On the road

If anyone from the law is reading this, we are totally not drinking on route to the nationals. We have had some fun discussing what it takes to win in competitive role playing. The consensus seems to be that winning matters nothing when compared to having fun. There are too many criteria to be judged and no way of knowing what they will be, so just have fun.

Hell, if you’re having a bad game, don’t even feel like you have to stick around. Just be polite and do what you need to do to have fun.

Last night, it all went wrong…

From the street outside the figure was impossible to identify, until the neon sign flickered halfheartedly into life. Buzzing on for a second at a time, giving you a small chance to make out anything. Without the flickering glare it was just a human shape, a darker shade of grey against a dull light.

With the sickly green flashes from the motel sign, you could just about tell that it was female. Something about the face, but event then, you wouldn’t wager more than beer money on it. She was well built, with short cropped hair and a hard expression. One hand on the upper frame of the open window, the other on a hip that lacked any feminine curve. Wearing loose sports shorts and a grey vest that may in the past had more than a passing friendship with the colour white.

In this part of the City, it wasn’t healthy to advertise that you were a women living alone. True, being a man alone was far from risk free, but with softer targets out there, she felt reasonably safe. Picking on the weak was a popular past time here, and within a night of booking into this fleapit she had assured some not so friendly neighbours that she was not weak.

Turning her back on the street life, she sat on the ledge, enjoying the cool breeze on her skin, still slick with sweat from her exercise routine. Her night time activities required not only skill and athletic dexterity, but an upper body strength that allowed her to bench press a decent sized motorcycle. She had worked harder tonight, partly out of annoyance with herself, but also because it kept her occupied. And it stopped her eyes drifting once again to the front page story that no one knew was about her.

This City. Full of criminals doing despicable things every minute of every day, but you put a mask on and ‘bang’, you make the front page. Hers was no more than a black balaclava and existed for no other reason than to hide her face, but it had piqued the interest of the news vultures. The artist’s impression brought a sneer to her face, but in the long run was probably not that bad a thing. It looked like the Bugle had hired a cartoonist instead of an artist, and not a very good one at that. As long as the Big Man didn’t start getting interested…

All of this was because of one bit of bad luck. She had scoped the place out for weeks, sleeping – when she had to – on the stained mattress with its rusty springs that she was currently walking over to. Mostly during the day, when the summer heat was stifling and free running was an activity carried out for fun, not profit. The City was great for parkour, almost designed for it. Even Paris wasn’t a match, and she learned everything she new about free running a hundred feet above the French capitol. It was easy to see why He liked it here…

Every Thursday night, at the witching hour, there would two security guards playing cards in their office. There were cameras all over the place, but all the feeds went to this room, and putting two poker buddies on the night shift was a mistake that someone was going to regret.

So last night she had gotten ready to go out. Wearing dark grey, light clothes. Tight to her skin to stop them snagging on anything, and breathable to stop her getting to warm from her exertions. She had played around with some kind of body armour for a while, knowing how dangerous the City could be, but even a little extra weight was an inconvenience she could do without. And lets face it, if she was worried about getting shot or stabbed, she had clearly already screwed up the job in a big bad way. The best thing to do was just never get in the sights of a weapon, and in a close up fight? Well, Paris had taught her plenty about that too…

She knew her route backwards and upside down. Knew that just one camera needed to be knocked out before she made it to the security office. Knew that the two buddies would be at the table, paying enough attention to their hands of cards she could practically walk to their side and put them down before they knew what was going on.

The locks were good, and took about five minutes each to get through. Some were harder than others as she needed to hold her weight off the ground with either one arm or both of her legs to keep as much of self out of sight as possible. Awkward to say the least, but killing another three camera feeds was a lot more likely to get her noticed a lot soon than he would have liked. Plus, she had never cared for maintaining a womanly curve on any inch of her body, when raw power and athleticism suited her line of work an awful lot better.

Soon she was in the corridor, her small light club in her right hand and the left delicately testing the door handle of the security office. She only needed the night watchmen to go down for the count, and killing attracted far too much attention. Of course, some criminals in this City seemed to crave the attention. It was a wonder they ever managed to turn a profit. Not her though, with no hint of grandstanding she pushed open the door, and in half a second she was inside, swinging the club towards the jaw of the closest man.

The metal rod caught him squarely, and she felt the impact run up her arm. He was out for the count, and unless she was very much mistaken, he had not only lost a tooth, but also managed to bite his tongue with the ones he had left. Still, he was alive, and would hopefully have at least dental cover.

The second man had barely glanced over the top of his hand when the club whistled through the air towards him. The metal rang slightly as it connected with his skull and he slumped in his chair. Both were bleeding from her attack, but barring a headache and a lisp, both would be fine. For now though, she figured they would be out for at least an hour. She knew where she was going from here, and would be out the door within twenty…

Someone else was breathing in this room. Quick gasps, panicked. From her right.

She turned to see a third man. Sat with a beer can falling impossibly slowly from his slackened fist as he gawped at her like a confused fish, lower lip trembling. She had no weapon to hand so just started towards him, covering the couple of meters in no time at all, but his slow motion movement still continued as he rose from his chair. She lifted her left leg and placed the sole of her foot just above the kneecap before transferring most of her weight to it. At this he started to crumple, but not before her other foot shot skyward, connecting just below the chin and rattling his teeth.

For anyone else, that would have been enough. But he was built of stronger stuff this one, and as she landed she realised his face was familiar. Another guard maybe, come round to get away from a nagging wife or a bar tab he couldn’t clear ’til month’s end. He had the build of someone who traded on his physique too. Probably played high school football, and realised that after high school, nobody cared at all how many touchdowns you’d scored in that game against the local rivals. Right now though, he was a problem that needed dealing with.

She spun quickly back into a fighting position and continued the movement into a back handed punch, raking the metal spikes of her modified knuckle-duster cross his cheek before he finally dropped back to his seat, a second or two after the beer he had dropped. She had aimed for his jaw, hoping to knock him out as easily as she had done the other two, but he was quick too. Not too bright though, and it looked like his brain had finally caught up to his body, and even though the last impact had missed its mark, the combined assaults had obviously been enough. He slumped back, the four deep gouges already leaking blood down his stubbled jaw.

Alone in her room the next night, looking at the caricature of herself with ludicrous claws protruding from her finger tips, she gave a wry smile. Who on this planet would be foolish enough to wear such an adornment? They would offer no advantage other than surprise, and make everything else so hard, it wouldn’t be worth even considering such a foolish affectation. Even forming a hand into a fist would be risky, let alone using the fist to do anything…

Last night, she never even considered just getting on with the job at that point. Three unconscious men made no more difference than two, and she needed this score. It was not to be though. As she checked the pulse of the unexpected watchman, she spotted a flashing light on the security console he had been sitting in front of. He must have seen her on camera after being knocked out from a hand of cards. Why he hadn’t raised this with the other two was a mystery that may never be solved, but the silent alarm had been triggered. She had no idea how long ago the switch had been flipped, but sticking around would be at the very least, career suicide. She quickly deleted the last half an hour of footage to play it safe, and was gone.

She left the way she had arrived. Cursing under her breath as she climbed onto the roof and away. She had slept fitfully, not knowing how much had been seen by the guard and how much of it could be used against her.

She had awoken the next afternoon, already sticky from the heat. Before even showering she had had thrown some loose clothes on and made her way to the corner store. Picking up some cold cuts, coffee and a newspaper. She had gone deathly pale while handing over the few dollars to the kindly woman behind the counter when she saw the front page of the Globe. She hadn’t dared read anything until she was alone and could be sure of betraying nothing with her expression.

All day long she had poured over article. The sun had set on her and the City as she either exercised or re-read the front page. She couldn’t help but love this City. The guard had told the kind of story it loved. Either that or the hacks had turned it into what their readers expected. On paper she was lithe and sexual, ‘cavorting across the sleeping rooftops’ no less…

The scratches on his face had been caused by ‘razor sharp claws’, and the large blackening bruise had been ignored as it didn’t fit with the romance of the story. The skin tight outfit they had gotten mostly correct, but had added a push-up bra and stiletto healed thigh boots for some unfathomable reason.

All in all, it bore as much resemblance to her as it did the Indian lady who had sold her the paper. That had put her mind at ease a little, but it did open up a whole new world of potential problems. She had been in the City for over a year now after leaving Paris, and had been working constantly since she had arrived. She had avoided any unwanted attention by being very good at her job, and being thoroughly uninteresting, especially when compared to ludicrous rogues gallery that habitually operated here.

The front page meant that that could very much be over now. And once you got interesting, the Big Man started to pay attention. She crossed the tiny motel room once more to stand at the window as she thought.

In the sky, flickering across what few clouds graced to night, she saw that city was wanting him to come out and play. She would stay in tonight, and keep her distance from the Big Man. If she wanted to carry on working in the City, Celine would have to play it very safe from her on in.

For everyone who finds there way here…

I have moved I’m afraid. You can now find all my new posts as well as the stuff from this page over here. You may notice that there lacks a quick ‘Follow’ button; that’s because I am no longer a WordPress site, thanks entirely to these lovely people

If you want to keep up on the posts, there is an RRS feed link, but you can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Each of these places offer regular links to not only new content I put out, but updates on other projects, and links to fun RPG related stuff too.

Thank for your time and patience in this matter. To pay you back, I will offer you a free NPC. Just click here and follow the instructions

My new home

Good day one and all! Some interesting news over here at shortymonster, and the biggest is that I have a new place to call my home. Thanks to some awesome generosity from the folks over at G*M*S magazine, I have a shiny new domain. Please take the time to check out their site as none of this could have happened without them, and it’s all happened so fast that I don’t have a banner on my homepage directing you to them just yet.

From now on, you can find me here, and add to me your feeds here. I will still be posting new articles every Monday, with occasional mini blogs as the mood takes me. I hope to see all the people who followed me here at wordpress make the jump with me. Thank you all for the support so far.

A Call to Arms for Decent Men

This is not a full blog, as most of it will be a link that I was nudged towards this morning. Since I then had to work, it took me while to get around to a full read, and to get some thoughts together on it. First, here’s the link. The guy explains what’s going on very well, so I’ll just let you read it. I’ll still be here when you’re done.

 

So, I know that this isn’t the problem for table top gamers as it is for online gamers, I’ve mentioned as such already. I do however know that there are plenty of online forums out there that do afford those who desire it a little more anonymity. I would say that if you’re unlucky enough to see this kind of behavior, then the thoughts in the link above should give you some advice on how to deal with it. Big thanks to Mr. Adams for posting this, it was a great read.

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

Before I start, I have to give massive thanks to the other half of the co-op GMing experience I’m going to be talking about here. That thanks goes out to Hoppy! The man was an absolute pleasure to work with for the three years we ran a game together. Whenever I think about doing something like that again, a big concern is whether or not I would find someone who I could work with as well as I did with Hoppy. I salute you sir!

So, that out of the way, why am I writing this? Turns out a couple of friends are planning on something similar to what we did, and running a game together as co-GMs. I say similar because they’re going to be running a pure table top game (using the Savage Worlds system, set in the Mass Effect universe) whilst Hoppy and I ran a live action game (rubber fangs, not rubber swords). Although that will present different challenges for the two friends – one of whom can be found here – there are a few things that were essential in making our game the success it was. These were general concepts of game play and style and Hoppy and I both thought were important. Luckily we happened to agree on all the points, making for a unified play session no matter which of the two GMs a player had running their scenes at the time.

To be fair, there was never a time when we sat down and discussed these ideas, and for the first couple of games, we may not have been as consistent. We were still finding our feet, and our voices. Looking back though, I don’t think we would have lasted three months if we didn’t have these things going for us.

  1. Feel and atmosphere. We were running a horror game, but sometimes, just that isn’t enough. For any movie fan, horror has many sub-genres. We wanted a dark feel certainly, but also one that wasn’t too overbearing. Think splatter-punk and you’re getting pretty close, but throw a bucket of dark humour over it to make sure. This does apply to other genres too; fantasy is more than just elves and dwarves. Do you want political intrigue or high fantasy questing? Magic coming out of every crack in the landscape, or mystical artifacts so rare and powerful they become world changing quest items? What about tone? In a sci-fi game, you could be all about the laughs, or gung-ho glory chasing. Both of these could be possible in the same game of any sub-genre, but it’s nice for players to know roughly what to expect. Get this right between the two GMs and there won’t be any awkward moments when the mood is completely broken when a player who expects a certain type of response gets another.
  2. What will the players get out of your game? A slightly trickier question, but well worth spending some time on. Will your players rock up to the table just wanting an evening of fun that they can walk away from afterwards? Do they want the political grandstanding that you as a GM you live for, or do they just want riddles to solve? I know this seems like a re-hash of the above the point, but it’s something the GMs have less control over. For us, we wanted the players to feel like they had made a real impact on the game world they played in, and they totally went for the idea, rewarding every hour of work we put into the game with some wonderful role-playing. . This meant a lot of work behind the scenes keeping track of what everyone was up to, spreading their influence and cash around, trying to get their characters ahead. If this isn’t as important to your players, that gives you the time to concentrate on what they want. You will need to work together on this to get the best results, and sometimes it might mean just deciding that one of you is better suited than the other in certain areas, and using that knowledge to spread the work load. A point carried on to the next item on the list…
  3. Combat. I know that this isn’t always the first thing in people’s minds when planning a game, but unless you’re specifically avoiding it, it’s going to come up. Spend some time contemplating the frequency of  the fights, and how best to handle them. Make sure both GMs know the rules inside and out; there is a never a good time for inconsistent rules calls, but in the heat of a combat is going to be the worst. This is doubly true if you make any changes to the combat system from the way it’s presented in the rule book. Take the time to talk about it, and run a few practices with each other. This is something that you can’t really do too much of. If it’s still a problem, split the work; have one of you in charge of rules calls and the other playing the NPCs in the combat, getting rules calls from the other GM just like a player. It might seem a  bit awkward, but it makes the NPCs look just like any other character, and helps pull the players into it more than if they were fighting a dice roll and an armour class.

I hope that some of the above is useful to other people thinking about joining Gming forces, but if there’s anyone out there with any other tips, or even other questions, feel free to comment below.

The Witcher 2, as reviewed by a table top gamer.

This review is based on roughly ten hours of game play, and will therefore have very little in the way of spoilers, but I will spoil something right from the get go; this is not a glowing review. If you have played the game to its conclusion and feel that my opinions are less valid due to only playing the start of the game, I’m going to have to side with Charlie Brooker on this one. If a TV show (in his case Dollhouse) doesn’t grab you in the first three episode, it’s failed. Saying that you should stick with it because it gets better later is so much poo; why would a TV show punish us by making us watch three hours of tripe before getting to the gooey center of loveliness?

This was very much how i felt about this game. A little background on it first I think. It’s based on the novels of Andrzej Sapkowski, as was the first PC only installment, and I have heard some very positive reviews of both books, and they have made it onto my pile of stuff to be read. Said pile is in fact an entire book case full of stuff, but it’s on there nonetheless.

In the game itself, you play the eponymous Witcher – named Geralt of Rivia – who is basically this big scary dude with scars, who has a couple of close combat weapons, some spells, some bombs, can cast runes and lay traps, throw knives at dudes, mixes potions to drink or rub on things and also exists in world where the NPCs have never seen a Hong-Kong action movie. because of this they don’t have the ‘run up and attack once at a time’ mentality most RPG gamers are used to (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed).  For this reason they all to decide to attack on mass, which is much more effective and a bit more scary. So far so awesome, and I have to say I loved all the cool stuff you could do in combat to tip the odds in your favour, especially because if you don’t do them, the odds are stacked so high against you, death is inevitable.

Plot wise, from what I saw, is nothing too inspiring when considered from outside the game, but when playing it, makes for some damned fine writing. Kings and bastards, with traitors all around, and only the Witcher – whom no one seems to like in the slightest – being one of the few guys trying to right the wrongs of the world. As I say, doesn’t seem like much, but the details are in there and once you get into it, the rewards are some killer writing hooks.

I can hear my readers scratching their heads in puzzlement right now, since this seems like a much more positive review than they were led to expect. ‘There must have been something that made him take the disc out and go back to playing Skyrim‘, I imagine you all saying, a quizzical look making you all appear even more attractive than you already are, if such a thing is possible. The best way for me to get across my dislike of this game is to imagine it as an old fashioned pen and paper RPG (‘old fashioned‘? the kind of gaming I still do on a weekly basis).

This game is run by a GM with a near legendary reputation for running games. The world he has woven for you is beautiful, every tree he describes is fixed in your senses as a sight to behold. His NPCs are better rounded than some of the actual player characters, each with their own personality and full of insightful things to talk about, just as you walk past them! When he runs combat, it’s a joy. A challenge every time, with so many options, but all of them used so intuitively, they seem like the most natural things in the world. Added to that a genuine feeling of consequences if the combat doesn’t go your way. It’s quick, but immersive, and even the NPCs act like they’re playing to the same system as you, not just going through predefined moves set out in a GM’s handbook. As mentioned above the plot is wonderful, such a simple idea made wonderful through subtle twists and turns of characterization and larger social ideas. Why then, did I not stick with it?

Because the GM is a dick. harsh, I know, but by giving an example re-imagined as an interaction between the player essaying the character of Geralt and his douch-tastic GM, as the trail of some bandits leads them to a sinister hideout;

GM: You’re told that they hangout at a graveyard to the east of the village.

Player: Cool, is there a graveyard on my map?

GM: No.

Player: Oh. Well I guess I just walk out the village heading east then.

GM: You have no compass.

Player: Oh, but I think I can figure out looking at the few landmark son the map, and just head out until I find out.

GM: Good thinking. You follow the path you think is the right one, and keep walking for half an hour, eventually ending up in a swamp.

(there was about twenty random encounters on the way to this point)

Player: OK, is there a swamp on my map?

GM: No.

Player: I guess I’ll head back and try a different path then, they did say the graveyard was only just outside the village.

GM: It takes about forty minutes to get back to the village. You get lost twice and twenty bandits attack you.

Player: For fuc… OK, can I just ask someone for directions?

GM: Of course you can, they tell you it’s to the east.

Now, imagine over two hours of this kind of thing, and I eventually give up and go online, finding dozens of people who had the same problem, but that you can actually see the gate of the graveyard from inside the village, but have no way of telling that it is actually a graveyard.

There were a dozen such problems like this I encountered playing through the second quest I found (something about  a troll), far too many to bore you with here, but all of them left me feeling like the game was run by the douchiest of GMs in the world. I know that games shouldn’t pander to players too much, but it should go without saying that the character will know things that the players doesn’t, and a half decent GM will take this into account when running a game.

So yes, I stopped playing. I have since shared this concept of GMing dickery with people who loved the game, and stuck with it through the opening tripe. Every one of them has not only agreed with me – they were also pen and paper gamers too, to be fair- but have given me other examples of this kind of dickishness running throughout the game.

If you disagree (and I bet there’s a lot of you who will), please post underneath that I’m wrong, and why – you may even change my mind, but you’re going to have to try hard). On the other hand, if you have had the same reaction to me, please share your crappy GMing stories, they’re great fun to hear.