to have some fun and tell a story with friends. Everyone involved has a vision of what that story should entail. The surest way to make sure that the vision comes to fruition is to make sure that you do not negate the premise.

The Player’s Perspective: Collaborative Storytelling

'talk' by lovelornpoets on Flickr
‘talk’ by lovelornpoets on Flickr

Greetings, travelers! Welcome to “The Player’s Perspective,” a new column on Troll in the Corner with a little twist. You see, there is a wealth of information out there to help and assist game masters. Admittedly, GM’s have a lot of work to do to run a fun and enjoyable game, but what about the players? At any given table there are more players than GM’s, so why is there not more information for them? I am here to help players with advice and tips on how to bring their game up to the next level.

At this point, a brief introduction seems appropriate. My name is Jason, and I have been playing tabletop RPGs since the late 1980’s. The D&D first edition Player’s Handbook was one of the first books I ever read cover to cover. I have played most major game settings and rules systems through the past 25 years. Long story short: I have been gaming for as long as I can remember. It is just a part of who I am.

For my debut, I want to discuss an idea that will underpin every conversation one can have about playing RPGs, and that is collaborative storytelling. A common misconception is that the Game Master is solely responsible for telling the story in any given game, and this is not entirely accurate. In World of Darkness games, the GM is even referred to as the Storyteller and they certainly play a big role in the telling of the story, but they are not alone. The players of the game are the protagonists of the story and as such have a crucial part to play when telling the story. Your GM can spend hours working on making the most epic of adventures for your game all to have it ruined because a party member said, “Screw it,” and went to the local tavern to get drunk and start a fight with a halfling. Being a GM is like trying to recreate The Lord of the Rings, only having no control over what the Fellowship actually does.

No matter how frustrating this truth can be in the worst of times, this concept is what makes RPGs amazing. When the GM and the players are on the same page, great stories are told. Everyone at the table has a part to play in this collaboration, and all it takes is one stubborn or misguided person to derail everyone’s efforts.

For example, many years ago some friends and I started a new campaign in a home brew world made by the GM using 2nd edition D&D rules. I made a centaur druid to play and went to town making a background and a personality that I thought would be great. My character lived in his grove in the forest and was happy and content; nothing mattered more to him than his woodland home. Unfortunately, this meant that he did not care about these random people, the party, who came into his forest and insisted that he leave and seek adventure. You see, I made a deep and interesting character that made sense in the world, but I did not make a protagonist suitable to the story. So instead of beginning on a noble quest, the party had to try to drag the reluctant centaur out of the forest. While it was temporarily fun for me to rain on everyone else’s parade, it did not lend itself to an enjoyable game as it pitted me against the rest of the table. While conflict between characters, whether it is PC vs. NPC or even PC vs. PC, is an integral part of any good story, it must be handled within the framework of a shared vision.

Sometimes this shared vision will require compromise. The goal of every game should be to have fun. Learning how to work together and build off of each other will not only make the whole experience more enjoyable, but you will also make a great story together.

How Running D&D Helped Me Run My Business

I am a business owner. I run Adventure Capital Travel, a travel agency that caters to the geek community and which has clients all over the country. I also do freelance writing and art. I also play roleplaying games like D&D. You might be wondering how this is all related.

Simply put, I have learned more about how to run my business from my skills as a gamemaster than any other source has taught me. Some people might laugh at that; after all playing RPGs is simply pretending and rolling a few dice, right? Yes, but it also teaches some excellent skills which have several real-world applications.

Anyone who has run or played in a game know that gamers are a varied bunch, sometimes with conflicting personalities who approach things in many ways. Having run games now for about 23 years, I have learned how to read a person and get to know how they might approach things. It has made me familiar with people, and has given me the insight to be able to deal with and handle people regardless of their personality. As the gamemaster, you have to do everything from mentoring people to resolving conflict between players.

A common adage among gamers is that no plot survives contact with the players. A truer statement has rarely been spoken. No matter how well a gamemaster (the person who makes up the stories the players characters go through and acts as referee during the game) plans out an adventure, players will throw a wrench into it. Sometimes, they may take the left tunnel instead of the right or occasionally they won’t pick up on a story hook at all and will just go off and do their own thing. Unlike characters in a book or movie script, characters run by the other people in the game rarely do what you, as a gamemaster, want them to do.

As a result, this has given me practice and the mindset that I need to be one step ahead. I am used to looking at possibilities, even those that would seem outlandish. Once the unexpected does happen, I almost always have at least an inkling of an idea about how I am going to handle it and what the best way to do so will be. Running games has given me the skills to improvise and be creative, and to expect things to go wrong, in ways no school can truly teach you. This is especially handy as a travel agent because, if something goes wrong with someone’s trip, I am expected to find a way to fix it.

The third great skill being a gamemaster has taught me is the ability to problem solve, and to do so creatively. I don’t just “think outside of the box.” Most of the time, I don’t even realize the box is there. Again, as a travel agent there are occasionally unconventional problems that arrive. And unconventional problems often need unconventional solutions. My problem solving skills have been honed on the battlefield of imagination, where situations in-game can arise for which there are no real-world analogues that apply.

So, is playing an RPG all about rolling dice and killing imaginary dragons? Yes. However, what most people don’t realize is that it also builds skills that are necessary to be successful in life. It exposes people to many different personality types and situations, and forces them to solve problems using some very creative and interesting solutions. These are skills anyone can use, but has been especially useful in my line of work as a travel agent.

The Inquisition: Fear

Fear! (from the National Media Museum)

Here at the Inquisition, we tend to tackle the broader questions that face us gamers, and since we’re featuring horror stories in the month of October, we’ll ask ourselves one of the most basic, salient questions: what, exactly, is the nature of fear, and how do we incorporate it into our games?

Fear presents in many different forms: horror, creepiness, terror, revulsion, dread, foreboding, fright, and so on. Don’t go mistaking me for an expert in psychology or medicine, but my lay understanding of the essential quality of fear is that it is a visceral emotion that ultimately serves to protect us. We are afraid of those things that we subconsciously (or consciously) believe will bring us harm. Some of the most common fears are related to (what I assume were) common dangers to our ancestors: being gobbled up by monsters, things that we can’t see or don’t understand (the dark), falling from great heights, and so on.

The problem is that while these fears may have protected us once, as we have become more sophisticated culturally and technologically, many have become less relevant. There is less that we don’t understand, but darkness no longer holds untold dangers (and we can produce artificial light to aid our sight), and so on. Maybe this is an extremely simplistic artificial dichotomy, but I think you could probably group all kinds of fears into two categories: fear of the unknown, and fear of the known.

Fear of the Known

It’s easy to dismiss, but the fear of the known is very powerful. We know all about our reactions to certain stimuli: some of us are intolerant of pain, others intolerant of small spaces, others of things more innocuous. We know all about how these things go, and thus, we’re fearful. I don’t like small spaces; there’s something about it being hot and stale that just gets to me very quickly and I become sweaty and motion-sick. Thus, I have a tendency to fear or at least be anxious about approaching situations where that is a distinct possibility.

This falls into the realm of “rational fear”, which, admittedly, is a nebulous and not really definable concept. However, I’m comfortable calling it that because I fear situations that I know will cause me discomfort. Now, my tolerance for those situations is obviously not what you would call desirable, but the anxiety is very real.

Departing from these minor worries I think we come to the true horror of the known, and that’s when we know how bad something can possibly get. This is your Heart of Darkness, your All Quiet on the Western Front. We are terrified because we know how horrible man can be, we know what evil and depravity lies in the deepest recesses of some people. Sometimes the known can be more horrifying than the unknown.

Fear of the Unknown

Horror masters like Lovecraft and Poe worked closely with the fear of the unknown, boiling down one of humanity’s great, existential fears. We are naturally a race of scientists and information gatherers, we seek out data to confirm our beliefs and suspicions. Nothing seems more frightening to us than phenomena that we cannot explain, articulate, or manipulate. I can’t get into why we fear the unknown with any authority – but I can say that we like to be in control of our own environment, and many of our more personal fears stem from having a lack of control or a lack of knowledge about our own situations.

We, as people, as gamers, have wonderful imaginations and those who are the most imaginative might be the most susceptible to the horrors lurking in the dark depths of the unknown. These creatures take the shape of that which subconsciously makes us the most uncomfortable or will cause us the most pain, things that no one could ever know, things that we might not even know ourselves. The unknown is an amorphous mass of evil that is everything we revile at once.

Bringing it to the table

And that’s all well and good, but how do we incorporate the fear of the unknown and the known into our roleplaying games? I think it’s tougher than you might believe.

One of the necessities of good storytelling is to ground or frame our stories in believable realities – that means that to aid our suspension of disbelief, we need to be set against a backdrop of believable worlds.  But we also must frame our stories against understood worlds, which is something that we sometimes lose when playing in homebrew worlds.

I have generally been on the GM side of the screen, and after returning to the role of player recently, it underscored how important having a known and an unknown is when it comes to worldbuilding. When you play a game like Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness, a lot of your work is done for you, as those are set against the backdrop of a pre-existing world: our own. Yes, each is a perverted version, but ultimately those games are so effective because the perversion of that world is the point. There shouldn’t be vampires or werewolves or shoggoths or magic or any of the fantastically horrible things that exist in those worlds, because this is reality, and those things don’t exist.

But you don’t have that same luxury when it comes to fantasy worlds. Your players are going to be plenty willing to accept the existence of shoggoths because they live in a world where dragons and dryads and driders and demons and devils and dire alligators are all common. That one important part that is so easy to leave out when describing the world is just what is normal.

I’ve created two homebrew fantasy worlds now: I played in the first one for five years, and I just started a new campaign in the second one. In the first one, I made it very clear to everyone that there was a lot unknown about the world, but the one fact of which everyone and their mother was certain was that there were no undead. When something died, it was dead forever. You see, a century in the past, after the tribal squabbles had subsided and the known world was peacefully divided, the great powers resolved to eliminate the undead threat from the world. The greatest warriors, scholars, and theologians from around the known world banded together and swept across the four nations crushing any undead creature that could be found. So complete was their genocide (ungenocide?) was that the creators of undead were also proscribed, and all knowledge of how to do so was confiscated and (presumably) destroyed.

So, you see where this is going. When you are grounded in a world where something definitively does not exist, and then it shows up, that could be horrifying (or it could be wondrous, or something else entirely). I’m far from the first person to come up with this concept: Lovecraft, George R.R. Martin, and many others have wielded this tool far more deftly. But you should also realize that by defining your world explicitly, you can also foster fears of the known – this is the common conception we have of the savage orcs (mostly descended from Tolkein) as warmongering, brutal peoples. We fear them because we know how bad they can be.

As the blog carnival continues, we’ll tackle more fear- and horror-related topics as we approach Halloween, such as how to actually, you know, scare your players, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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