Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Saturday Shadowrun: New Players and the New Job

We only had one of the previous players and two new players this last Saturday, we we started a brief "prequel" run to get things rolling after we got through character creation
  • We had two weapons specialist and the technomancer.
  • They got a call about a job and went to a club to meet with Mr. Johnson.
  • The job is wet work.  They need to frame one specific person after taking out two targets.  They only have a week until a specific meeting when both targets will be at one location.  It is a heavily secured casino.
I'm not sure if we'll even get back to this story, but it was a nice intro to get the new players into the game.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Saturday Shadowrun: Looking for Something

Last time our crew started out at The Vintage Hotel, a retro-clone hotel decorated like the early 20th century with almost no tech.  In each room, the crew found specific items left for them.  Some paranoia left the crew scrambling for ways to check bugs, but none were found.

The unnamed man went next door to The Prancing Pony, a Tolkien-esque pub with a wide variety of retro-culture.  He happened on another elf and, over a beer, got an earful of local elf culture.  It turns out the local VIcanus Guild of Elves was one of the power groups in the Ground Floor.  They had help found the place to give form to their Tolkien view of the way Elves should be, building their own version of the tree village Lothlorien.

The crew got some sleep.

The next morning the crew carpooled in the used sedan left for them down to the 15th level.  There they found Katong, another local restaurant / club built in grandiose architecture with sweeping tiles rooves, sliding rice paper doors, and exotic gold ornamentation.  Once inside they were greet by a hostess who showed them through the main hall heavy with incense smoke to a private room.

After viewing the menu, they were joined by Spinner, two large armed trolls, and an orc in a business suit.  After dining, there was a brief chat with the orc, Grundy, who gave the crew one chance to ask questions regarding working for him.  Anyone that wanted could turn down his offer and leave.  Grundy payed special attention to making sure the unnamed man was comfortable, but did little to answer his questions as to how he knew the man was arriving on the Ground Floor.

Grundy left and Spinner got down to brass tacks.  There was an old-style optical disk with music on it stolen from his associates.  The expectation was that the thief was going to put it up for sale.  The crew was to recover it and all copies of it quickly and return it to Spinner's associates.  For 10,000 Nuyen, the crew didn't even hesitate to take the job.

Ender and the crew headed back to V-Works to get good signal and start the search.  He found a scrap of a hint that an email had been sent to a Ground Floor music artist named Nabo, offering to sell his the recording.  Digging a bit further, they found that Nabo had gotten his big break and had a hefty contract with Sweetwater Tech.  Before he transitioned above ground, he was doing one last concert on the ground floor in a metal working facility called The Smelting Pot that converted to an orc-troll nightspot after hours.  Orcs and trolls were expected to be the main guests at the concert.

They also found out that Nabo had an entourage of go-gangers from the ground floor that provided security for him.  One of them, his chief of security, had a drug problem they might be able to exploit.

The party checked out the concert site, since there was no sign of where Nabo was staying.  It was a big warehouse in the middle of a junkyard of scrap metal.  A road ran down one side.  The back of the offices was curtained off for a back stage.  The unnamed man, now going by Mr. Frost, poked around and asked questions, and even overhead the guard layout as the security guards met.

The party planned (after some 'hints' from the GM) to get Nabo's commlink and find out where the message had been sent from.

The day of the concert (the next day) the party gathered early and watched everyone arrive.  Once Nabo and the guards were in, Zephyr emerged from his hiding spot in the junk and jumped / ran up the side of the warehouse to the roof.  There he found an HVAC vent into the office area.  There he waited two hours for the concert to start.

Zephyr poked around and entered the empty office quietly once the concert started.  He quickly found a comm link and not must else of value.  He turned it on and linked to his commlink so the technomancer could verify it was the right commlink.

To be continued.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thursday Night Pathfinder: Beholders, Kobolds, and a Mace -- Oh My!

The druid and Nickolai's players have developed work conflicts, so their characters find their ends in this week's game.

---

When last we left our Pathfinding party, they were stuck behind a closed door in a beholder nursery.

Callel, standing by one of the older beholder children, was ordered to open the door.  He opened the door -- Corrail closed it.  This repeated.  Caleel then cast a spell and walked through the wall into the secret corridor.

The beholder babies mercilessly blasted Nickolai, who unprotected from the magic, was killed instantly.

Caleel, wanting to leave behind his life as a slave, others quickly formulated a plan with the others.  The others hid back in the corridor while Caleel lured in the beholder child.  Once he was in the room, they closed the door and attacked, ambushing the beholder and quickly killing it.

From there the party proceeded next door through a parlor.  In the adjacent room, they spotted a sleeping beholder.  Felix walked in and dispatched the beast with one critical blow from his dagger.  They then proceeded into the adjacent lab.  There they found another beholder working late, and they quickly took it out.  Caleel was happy to find the gear that had been taken from him.

The group moved into the next area to find a group of kobolds, consisting of a diplomat, guards, and a mage.  The group successfully convinced them that they were simply checking on the kobold visitors.  They moved on heading towards the kitchen area.

The druid took the lead and triggered a trap near the large hole to the lower level.  Lightning danced in a circle around the pit, building up electrical power, and then striking the druid directly in the head, killing him instantly, and zapping the person behind him.

Unfortunately, Caleel tripped and sounded a large gonging sound as his armor his the ground.  Three new beholders appeared, including the very large and powerful leader.  Victaerus ran back into the nursery and hid and one of the beholders followed her.  The rest of the party closed the doors and retreated into the bedroom where they had earlier killed the sleeping beholder.  In the adjacent room they warned the kobolds that the beholders were coming to betray and kill them.

Felix tried to jam the door mechanism shut in the adjacent parlor, but the door disappeared after it was hit with a disintegration ray.  That sent Felix scurrying.  His tiger got hit by sleep ray and Felix dragged it back to safety with him.

Victaerus, stalked by one of the beholders, became angry.  She downed a potion of rage and charged out into the room, surprising the beholder and stabbing it with her longsword. (Sneak attack damage!)

Meanwhile the rest of the party battled the other beholder as it approached the room.  They dispatched it quickly and then the cleric somehow "teleported" the group into the room with Victaerus, just in time to see Victaerus slice the beholder in half.

The king beholder attacked the kobolds as they defended their position, taking them out one by one.  Next time, the party will take on the beholder king, who appears to be using the mace they are seeking as a scepter.  Oh, and everyone is leveling up to level 11.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

5000 Pageviews

This blog just hit 5000 pageviews.  Nice.

Game Systems: Maturity versus Definition

Getting into SR4 after being away from Shadowrun has brought me a whole new influx of suppositions about game systems.  One thing I have noticed with Shadowrun in contrast to Pathfinder is the lower level of definition.  Definition, as I use it here, refers to game mechanics.  A game system with high definition defines game mechanics with completeness when referring to "if you want to do this, this is how it works, and this is how it resolves".  A game system with lower definition will not define all of the scenario rules, and in some cases will openly state that it is not defined or it is left up to the GM/players to figure out.  Shadowrun clearly has lower definition that Pathfinder, as the "left up to the GM" idea is all throughout the rule system.

At first, I chalked this up to heritage.  Pathfinder, after all, is based on D&D 3.5 that goes back several decades.  Shadowrun is newer and less developed through play than D&D, simply because it is played less than D&D.  Does this mean that more mature games will have greater definition?

However, there is a second possible explanation:  Shadowrun is less defined by design.  After all, leaving things open gives each GM and each gaming group there own ability to customize things they want and spin the rules the way they want.  It also gives the GM more power, since he or she can customize things to make the story flow.  This is openly stated in the SR4 system several times:  never let the story be entirely driven by the dice.

The second point I think is relevant is that even experienced players and GMs don't always play by the rules.  I'm not talking about house rules and customizations, though certainly those are a common element in most games.  What I'm referring to is forgotten or unenforced rules.  In every case,when I see an experienced player matched with an experienced GM/ group, there is always within a few sessions, a rule that pops up that one side or the other either hadn't heard of or wasn't enforcing because they had forgotten about it.  This week alone I saw two of those instances.  The new Pathfinder player pointed out that opponents are flat-footed until they act in initiative order.  I had only been enforcing that when surprise was in play.  Whoops.  Also, when playing Shadowrun this week, our experienced player didn't seem to know about the dropping a dice rule for each new roll in extended tests or the previous version of the roll which limited the number of rolls to the number of dice in the dice pool.

So really, is anyone playing by the rules as written in these large rule set RPGs?  And if they aren't, why are we writing all these rules down?  I briefly mentioned this before, that the rules form a contract between the players and the GM.  If you twist the rules too far, the players feel betrayed, because the rules didn't apply, and cheated, because their character didn't get to shine during the moment they thought they should.  In cases of a forgotten or unenforced rule, having the rule written down in the rule set gives it validity.  From the GM perspective, if someone calls you on a rule as written, and you claim you are following the rules as written, you have an obligation to follow the rule.  You also have an obligation to ALWAYS follow the rules.  After all, selective enforcement of a rules is just another form of cheating.  But without the well-defined rule, the GM can do what makes sense in the scenario, balancing fairness and story.

So looking now at Shadowrun and having understood some of the perspective of our more experienced player, I can see that Shadowrun is not about evening the playing field and establishing a balance between the character strengths and the obstacles in their path like Pathfinder.  Instead Shadowrun is about defining lots of interesting options to build interesting characters, and then giving the GM enough room to always be able to build challenging scenarios for a great story.  In these contexts, it simple makes sense that Pathfinder is more defined than Shadowrun.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Shadowrun: The Visitor

After a bit of character rebuilding, we started into gaming this week.

Three players:
  • C playing Zephyr, an gnome Adept infiltrator
  • M playing Ender, a human Technomancer
  • M playing an unamed elven adept face
---
A well-dressed man in a suit falls tumbling down a a tunnel, huffing and puffing from a run.  Its a pretty good fall, but a bed of corn stalks pads landing.  Above light pipes, like giant optical fibers, funnel in light.  Its an underground cavern with a dotted sky.  The cavern walls is visible off in one direction and there are people off in the other direction.  He walks towards the people.

Upon closer inspection, there is a road and an open space with all sorts of people -- humans, elves, orcs, and all sorts of others -- whooping and hollaring.  There are internal combustion engines running and firing.  Old cars and vans are strewn about.  The unnamed man keeps walking, changing his looks slightly as he walks into the encampment.  All the vehicles are marked with VW symbols and bright pastel paint colors.

We walks up to a group sitting in a circle around some open fire grill.  Food, probably soy-based but something odd, is cooking.  He starts to talk to the brightly-dressed folks cooking and they hollar over to Zeb.  Zeb appears and asks where the man is headed?  He asks where there is to go.  The talk for a bit and the man decides to stay.  Zeb, it turns out is a taxi driver.  Zeb and Spaz are friendly, sharing booze and stronger stuff around the fire, talking mostly about cars.  Finally, they ask the man if he has seen the barn-burner.  He hasn't and they take him a few camps over.

There in the center with a man laying on the hood is a large stretched Kombiwagen.  The man reads until the two Dubs (as they call themselves) ask him to fire it up.  The back opens it up and a small turbine engine fires, sending flames and smoke.  Kids gather, roasting soy dogs and marshmallows over the flames.  This is the center of their culture.

The unnamed man settles in and finds his hosts offer him a place to stay.  He trades his suit for clothes to fit in with, and settles in by the fire, drinking and enjoying.
...
Meanwhile, Zephyr, a gnome flies into the airport in Port Wayne, met by a taxi.  He loads in his gear and the driver takes him to an industrial section of town, rough and somewhat abandoned.  There, the car stops, and after a moment, a man appears with long hair and a large beard.  He taps on the window and the car's driver takes something from him and gives him something back.  He yells into the back seat that he will take Zephyr the rest of the way.

He leads Zephyr back behind some dumpster and opens up a couple of large iron covers over a ramp.  Lighting down below shows an old beat up vehicle with the word Taxi scrawled across it in haphazard paint. The driver drives down a tunnel into a larger cavern and down dirt roads for a while.  There are food fields surrounding them with sunlight piped in from the ceiling.  Eventually they get to a ramp that takes them down into a lower cavern.

The taxi wanders through buildings.  There isn't much light here.  The cavern ceiling is only thirty or forty feet overhead, but it is hard to see with the signs of an urban sprawl.  Weird though... most of the buildings on one story and spread out.  They pull up in front a store with a bright sign above that reads V-Works.

Zephyr grabs his stuff and walks in.  A short-haired red headed human is at the counter with a pale human moving drinks around.  Its a typical coffee cyber-cafe -- booths, tables, comfort seats, plants, and security rail drone not too hidden behind a hanging plant.  AROs give the menu and specials in a subtle image.

Zephyr hops up from his short stature to a tall stool.  He is looking for food, orders, and heads over to a table to wait.

A high-class looking suit with black hair and nice shoes walks in.  He sits down at the table with Zephyr, unbuttoning the jacket of his new fashion purple suit.  They talk and Spinner, the suit, indicates he has a place for Zephyr to stay but he has something he needs done first.  He gives a whistle and his usual coffee appears in the hands of the pale human.

"Have a seat.  I need you two to do a quick job before you head to your place for the night.  There is an individual that just dropped into the first level.  Find him and bring him to me, unharmed."  Spinner sends the image over to the two via commlinks.  Its a nondescript elf in a suit.

Zephyr is distracted by the game of space invaders that appeared on his AR.  Someone in the place is messing with him.  Not surprising in this place.

The two climb into an old GMC Hermes delivery van that Eula, the red haired manager, keeps out back.  Zephyr can't reach the pedals, so Ender drives.

They wander up to the first level and head for the Dubs camp.  They stop in and look around, moving from camp to camp.  Zephyr gets the bright idea of acting like a child looking for his lost parent.  He gets the ear and heart of one of the Dubs, who leads them through looking for the lost parent, a man in a suit.

Eventually the two wander into the camp spot where the unnamed man sits, looking different in different clothes.  The Dubs have begun their nightly ritual of libation that last until they either pass out or go to bed, so not many are around or with it.  It is starting to get dark.  Ender is a bit on edge with no signals around.  The Dubs are pretty much tech free.

The unnamed man hassles Zephyr, asking him a lot of questions.  He hassles him about his pack and asks him to open.  Zephyr fumbles it and his lot of B&E tools fall everywhere.  The man helps him pick them up and palms the lockpicks.  Zephyr seems him and the man retorts, "These aren't for a kid.  You could get hurt."

Eventually the man sends them off towards the cornfield.  He grab a hunk of metal and jams into his pocket and follows them.  He circles back around and pops out when they are on the road.  Things get a bit more blunt now.  The man wants to know why they are looking for him, giving them the impression that he has a gun in his pocket.  They talk to the man about a job and Spinner.  Not agreeing to go with them, the man agrees to meet them at 11 at V-Works.

Zephyr and Ender, dejected and unhappy, head back to V-Works feeling outmatched.  They don't know what to make of this guy.  He obviously has skills they don't.

---

Just before 11, Zephyr and Ender sit in V-Works waiting for Spinner to show.  He shows up and isn't happy.  He emphasizes the fact that he wanted him unharmed, but that didn't mean conscious.  An Indian man comes in and chats up Eula, looking for a net connection or something, but not buying.  Eventually he gets up and joins the conversation.  It's the unnamed man.

It's real simple now.  Spinner gives him a place to stay and an opportunity to talk the next day at 8 AM about a job.  He mentions that he has a place for someone with his skills, speaking with platitudes and goodness in his heart.  Spinner seems to more than he's letting on.  The unnamed man bites.  Spinner leaves in his fancy Euro Westwind.  Eula gives the three their lodgings for the night -- three rooms at The Vintage.  Its a hotel down a couple of levels.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday Night Pathfinder: How Do You Deal with Missing Players?

Thursday nights we have a group of six players that plays Pathfinder from 6 to 9:

  • R, who plays Corrail
  • C, who plays Felix
  • S, my daughter, who plays Victaerus
  • B, who plays Caleel, the new human cleric
  • A, who plays Nickolai the half-orc barbarian
  • B, who plays The Druid
Last night we only had 3 of the 6 players show up, and even one of those was 20 minutes late.  One player had told me in advance that he would be out, one player got stuck at work due to a no-call, no-show, and one I haven't heard anything from.

This comes one week after we had to cancel our previous game due to 3 players being unavailable.

From a GM perspective, missing half the party is pretty much a non-starter.  Usually missing half the party also means either the rogue or the healer is missing, which is a recipe for a TPK.  So last night we waited for an hour to see if anyone else would show up and then packed up.

In general, my policy is that if you don't show up and don't contact me for three sessions in a row, you are going to be replaced.  Unfortunately one of my players has reached that point now, and I need to pass along the bad news.  I've already sent word through to see if I can get another player in on Thursdays.

So, here's the big question for the readers:  how have you seen other groups deal with players missing sessions?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cut Scene: Back aboard the Zelbinion


Sheena woke up on a bunk.  The door opened and it got really bright.

Thump, thud, thump, thud, thump, thud.  It was Fishguts, the Captain.  Sheena opened her eyes wider.

"There you are, missy, back in the waking world."  He smiled.  "It's good to see your eyes open again."  Fishguts sat on the bunk.  "If you're feeling up for it, Phaeralyn, I mean, the old wizard wants to talk to you."

Sheena caught on to him tripping over the wizard's name.  It was the first time she had heard it.  Maybe some things changed since she had been gone.

She followed Fishguts across the desk to the wizards quarters.  Fishguts knocked and then opened the door, holding it for Sheena.  She stepped in and her eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness again.  The old wizard was reading a book with strange symbols in it.  She glanced at it but reading the symbols seemed to make her hurt more.

"There you are, our favored crewman.  Seems you must have found some luck in your travels."

Sheena nodded.  "You had questions for me."

"Yes, well, as the only man of magic aboard, I wanted to talk to you about what happened aboard the Candlekeep ship."  The wizard spoke quickly and impatiently.

Sheena bit at her lip and frowned slightly.  How did he know about the ship?

"Can you tell me what happened?  Anything you can remember may be important." said the old man.

Sheena was racking her brain trying to remember what all had occurred with in the past few days, "Well there was the abandoned ship we found from Candle Keep, I believe. We decided to board it as a means of scavenging supplies and finding some more valuables. Once on board a few of us proceeded down to the lower level. On that floor we found a lot of cannons, all of them had been torn apart it had seemed. Vicaterus..."

She froze was Vicaterus still okay? She was with Druid and the guys they had just met. She thought about the two guys, she nearly laughed at the thought of the Half-elf loot maniac, Felix, was that his name?. He would probably make a decent pirate, if he had some backbone. He seemed to shy away from fights. Probably just wasn't good at it. The other guy, appeared to be an elf. He had tried to save her from the guardians. Mostly a stranger and yet he had tried to save her. She snapped back to the moment at hand.

"Vicaterus saw a sand pile and after much debate tied herself to a mast with some rope and jumped in. At first nothing seemed to happen, until the sand took on a humanoid form. He threatened to drop a torch into the powder keg room, I caught that one, displeased he went below and did it again before I could stop him. There was a giant explosion, how we survived I'm unsure, call it luck, divine intervention, fate, I don't care."

The wizard had grabbed up a piece of parchment and was scratching at it with a pen.  He nodded, letting her know to continue.

"Next thing I know we are sitting on one deck of the ship, somehow we had been warped inside with the sand creature in front of us. Angry with the fact that we were clueless as to the fate of our allies we gave no quarter. Then a group up on a ledge yelled out to us and warned us of the acid that was devouring the boat, they appeared melancholic. They had mentioned something about losing their comrades the same moment we appeared. Anyways we dispatched the sand creature and the half-elf told us the exit was on the other side so we all went over there. His tiger nearly fell into the acid but then this big Worg, fully white with the ability to speak saved it and carried it across."

The wizards scratched some more and nodded again.

"After that we went into the next room, and we walked and got to know each other. Apparently they were on a mission for Elminster, Searching for some Mace of the Morning Lord or something like that. We did a bit of fighting with some ghosts, a mimic, and some cage like things that were guarding an area.  We spent a night's rest in one of the corridors."

"We started moving early the next day.  We didn't get far before I heard some commotion prior and apparently Corrail -- was that his name -- he had let some creatures bite at him but ended up feeding them and then we entered the next room -- some kind of tomb."

"The guardians -- there were two of them -- they swarmed me the moment I entered the room." She winced at the thought of them pounding her again. " I collapsed, as a hope of them not waylaying into me until I became paste on the floor. After I fell, the Elf directed the others to get me out of the way of incoming attacks, he dropped one of them, but then the hands on both of them started moving in unison and there was a flash, then I was in the kitchen of the Celestial Kyte, and now I'm here."

"Did you bring anything back with you?" queried the old wizard again.

She thought for a moment and then unlaced and pulled off a shoe, dumping a bit of sand out on the floor.

The old wizard laughed.  "This sample will work nicely."

He picked up a bit and dropped it into a pestel and ground at it with a mortar, adding a small bit of liquid.  He poured the liquid out over a sheet of paper.

"Nay-lock sneedrum."  The old wizard pulled a wand from his pocket and sent a bolt of electricity into the page.  "Fornaydrod."

A picture formed, like a map.  Words appeared.  Waterdeep.  Neverwinter.  Candlekeep.  Luskan.  A large grey dragon appeared outside of Neverwinter with a spear in its hand.  A red X appeared over the Sword Mountains, very near a blue E and another blue script Sheena didn't recognize.  The icon over Candlekeep appeared as ruins.

The old wizard nodded again.  "You've been a long way."  He paused.  "Maybe we'll go visit your old friends once I'm -- I mean -- we're done in the Cimarines."

Sheena grabbed her elbow and gritted her teeth.  The wasn't the crazy old wizard they picked up at Iceflow anymore.  The was an arrogant, power-hungry wizard, plotting and scheming.  She didn't like it one bit.

Sheena fidgeted with her elbow.

The old wizard looked at her hand at her elbow and at her mouth.  "Just relax.  We're done her."

Sheena stepped toward the door.

The old wizard didn't face to see her as he left her with one last sentence:  "Keep this to yourself.  We don't want to alarm the crew.  We wouldn't want them to get any weird ideas about why you came back and the others didn't."

Sheena caught the implication -- keep quiet or take the blame and the crew would hang her from a mast.

---

Thanks to Roger (Sheena's player) for writing most of the dialogue and filling in some character details!

Cut Scene: Weldon Escapes

Weldon sat up and rubbed his shoulder through the synthetic plaid of his shirt.  "Ow" he mouthed, not actually speaking.  Stun batons hurt.

Weldon started a web search on AR for "Weldon Smith" while he grabbed at his right eye with his fingers.  Forcing back his eyelids, he grasped his eyeball directly.  There was a wet squelch as he gave it a tug and it was extricated from its bio home.

It looked like a normal green eye except for a set of ten or so shiny gold leads poking ever so slightly out of the back and the slight tint of blue in the gel that hung to the back of it. He closed his empty eye socket, keeping his other eye open to identify the center pin.  He pressed it firmly and set the eye onto the floor.  A new node flipped open on his AR PAN status.  He held his nose at the tip for moment, adjusting to the pungent smell of sterile artificial joint lubricant, aka "blue smooth".

He tasked it with a simple command to "free me".  Pieces of the eye came apart and suddenly it had legs, arms, and other appendages.  It used suction feet to climb the smooth walls and then clamped onto the small antenna.

Weldon leaned back against the wall, fighting the unconscious urge to paw at his empty eye socket.  His hands lay propped on synthetic natural-feeling fiber jeans in classic blue.  AR popped up a map.  There was a public address for "Weldon Smith".  He recorded the location and saved the map for later.

He stood up.  The eyeball-like insectoid dropped onto his shoulder and climbed back into position, waiting for him.  He used both hands, one from below and one over his head to pull the eye socket open again.  The eyeball gently pushed itself back into place with another small squish.  There was a barely audible click as the appendages closed back into storage.

The cell started to move along various tracks until a new wall appeared.  A young man with an overzealous shave and greased perfect hair spoke through a view screen:  "Mister Weldon Smith, you are being released.  It appears there was some mistake in your detainment.  Once you pay a 20 nuyen processing fee, you are free to go."

Weldon didn't move.

"You payment has been approved."

The cell moved again and without warning he found himself dumped out onto the sidewalk.  He stood up, brushed off the dirt from the concrete, and started walking.  The map from earlier was tracking his movement  and he moved.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Importance of Character Narration

I had a topic come up in the context of the Thursday night game that reinforced an element of character play that I had come across last time I played:  character narration.  To discuss this element I want to talk about the magic circle, framing and bleed.  If you're not familiar with these topics, EmergentPlay has excellent discussions of all three topics:  The Magic Circle, Frames, Bleed.

Imagine when your gaming rituals start.  Maybe you start by reviewing your character sheet before leaving for the game.  Maybe you sit at the game table, trying to remember what happened last time.  When I prepped for playing Crayla, my crass irreverant ranger, I would play certain songs, and even watch scenes of certain movies (the Alien movie with Sigourney Weaver playing basketball).

Entering the magic circle of gaming often involves transforming our behavior into that of the character, getting into their head, their senses, their feelings, and the situation at hand.  No matter how we get there, we have to make sure we don't go too far, so we keep limits.  Frames in place, we have separated our character's actions and emotions from our own and into the scenario we go.  It is a balance between immersion and separation.  This is play.

Playing for a while can really alter with the frame.  Kill a character off that's been in the game for a while, and you can see bleed.  The player feels bad; the other players feel bad; the GM feels bad.  As I've talked about before, I think this is a positive part of playing.  Bleed shows the players are invested, and that keeps the game fun.

There comes another problem when players choose the character they play.  Pick an ordinary character:  an elven ranger, a human fighter, a dwarf cleric, a halfling rogue.  Players usually have little problem playing these chracters because they are removed from them.  There is a distance in playing a character that you can neither directly relate to yourself nor take a keen interest in exploring.  Step outside of this box of distanced characters and weird things start to happen.  Let me give a couple of examples.

The first example is playing a character that is an exploration.  Crayla, my half-elf range with rogue skills, who was both beautiful in form and caustic in personality (thus with average charisma), was an exploration of character for me.  I wrote a background for her, linked it to her personality tendencies, and gave her a pyche in my mind.  I wanted to see what she could do, where her limits were, and find her path of growth.  Iread more psychology so I could figure out how she might really react.  I got into her head.

This lead to some problems, that I could see coming right away.  She was going to make certain people angry, definitely characters, but perhaps even the players and the GM.  This kind of bleed is a dangerous thing.  I decided right up front to use character narration as my tool to defuse or at least soften the bleed.  I would speak aloud in narrative what Crayla was thinking, feeling, why she was reacting a certain way, and then would jump into the role-play, turning my voice into her voice.  It was effective.  I didn't make it about my character is better / worse than yours.  I explained my exploration.  I made it into a group exploration of characters.

The second example is playing a character of what you know.  My 12 year old daughter decided to play a 16 year old girl fighter from Neverwinter.  Her character is smart and sways between strong and able and helpless and scared.  She is intelligent from her time in Neverwinter and yet lacks constraint, being a bit of a brat at times.  With having 3 older sisters, the player knows how to play the character and does it well.  This could have an obvious drawback that there could be bleed, giving the player too much emotional attachment to the character.  That hasn't happened.

Surprising to me, the weak frame problem for this character was found in the other players.  They see this character do something typical of the 16 year old character and immediately map it back to bleed from the 12 year old playing her.  My daughter plays the character well, and the other players interpret that as her bleeding through.  I have to admit, sometimes I even start to think the same thing.

In the last session, Sheena disappears due to some sort of spell attack in the middle of the battle.  Victaerus, the 16 year old character, has a breakdown and drops out of the battle completely, taking time to lament the missing Sheena.  As a GM, I get a bit critical of her not helping in the fight.  Talking to her later, I realize that she was playing the character dead on.  Sheena was the only friend she had left from the old ship crew, a place where she was barely accepted.  Prior to that Victaerus had been picked up by the pirate crew as a lone escapee from a pirate attack on a Neverwinter ship where she was a guard.  Trauma upon trauma upon trauma -- of course, Vicaterus would break down.

To help fix this perception of her playing style, I suggested that she add character narration, to let the other players know she was thinking about her character and playing as her character, not herself.  We will see next session how this works.  My suspicion is that explaining Victaerus just a bit here and there before taking on her voice will reduce the perceived bleed and show how deliberate (and good) the roleplay is.

In general, I know that serious role players don't like the insertion of third person narrative in place of first person roleplaying, but I think it does have its place sometimes in player's hands.  After all, the player sometimes needs to have some control beyond the first person, describing how their character is perceivable by others and filling in the small details that make a character become real.  And, in the case of the examples I've given here, I think it can defuse perception problems when interesting characters may be taken the wrong way.

Cut Scene: Sheena's Voyage

The sepuchral guardian, a great magical cage of iron surrounding the rotting flesh of a skeletal corpse with glowing red eyes, dropped two heavy arms against Sheena, landing with a hollow thud.  A plume of rotting stench spewed over the party.  Sheena's body crumpled into a pile of black with an uncharacteristic yelp.  The party jumped to her defense, shooting bolts and arrows.  Vicaterus drew her longsword and slashed at one of the creatures.  The second guardian fell.

Eerily, its dead arms started to move in unison with the still standing guarding, pulling energy out of the walls into a ray of red feathery flicker.  With a loud boom, a beam streaked from the ceiling and hit Sheena and she was gone.

Victaerus gasped and collapsed to the floor over the spot where Sheena was.  Tears flowed down her rosy cheeks and fell onto the shiny armor.  She dropped her sword with a clang and the shield crunched as her arm fell.  Her last remaining friend from the ship was gone.
---
Sheen felt a cold, cold rush of air, biting at her skin through her armor.  Then there was a thud, as a wooden floor came up at her fast.  It was warm, shadowy.  She opened her eyes.  It was the kitchen of the Celestial Kyte, the last place she felt was home.  Her eyes closed.  There was yelling and the thud-thud-thud of feet scrambling.  She could feel the friendly faces appear around her.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cut Scene: Weldon

One Areas security officer looked at the other.

"Yeah, I see the alert.  I'll take a left at the next corner.  You can jump out and make the grab."

"This is my last one for today.  Tomorrow, I'm driving."

"Fine, fine.  Just don't botch this one.  I need to get home for my daughter's birthday party.  We've got a clown coming and everything."

"How old?"

"Six."

The Ares van rounded the corner smooth and surveillance cameras on top scanned over the turn-style entry to the public transport hub.  A green box surrounded an image of one of the pedestrians on both security guards' AR.

"That's him.  Go go go." yelled the driver as the van came to a stop.  The second guard had his baton out as he charged into the suspect's back.  It was hard to tell if the "Stop.  Security." was actually said before he shocked the civilian into a heap of twitching muscles.

The security guard rolled the guy over, a middle aged man with graying hair, and slapped a small disk on his forehead.  "You are being transported to Ares detention center 416 for questioning regarding an infraction of code 12 section 321 of the Port Wayne Id requirements act.  Do not attempt to resist or you may experience severe consequences."

The man blinked once.  The guard and driver loaded him into the back of the van, still a lump.

It was about a 3 minute ride to the detention center.  The van docked with the building and the prisoner exchanged happened automatically.  The prisoner was deposited into a small cell with glass walls.  The disk popped off and rolled down a small hole in the floor, where it was collected for reuse.  A screen and speaker flickered and hissed into the view of a magistrate dressed in black robes.

"Mister Weldon Smith, your SIN Id has been picked up at two different locations simultaneously in violation of code 12 section 321 of the Port Wayne Id requirements act.  You are charged with trafficking in illegal identifications subject to a minimum incarceration of 42 months unless a fine of 23000 nuyen is paid within 24 hours.  You will be transferred to a cell where you will have 4 minutes of wireless access to contact an advocate to arrange payment.  Your communications may be monitored."

The man blinked again.

The floor and cell moved and the man was dumped into a storage cell with metal walls.  With a whir, a small metal antenna lowered from the ceiling, and his AR world lit up again.