Monday, December 31, 2012

The Games We Play: Multiple Venues/Genres

In the 80's, Palladium brought us a system with multiple universes (known as the multiverse), but they weren't actually connected. Then, in 1990, there was Rifts. This single game helped to bridge all the universes in the Palladium system under one big cosmological  convergence. Seasoned role players know Rifts well and there are many different viewpoints on it being a good thing or not. I for one am thankful for the invention of Rifts so that we could bring together concepts from different games together.

For instance... in the 90's, my group of friends and I were avid players of the Palladium system and began to utilize Rifts as a way to bring together our favorite aspects from other games. We brought together elements from Robotech, Beyond the Supernatural, Heroes Unlimited, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rifts and Ninjas and Superspies into a single world under the banner of being heroes, researchers and inventors. This was our sandbox, and it was fun.

One of the biggest inventions that came from this sandbox was called the "Omega". It was a mashup between standard mecha and the Invid Royal Command Battloid. This was meant so that even "normal" humans could utilize it. I happen to have an artist rendering by the player who developed the actual idea behind it.
In the 90's, White Wolf published... what is now know as... the classic/old World of Darkness. Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, Changeling and Wraith comprised the core of this new world, and as I was a long-time fan of the supernatural, of course these games became quick additions to my collection and our playgroup.

The great part of the World of Darkness is that you can play each game separately, or combine them together for the rich feel that Mark Rein·Hagen and the other developers had in mind. As much as they can be played separately, I feel that they are better combined. This is something that has been lost on the powers-that-be who develop the live action rules for the Mind's Eye Society, who seem to prefer to keep each game separate.

Sure, Dungeons & Dragons has their different settings such as Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Ravenloft and so on. I never felt that inter-setting travel was not something that TSR and WotC had in mind... even though they do have inter-planar travel. I know there have been some DM's (myself included) that allowed for the inter-setting travel. This just helps to promote the rule of all RPG's that the no matter what the rules in the books state, the DM/GM/ST has final determination in their games.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Massively multiplayer online role-playing game's have eluded my attention. I tried playing a little EverQuest at the height of its popularity, but the fact that I was on a slow dial-up connection didn't really provide the experience I would have hope for from a game with a monthly subscription.

A friend actually bought it to give it a try and we used the free month, believing that if we didn't use the account after that free month there would be no additional charge. I will admit that I was the one who made that horrible assumption, and several months later there was the monthly fee charged to her credit card. I'm more mindful about such subscriptions now.

While I appreciate the graphic intensive trailers I've seen for games like World of Warcraft and Knights of the Old Republic, I have a strong aversion to spending so much money on something I wouldn't utilize all that ofter so feel as though I would never get my full moneys worth from it. Granted, I do have cable television and Netflix which are monthly services, but I feel as though I get my moneys worth... for the most part. The television is a bit of a wash because Comcast keeps raising their rates.

Another reason I will probably not get into MMORPG's is the fact that my primary computer is a Gateway desktop that is about 8 years old and still runs Windows XP. It does everything I need and I'm fairly certain that I have upgraded it to the fullest extent of its capabilities. If I ever have the need to upgrade it, it will be to buy a new desktop.

In the end, I view MMORPG's just like I view recreational drug use... Okay for others, but not necessarily for me. (Please don't take this last statement to mean I necessarily condone the use of recreational drugs, but more so the old adage "different strokes for different folks".)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Games We Play: Mortal Campaign

Over the years, my group of friends and I have gone through several variations of plot for our campaigns. I'm going to illustrate these various campaigns so that it may help to inspire you to try and think outside-the-box when coming-up with your next campaign idea.

Our first variation began around 1999 when our games began to get a little stagnant and one of the storyteller types in our group decided to do something out-of-the-ordinary. This became one of my favorite concepts for future games.

In the original mortals campaign, each of us created mortal characters in the original World of Darkness setting based on our real life. Yes, our characters turned-out to be us. We voted as a group to determine how many dots each character received for their abilities and attributes. We also used the group to determine things like willpower, merits and flaws for the characters as well.

The storyteller had setup a system to determine the possibilities for what our characters would become while traversing in the World of Darkness. (i.e. Vampire clan, Werewolf tribe/auspice, etc.) This information was kept quasi-secret from the players... but we each had our suspicions for each player. For example, because of my interest and skill with a computer, it was assumed that my character would likely become a Virtual Adept Mage. The first campaign I recall actually being embraced as a Brujah by one of the other PC's.

Another interesting aspect of this game was that our knowledge of the various games in the World of Darkness transferred into the corresponding lore. (i.e. Vampire Lore, Mage Lore, Werewolf Lore, etc.) This made for some cumbersome but fun interactions for our characters as we had foreknowledge of events through meta-plot. For instance, the aforementioned PC that embraced my character sought out a Methuselah Brujah in Chicago by the name of Menele... who just happens to be of the 4th generation. Also, in the hopes of awakening as a Virtual Adept, I remember actively trying to contact the archmage Virtual Adept known as Dante. Good times.

One variation that I ran utilizing the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rules was very interesting. I had the players make standard characters, but when the game began I stated that each of us were about to get ready for a game of D&D in character... breaking what could be called the fourth wall of role playing. As the "characters" were ready to begin the story, my "character" left for the bathroom... and it was at that time I employed the time honored DM tool of "there's a bright flash, and you wake-up somewhere else." When they each woke-up, they were in their character's bodies... yet they still retained their player knowledge. I guess you can say I enjoy using the meta-game to my advantage.

After being a storyteller and player for so many years, I've developed a great many PC's and NPC's that I appreciate using in my games. In my D&D version of the mortals campaign, I decided to use characters each player could somehow relate to by utilizing characters that each of us had played in our LARPing days. This added another level of interest for the players, and a good time was had by all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Experiences as a Member of the Camarilla/Mind's Eye Society

I've already written about my time in Live Action Role Playing games, but I wanted to delve a little deeper into it as what I posted was more a brief summary of my experience rather than specific thoughts, feelings and moments.

When I first joined the local Camarilla, I was given my first opportunity to learn about the organization by becoming the Assistant Chapter Coordinator (ACC) for my chapter; Ascending Twilight. This also helped me to progress in the organization by earning "prestige"; the magical number that is followed to show your elevation in the organization by your assigned Member Class or MC. I thought this was great and jumped at the chance to earn as much prestige as possible. That was in 1996. Today, in 2012, the system has changed quite a bit but has also remained the same. I've been waiting for my MC review that has been sitting at the Regional level since about August. There is apparently some problem with the prestige reporting from 1996 - 1998. I'm not entirely sure what's going on right now, but I'm also in a position of not to complain or worry about it too much. I anticipate losing about 1 1/2 years worth of prestige that I earned while I was the Chapter Coordinator (CC) for Ascending Twilight because of this reporting error.

After a few months of being an ACC, I thought that I could do more but also wanted to spread my wings as a creative role players. That's when I first started down the path as a Storyteller (ST) for LARP.

In 1997, the organization decided to make some changes with the rules and reset the current campaign setting, or chronicle. This means that we began with a clean slate and new characters. Everything we had accomplished with our previous characters had no impact on what was going to happen in the new story. This gave me the perfect opportunity to begin as an ST, and we needed a new Domain Storyteller (DST). I won the election and there we were.

I knew that I couldn't handle the games all by myself, so I enlisted the aid of a couple friends, who became my Assistant Domain Storyteller's (ADST's). There were also Chapter Storytellers (CST's) to represent each Chapter in the Domain. We were full of ST's and ideas and this made the Domain a fun place to play. I was DST for about 7 months, and then something happened.

In those days, we didn't have the resources like Google Drive or Wiki's that we do now. I spent the 7 months of my term as DST trying to get answers to so many questions:
  • What was the proper format for my monthly reports?
  • Was there a report template for these reports?
  • Who/where do I send the monthly DST reports?
  • What all should I add in my monthly report?
Because I never received answers to these questions, it looked as though I wasn't doing my job. Also, important items that (I learned later) should be on my report were missing, and this became the inevitable downfall to my term as DST.

At one of our normal games, we received a large influx of out-of-town players that we were unfamiliar with. They were signed-in and we played game. (I should note that our games started at around 8pm and could last into the wee early hours of the morning.) At around 11pm, one of the out-of-town players shouted "Time out! Who is the DST? I need to speak with him." I came up to find out what the problem was and was informed that he was the Assistant Regional Storyteller (ARST) and he had some serious items to discuss with me. He, and 2 other ARST's, took me aside and began to berate me about certain item's that I had allowed to happen, such as:
  1. I allowed the diablerie of a Player Character (PC) happen without reporting it... even though I was not informed I had to do so. (Please see the definition of diablerie for more information.)
  2. I did not take serious action against the PC who committed the diablerie, even though doing so would have taken my out-of-character knowledge and brought it in-character.
  3. I did not personally verify characters that were brought into play from the 3 ARST's. Each of the ST's took responsibility for conducting sign-in. This was not a time where it was my responsibility and the ARST's apparently brought in characters that should not have been allowed in play.
I think the biggest mistake I made that evening was not allowing my ADST's to join in the "conversation" I was having with the ARST's. At the end of the very public chastising, I was told that I would no longer be the DST. This was my first instance of dissolution in the organization as I felt very mistreated by members of the Regional Storyteller staff. Life went on.

For the next several years, I would be a Coordinator and I would be an Assistant Storyteller, but until I returned in 2011, I would not hold a primary Domain position again. I think that this benefited me as others helped to define the basis of whatever reports were necessary. I'm thankful that today there is a defined process and even some templates that can be used for reports, and the scope of responsibilities for both the Storyteller and Coordinator offices are easier to understand.

After a personal setback in January 2000, I felt like I didn't fit-in with the people that I had literally grew-up with in the organization. Even though I was given responsibilities, I felt like I was looked down upon for mistakes I had made. I felt betrayed by several of the people I once called friend. This lead to my eventual departure from the Domain of Salem and joining the Domain of Dreams in Eugene.

I thought I could start new in Eugene, and it was working out fine until I was put into the position of Chapter Coordinator. There were decisions that had to be made, and I was not the person who should have been making them at that point in my life. I let people's opinions cloud my better judgement, and through that I made some bad decisions. I think I was CC in Eugene for about 3 months before I had to step away. I kept playing for a while longer until certain people started to bend the rules of the game way too much.

I'll admit that I put in a great deal of work when I create a character for these games. Because of this, I have felt personally slighted when people abuse the rules to manipulate me or (especially) to kill-off character's that are close to me and my character. This happened with my pack in our Sabbat game. Our pack was seemingly causing too much of a problem with certain people, so one of the players played a non-player character (NPC) that was specifically designed to kill our leader.

The way it was handled bent the rules of the discipline (power) called Vicissitude. This power allows the wielder to manipulate flesh and bone, however you need to actually use your hands to do so. The flesh and bone does not simply move to your whim and you cannot make yourself into a pile/pool of flesh with other disciplines or a certain combination discipline. Either way, the NPC could not (by the rules) drape them self over another person, yet this is what happened and our packs leader died. Shortly after this exchange, I decided to take a long sabbatical from the organization.

From 2004 - 2011, I stayed in contact with only a few of the friends that I had made while in the Camarilla. Without social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, I probably wouldn't be in contact with many of them now... or vice-verse. Of the friends I made during my original tenure within the organization, I only have regular contact with a handful of people. Now that I'm back with the new organization, I occasionally get a chance to meet-up with old friends and reminisce about the old days.

Now it's 2012. The organization has changed quite a bit. It's now called "Mind's Eye Society"... at least in America. I don't feel as much of the camaraderie with other Domains as I once felt. Early on, there were week's where several of us would go to Oregon City, Portland, Vancouver, Corvallis, Eugene and still make it to the Salem games. This helped to breed an air of companionship, friendship and trust. It feels like that aspect has been lost to us. Back then, our core local group would host regular tabletop games and other social activities. Now it feels hard to get anyone motivated to do anything fun.

Maybe it's because I've done a lot of growing-up since those days and now that I feel like a responsible adult (some days), I feel like I don't have much time to take on extra activities. Perhaps this is a feeling that is shared with others. We're responsible adults now and not fun-loving youths able to stay-up until the wee hours of the morning talking, playing games, hanging-out at Denny's and the like. Perhaps what I'm feeling... and perhaps others... is the horrible side-effects of getting old. We are not as young as we were in 1996. Some of us aged more than others during that time.

There's talk about a new chronicle starting in 2013 and how the organization is going to make some major changes to the different games. There's talk about keeping the Camarilla and Sabbat in separate "universes", making a New World of Darkness venue and capping MC for certain venues to try and level the playing field. I'm not actively a participant in these talks so I'm very frustrated when I hear of new changes and I can't express my opinions on the ideas to the proper individual's. While I understand the reasons behind things like MC capping, the games I play are collectively called the "World of Darkness". It's not the World of the Camarilla or the World of the Sabbat. The system was originally setup to incorporate ALL aspects of the various games; from Vampire to Hunter and everything in between. If it's not the World of Darkness, then why am I paying an annual membership fee to be here?

I apologize that this ended in a bit of a rant. In writing this, so many emotions came flooding back to me. I hope you understand that I'm merely stating my opinions and I, just like you, have the right to express them. If you disagree with anything I've written, I welcome your feedback. Fair warning: I took speech and debate in high school, and I was fairly good at it. :)

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Comics & RPG's: A Mingling of Interests

About my sophomore year in high school, I had decided I wanted to become a writer. My primary influence at the time was the writings of Stephen King. I was hooked on his stories, and it was then that I was reading "IT" which set my imagination ablaze.

My sophomore English teacher adamantly despised King and insisted that his work was an affront to literature. I always felt that he didn't like me that much, since I always brought copy of "IT" to class. In my way of biting my thumb at him, I decided to chose King as the subject of my final paper for that class. I wrote an extensive biography citing references and everything. This was in the days before the World Wide Web and the abundance of information at your fingertips... I had to do some serious research through books and magazines. I remember spending house going through the computerized microfiche system at the public library to find articles written on King. Got a B... think I may have been screwed on the grade, but I accept it.

My junior year in high school, they offered a "Creative Writing" class. I jumped on-board, and then I learned who was teaching the class; the very same teach I dealt with my sophomore year. Our attitudes hadn't changed much and we butted heads a couple of times over my writing style and appreciation of the genre of horror and Stephen King. I received a B in the class that I actually felt I deserved. This made me want to become a published writer. I had a spiral notebook that I wrote outlines for so many different stories. I had pages of name combinations for characters. I even wanted to legally change my name when I was of age. It would have been Richard Baughman, in honor of King's pseudonym of Richard Bachman. Thinking back now, I'm glad I didn't make the change.

During my high school years, I continued to collect comic books and play role playing games. I never thought about merging my interests until my senior year in high school when I started to collaborate with my best friend and artist.

We had first met when he came to my high school my junior year. He played the french horn, where I played the baritone saxophone. We found common interests in role playing games and music. Later, he would open my mind up to anime and a different genre of comic books that I may have never noticed without his help.

On a casual phone call near the end of my senior year, the idea came about to create our own comic book. We each developed our own characters for the comic and even created them as RPG characters in Palladium's "Heroes Unlimited" game setting. They were Starshadow and Raven, collectively known as "The Shadows of Justice".

Our logo.
This was a design for t-shirts that we had printed. The shirts actually had color to them, though.
We played the characters in our previous Heroes Unlimited game that incorporated several different aspects of the Palladium multi-verse. They fit in just fine and we were able to better develop their personalities. Through the game, we tackled a few of the plot points that we had designed for the comic book as a series. I spent many hours working to write the script for the first issue and create an outline for the first 6 issues. In the end, we were able to put together a decent proposal that we sent to Dark Horse Comics. We chose Dark Horse because they're local to us (relatively) and the submitting editor was very receptive and helpful on our requests for information. (Remember, this was all before the WWW and we had to either call or send snail-mail to communicate.)

Here are the pages that were actually finished for our submission:

For those of you who understand comics and the industry, you can obviously tell that we didn't have Blue Line pages to actually put the sequential work in the industry format. The last 2 pages were drawn on a template that I had created. Unfortunately, our ideas were not accepted by Dark Horse... but they did provide some good feedback. My next attempt to get into comics as a writer wouldn't be for many years.

Before Jim Butcher published his character of Harry Dresden, I came up with my own version named Jonathan Spectre. This idea was based off of a human medium with some magic (Numina) in the World of Darkness. He even had a "sidekick" (of sorts) in the form of a wraith named Mimic. I had supporting characters outlined, a fictional town designed, a house where Jonathan would work out of, and an outline of about 7-8 stories. I even approached an artist (who I can't remember their name any more) to bring my characters to life. Here are the resulting pictures:


Unfortunately, I found that I had no real follow-through and never really progressed beyond this stage. If Dresden had not been published, I might have gone back to develop this idea.

All these characters, except for Marcus Jones, was originally a character of mine based in White Wolf's World of Darkness. As mentioned before, Jonathan was a hedge magician. Mimic was actually a Spectre based out of Wraith: The Oblivion. Rose was a Hollow One from Mage: The Ascension.

As much as I would have liked to bring my love of comics and RPG's together to break into the industry, it never seemed to be in the cards. What I think I'd like people to take away from this is that comics can be a great resource for ideas in your games, and likewise characters in your games can be a valuable inspiration for a comic book.

Just as a side note, I also write another blog specifically about comics books called Zanziber's Point of View. If you're interested, I'm going to write about my experiences of being a comic book inker. (Yes, mock me with your taunts from Chaising Amy all you want. I'm comfortable with what I do.)