Friday, 26 June 2015

Mad Props

I miss having a printer, although I don't think I ever produced anything quite
this pro.
A friend recently posted on her blog about game props, which are things that I have missed creating since I stopped playing tabletop and pub LARP.

I used to do a particularly good line in newspapers, first with MS Publisher, then just in Word or Open Office, churning them out for Isles of Darkness games long after people stopped paying attention to anything but the crossword. A key lesson for anyone hoping to use props and in-character news to plot drop: Be sure that your game and your PCs are such that someone reading about stuff will be inclined to a) care and b) do something that c) isn't hiding. Not that hiding wasn't necessarily a fair reaction in some cases, but it became a grind trying to get anyone involved in anything. "Why should we care?" was the question often asked, and "because I spent all this time writing plot and making newspapers" didn't seem to satisfy.

It's kind of surprising that it took as long as it did for the
internet to fill with motivational poster parodies. My goal for
my next post is now to work in a 'Keep Calm and...' variant.
Social LARP is a bitch for motivations, and while I miss the people I don't interact with as much, as a GM I'm much happier working in a more mission-oriented milieu. Social games are basically a stewpot of characters with intensely personal motives all of whom want you to provide something that will appeal to them in particular, even though they may not have told you what those motives are and may not, in fact, play regularly in their game. I don't think it helped that more than once people got stung chasing plot that turned out to be a trap, or just more than the people who went off could handle. I hear the post-reset IoD is doing better, and I suspect this is not unrelated to the fact that it is new. Everything is exciting again, everything is possible, nothing has been written in the expectation that some titan might turn out to deal with it and wherever the PCs go, they are probably the first to have gone there.

This also means that props like documents and newspapers aren't just plot drops, but a way to explore this new world and see what is happening beyond the social space. At the arse end of a six year chronicle, no one really wants to know what's going on outside their well-defined and well-described spheres of interest and influence, but with a new game, characters are looking for niches and opportunities. It's an exciting time to be a propmaker.

Seriously; so much envy.
But that's the IoD. My current jam is Conflict Resolutions 40K game, No Rest for the Wicked, for which I have volunteered to do some rather more virtual propmaking in the form of wiki writing and setting creation. This includes an expansion on the original sector map to fit in everything that has been mentioned in game, although having seen the picture of the actual map, I am filled with shame for daring to aspire to rewrite it.

In the end though, wikis only partially fulfill my need to create props, but then again one of the advantages of LRP is that you get to do costumes. I have a bunch of stuff to do for No Rest, including but not limited to:

  • Sewing a cassock - probably this weekend - which my girlfriend is then going to embroider.
  • Transforming a cool little belt buckle into something slightly more tech looking.
  • Modding my Nerf guns to look less like orange plastic (major future project).
  • Adding annotating bookmarks to a borrowed copy of the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer.
But what I have been working on already is my core accessory for every character - the notebook. Each of my characters has a notebook, partly because I need to write down reminders, but also because I find it helps to focus them. I had a flip-open book for my werewolf cop, a little black book for my social fixer, and a fat book in fancy binding for my serious academic. What began as a purely practical choice to keep separate notes for each character evolved into something approaching my LARP signature.

This I'm kinda good at.
For No Rest, I have a handmade notebook I bought in Edinburgh years ago for a PC who died before he got to use it, which needs to contain his collection of scriptures and sermons, as well as scientific notes on various flora and fauna (including half a dozen uses for toad sweat) in addition to any space for in-game notes. I'm really quite proud of it, and desperately hope I don't get greased my first game out.

Props matter, in tabletop as well as live games. Thinking about it, I ought to do more for my online game. Since I don't need to print anything I can just prep the documents and mail them out. I enjoy making them, and it tends to be more accessible than a simple description. If you're running a game, you should give serious consideration to providing props. They're not for everyone, but if you enjoy making them then your players will love getting them.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game

To be clear, this is the US import, not the UK
version. TARDIS cookie jar, racks of CDs
and Andrew not included.
On Friday night, we introduced a new board game to the repertoire, in the form of a version of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game sufficiently old that it treated Tara as a minor support character and only went up to Season 4. Props though, because it was in sweet condition given age and usage; that's some quality game manufacturing.

In the spirit of the infamously difficult Army of Darkness board game, one player controls the baddies (determined by Season,) the others the heroes (Buffy, Willow, Xander and Oz.) Each hero has their own tray, a long card strip with spaces to place cards representing Help (allies), Weapons (most of which seem to be wooden objects which allow an insta-kill staking attempt,) Artifacts and Research (mostly spells, but also sewer maps allowing fast transit.) Characters are moved around the board by rolling dice, which are pretty standard six-siders, but with the 1 on one and the 6 on the other marked with a moon which progresses the oddest time track ever (I can't find a decent-sized close up, but it basically runs from the new moon to the full moon, then back through the waning phases until sunrise.)

The villain player rolls a die to see how many of the master and minion monsters can move in their turn. Characters move and then take an action, which can be searching for artifacts (one in each corner of the board,) drawing a regular card (in appropriately marked spaces,) or trying to smack the person next to you if they aren't on your side.

Each character has their own strength and weaknesses, which are not balanced (purposely; in a four player game, one player controls Xander and Willow.) Heroes (apart from Oz) can be sired as vampires (mechanically, this functions as the equivalent of the heroes stake option, and requires a specific villain card) and, if sired, re-ensouled with the appropriate spell. Buffy is tough, Willow has lots of magic dice, Xander... is basically likable, since it isn't Season 6 yet, and Oz is fundamentally indestructible. He's only an uber-badass during the full moon phase, but there aren't many monsters to match him (pretty much Veruca the bad werewolf, I think,) and every time he switches form in either direction, he basically heals all his damage. He also can't be one-shotted with the 'Sire' card; he's badass as all get out.

This character tray shows that a) other editions had more playable characters, and b) Giles is a fucking badass.
We actually had a surprisingly good game, beating the Mayor without losing a single character (although things looked very bad for Xander, who was saved by hitting the victory conditions from near certain death at Faith's hands.) We also didn't take out any of the minions, going straight for the Box of Gavrok (or as the card mistakenly insists, Garvok.)

There is a UK version which is a sort of double-blind Cluedo*, which is one of the weirdest concepts for a Buffy licensed game I can think of.

* Or Clue, for Americans.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


So, we're coming up on year two of #RPGaDay. Can I manage another full month? I guess well see.

The list, from originator David Chapman, is below (thanks to +David Odie for pointing it out, as I don't have the Facebook.) Once again, they're a broad mix of topics, some of them very open to interpretation. A few of them might prove difficult, in which case I'll ask for topics again.

I guess I'll see you in August.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Dominance and Submission

So, a thing I've learned from submission guidelines for online speculative fiction zines and podcasts is that people don't want me; or more accurately, I suspect, that people want people who aren't me, rather than specifically not wanting me (or people like me.)

To explain in terms that are less self-consciously and deliberately inscrutable, what is commonly and unhelpfully referred to as 'genre fiction' is clearly aware of being something of a bastion of white, male privilege and is keen to change its image. Check out pretty much any set of submission guidelines and they will include a note that the collection is keen to promote increased diversity within the SF/fantasy/horror community, and that they either welcome with especial favour works by female, queer, trans, disabled, coloured (or rather colored, since most of them are in the US) and non-North American authors (I guess from my perspective one out of six - being somewhere between 1/8 and 1/16 Indian really doesn't count as coloured - isn't the worst thing in the world,) or positively encourage works with female, queer, trans, disabled or coloured protagonists and non-North American settings (which ties in to some stuff I've talked about before.)

I find it an interesting privilege check, since my natural first reaction is 'hey!' I mean, it doesn't seem entirely fair that I have to pay for centuries of cultural dominance which never did me any good. Of course, on any kind of consideration, it has done me good. I may be barely able to make my mortgage, but I live in a country which still (just) has top-notch social healthcare and I've only been stopped at customs once, probably because I'd been working on a dig and my skin had browned to the tone referred to in the law enforcement handbook as 'dodgy foreigner tan'. Anyway, it also reinforces my determination to write more stuff set in less exclusively Euro-inspired cultures.

Rather more encouragingly, I'm glad to say that sexy vampires seem to be being calved off into their own little niche and are invited not to apply for the kind of magazines I'm looking at.

On the downside, the best paid periodical I've found actively discourages puns. Oh well.