"And the Villain Opened a Competing Pizzeria to Yours..."

About a year ago, in the beginning of April last year, I was in one of the most important gaming lectures I've ever been in (a lecture by מיכאל אלבוים Michael Elboym). It was, as the headline of that particular lecture implied, about improvisation in RPGs.
One of the most important lessons I received from this eye-opening lecture was from the example the lecturer opened with: the characters were at the end of the dungeon, ready to face the dark and evil sorcerer, and one of the players suddenly said out of the blue: "To hell with that, let's go back town and open a pizzeria!" Unlike every normal GM, he went on with it. An idea, you see, came into his mind, and when a few minutes passed and they opened the pizzeria, a new pizzeria was being opened, by the infamous dark and evil sorcerer, a pizzeria which competed with the PCs for the same customers.
This story became one of those lessons that I came back to, every time I was stuck or surprised by the players. I learned to almost never say no, and to always find another way to get out of a halt like the one that was supposed to happen from the pizzeria story. More importantly than that, though, I didn't break the game, called the players out or anything similar.
There was another lesson, though, that I learned from this example: No matter what I want to say or what I feel about my players (at particular times, of course...), I should always look at them and say to myself "how lucky I am", because after all, They're surely way better than the players of that pizzeria example.

Scenes, Scenes, and a Little Bit More

So I didn't post yesterday. Real life alarm, a little bit of gaming and suddenly whoosh, no time for the blog, so sorry for that. Anyway, there's something I wanted to talk about, you know, you and me, something tiny but important: Scenes.
Every story and every movie are made of many many scenes; each one of them fills a purpose in the overall story arch. Some of the scenes are there to advance the main plot, others are there to create dazzlement, anticipation and suspense, others are there for the characterisation, and there are many many more motives for the plots.
I, personally, categorise three main types of scenes:

  1. Exposition Scenes, which are scenes that are used to add information to the audience (the players in our games), and often to set the tone, mood and to place the story in a particular area. The first scenes of Casablanca, where we see the city itself, the French police in action and the rounding of the usual suspects state the tone of the movie, as does the scene with the explainer who steals the money. These scenes usually come at the beginning of the story, although they can come in other places, as in the connection scenes in Memento.
  2. Spectacle Scenes, which are the scenes that are used to create awe and dazzlement in the audience. The scenes in which we first see the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or the flight scenes in Superman are great examples of that, they dazzle us, but that's about it. These scenes can also be mesmerizing ones, like the dancing in the rain scene, from Singin' in the Rain. These scenes are there to make us forget that it's only a story, only a game, by trying to catch our attention and imagination.
  3. Dramatic Scenes are, as the name implies, the most dramatic scenes. All of them contain conflicts, as big or as little as may be, and they are the main ones. These are the scenes in which the characters face their within world, and contrast it with the outer world. Scenes like the decision of Michael Corleone to kill the cop and the drug dealer, Rick's decision to help Ilsa and many other scenes are of this type. 
Every scene is not only a building block of the story, but also a story (albeit a short one) wholly by itself. Scenes are not there only to be parts of a complete thing, but should receive the same focus as the overall story. Spectacle Scenes should be big and grandiose, mesmerizing and awing; Exposition Scenes should state the mood and tone of the story, but should also be interesting in and all by themselves; and lastly; Dramatic Scenes should be as dramatic as possible, without overdoing it.
How can we do that? The main 2 tips I can give about it are viewing and reading storytelling mediums where the scenes are in the centre of the storytelling language of the medium, like plays and movies, to see where and how the greatest practitioners use and disuse scenes. The other tip is to practice it a lot, because theory is not enough, and practice is the main way of improvement after the theory is known.


No More XP for You

There's something that I wanted to try for a very long time; a thought that ran through my brain for months, maybe even years; an idea for a game that I'm still waiting to try. The idea itself is pretty simple: No mechanical advancement for the PCs.
Too much of the games that I ran saw the players focusing on the mechanics, and how are they gonna be better and cooler. This resulted with them making the characters incomplete, always saying that when they'll achieve this and this, they'll be better, fuller, richer...
I don't like it, this aspect of gaming, and if we'll look at Lord of the Rings, or James Bond, Hamlet or Casablanca, the characters don't get any better physically, or any better magically or the like. Even in comics they don't get better (except for Spider-man, but it always turns bad...), so why do we see it there? Isn't story and character advancement is enough? Must we go for the mechanics to feel the advancement? I'm not too sure.
So the idea is really simple, and the possibility of running a game like this might be even positive, might even be plausible to run a game like this. I don't know when, or how; I don't know if it will be fantasy or sci-fi; I don't even know if I'll enable advancement by getting better tools; there's too much to think about in a game like this, but the PCs... I think they and their story will be much fuller, richer, and overall all the way better.

The Dirty Secret of Mystery Planning

Most GMs wanna run a mystery game, at least once. Some of them, at least from those that I came to know, wanna GM a mystery campaign and not just a little game session. There is one problem that prevents them, "how can I come up with a new complex plot for each mystery?". For that, there is a simple answer: "You don't.
The longer version is more down to earth: After you've ran a complex mystery story, the players won't expect an easy and shallow one. More than that, they'll look for the rest of it. "No, it's just another red herring". After you've made a complex plot, with many stages and many more red herrings, coming with a simple one, a murder mystery at the level of an Action movie's mystery, they won't believe it's that simple and they'll create the complex stages for you.
Take into account, though, that after a very easy one, running another easy one will destroy what you built. It's preferred, at least from my experience, to go for one complex, one shallow, but don't make it too obvious. Sometimes, change of complex levels might be the refreshment the game needs.
On a side note, this can be used in conspiracy games also. When the players and their characters start to unravel the conspiracy, they'll look for more than what is on the surface. Doing all the work of the conspiracy in question seen to all will make them seem much more sinister...


"I Don't Care That Much About Your World's History..."

This stage always comes when you think you have enough experience for it. You bring your folder and pen, and you start to write about a new world of your own, a world in the scale of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, with a history that spans hundreds or even thousands of years, with gods battling between humans, and vast lands very far beyond the seas, and a cosmology of 28 worlds and 496 planes. I'll tell you something about it: I don't care for any of that. If I was your player, I wouldn't want to know what happened in this spot 8128 years ago, unless it's still super connected to what's happening now, and I promise you that it won't.
When I come to play in another GM's world, I don't care for its history beyond the basic things, at least not for most of the campaign, and no, it's not because I don't like it, or I don't find it interesting, but mainly because it doesn't help or enhance my game.
I want to know about the politics of the now, about the vast armies of the orcs who come to save the day and about the elves who come to destroy the nature they vowed to defend. I want to know about the festivals that take place every year. That's the kind of things I wanna know about, the things of the now, the things of the importance to the story we're telling.
I don't want to hear how Kalicachoochu defeated the great dragon Urganzin, but to meet the dragon and defeat him by myself. So please, don't talk about the legends of the past, it's not important, and I would have preferred if you would use the time and energy that you spent with the history to create a better and cooler world of the now.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do want your world to have a history, but history of the now, major events in the past 200 years that revolve around the city we're living in, and I prefer it as a colourful and short one. The king took his place by cheating in a magic duel against the queen 30 years ago, now she wants her place back. Nothing spectacular, just... the simple, colourful and interesting bits. If it will be interesting enough, and I'll decide that I want a bigger knowledge about the history of the world, I'll ask you then. Yeah, I promise you that. But first of all, create an engaging world, history is for the later.


When Characters Encounter the Players

Last June I finished my V-tR campaign. It ended pretty much in the way that I intended it to happen, although only one of the Players were killed in the process. WTF?
Let me start from the beginning, won't you? It was after a few months of game sessions, pretty long and eventful ones, when we finally entered the final stages of the story. We had three characters in the game: Tina, a Daeva, who was beautiful as the legends, and deadly as the rest of them; Louis, a Ventrue, whose powers of command was the source of legends; and finally Jack, a Mekhet who was an artist in at seeing and not being seen.
The game was set in New Orleans, the default setting, with a little twist: To add another level of complexity, I included in the city the three main characters of the novel "Interview with the Vampire", who were the string pullers of New Orleans, being part of another level of secret intrigues and alliances.
In the sessions preceding the final one, Tina started to get close to Louis of the novel, and also to a Mage called Robert Geldof; Louis entered the world of vamp politics and tried to rise higher and higher; and Jack? Jack tried to understand the truth about the situation they were in.
Also of note: A bystander found Tina in a blood frenzy, Tina vampirized a person of great power, the 2 enemies of Prince Vidal thought about of forces, Jack succeeded in killing a werewolf, and Louis agreed to a strange term with Louis of the novel about a favour for standing in society.
At the end of the preceding session, Prince Vidal was murdered. Then we started the final one. It started with the group being escorted to a "cave", which was ran in a Nordic-freeform fashion (a combination between LARP and tabletop), till we got to the gaming table. The session then continued, with the group and the city trying to cope with the death of the prince.
We had a break as they awoke from a dream scene. Then, they ran away from the three new contestants for the job.
Then, the soundtrack finally started, with 15 minutes of thriller's themes. Louis was caught by a vamp group, and the others tried to free him. Then, after the cue, Jack was freed, and I made someone dress as a stranger. He went downstairs, and after a text that he said, about life of misery and about a way to solve it. He told the characters that they were only characters in a game, aimed at making them feel misery, gave them the rulebook and character sheets, and then opened a portal to a dimension where the Players and the GM were tied up. "Killing them is the only way to get free", he said, and gave them a knife.
Tina killed her player, Jack let his player ran away, and Louis brought the player with him back to the world. The world that they came into was different; it was by the rulebook edition of New Orleans.
This is what I recall as my crowning moment of GMing, when they found the truth. It was, as John Wick called it, breaking the fifth wall- making the audience be the event, be the feeling, the happening.


When Truth Kills the Justice, Go the Other Way Around

We aim to shoot the head each and every time that we try to shoot something, we try to find the truth behind every mystery, to uncover the secret that was not supposed to be solved, but sometimes, justice is a lot more important than the truth.
There's a game I want to run, an investigative game, a murder mystery, but the clues contradict one another, and the PCs should use what clues they see fit to get the result that they want.
The thing that is identical in both of these situations is that the truth is not the most important thing. Sometimes, truth is not relevant at all, like in the second situation, and all of this thinking came from a movie I watched called To Kill a Mockingbird. It's a courtroom drama, with some elements that can be considered as horror, and it's a really good one. In the end of it, the Sherriff says that the truth is not this important; it will harm more than it will help, and he invents a lie to bring justice back to its place.
And that's the whole point: Justice is more important than truth. Truth should be twisted to complement the just things, but never should we do the second thing around. In games, it's really important, at least from my standpoint, that when the characters are faced with an investigation that is gonna end with a good person being harmed in one way or the other, the characters should be rewarded if they choose the right and just thing. More interestingly, though, can be a more difficult situation, where they should have to choose between truth and justice, each one with its own benefits and drawbacks.
I don't know if I actually succeeded with explaining what I mean, but to make it much more simple, and to get to the point of what I'm trying to say, I think that this is a point, an aspect, that should be explored: What is more important, truth or justice? To what extent is it true?


Recurring Motives and Improvisation

A little late thought for today: When improvising a game, using recurring motives makes the game feel more sophisticated and better planned. It helps to create foreshadowing for the continuation of the game, while also creates a way to bring the story back to normal when internal consistency is broken. Motive also has the connection to higher degrees of prepared storytelling, and using it while improvising helps to create the illusion that the game is not improvised.
It doesn't have to be complicated or fancy or anything, though. It can be as simple as a kobold army that brings the forsworn doom, which comes whenever the characters failed in something and as sophisticated as a knight in rotting armour who says "the time is coming" whenever something bad is gonna happen that has an influence over a major NPC.
What about you? Do you use recurring motives when improvising? How?

Monsters of the Night, What Terrors They Make

"He went up, both terrible and gracefully, advancing one little step after the other. When he sang, the entire universe listened with awe and disgust combined..."
The horror monster is a thing of terrible beauty. It's not just terrible, and it's not just beautiful, but a combination of both of them. A monster that is terrible alone is a monster, maybe even a frightening one, but it's the kind of fear so commonly associated with "boo!" movies, the movies where the monster says boo and we're all supposed to remain frightened for the rest of the movie, those movies which utilize the flight or fight mechanism and nothing more. A monster that is beautiful alone is not frightening. It might bring jealousy, or envy, it might even draw all attention in the room, but if it won't be frightening, there will be no fear in the game.
Today, I'm going to examine this concept of the perfect horror monster, mainly through the movie "The Exorcist". In the movie, a child called Regan is being possessed by a demon, and it deals with her mother's attempts to deal with this, resulting in an exorcism attempt.
The possession of Regan resembles the fear from the powers that lies under each one of us' image of skin, powers that can destroy every vestige of our self control and identity. In the movie, this possibility is accepted in both awe and horror. Horror of losing one's self control, but the way this change is happening is just... Magnificent? Compelling?
The fear of the loss, combined with the compelling nature of the way its happening makes this transformation much more frightening. It's not just the fear of the loss now; it's also the fear of what is happening to us. We fear from how we want it for ourselves.
These 2 things are combined with sexual motives: The transformation takes place when she turns 13, the things and swears that she says are all connected to sex, and even the infamous "Exorcist Twist" of the 360 degrees has its connections to sex: The devil used this twist when he was with the hags and witches. These motives are frightening, because of their connection to the devil and to sins, but are compelling also, it's a way to get out of our cell, a way to be free.

Applying it to RPGs
The creatures and monsters that we create to encompass our game world should be a combination of symbols that make us both disgusted of the monsters and awed by them. This can be done in 2 main ways: The Combined Monster, and The Mirrored Monster.
The Combined Monster is the more common way of doing this: The same monster encompasses both aspects, and it is a combination of both characteristics. The most famous of these monsters is Dracula: The fear of the blood sucking with its sexual appeal, his high statues in the society, he also expresses both the side of the rebellious son and that of the violent father.
When making a Combined Monster we should take into account the same things, and preferably try to achieve equal doses of both things. No morality, maddening beauty and so on, are only some of the ways this can be achieved.
The Mirrored Monster is less common, but nonetheless at least just as frightening (although maybe a little bit harder to achieve). In this way of making the monster, the aspects are allocated to a few characters. There are 2 common ways to make it: Making copies and clones of it or making the monster have multiple personalities (like with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).
When making a Mirrored Monster, we should make sure that close examination of the person in question should reveal the difference between the "good" ones and the "bad" ones, but we should still make a sudden transformation a possibility. Also, we must make the players question their knowledge about the "good" and "bad" personalities/copies.


"This Femme Is Fatale!"

After I've watched today the movie Double Indemnity, I came to notice something: The greatest Femme Fatale is not the one that makes men do bad things, but the one who makes them want to do bad things. What the heck do I mean with that?
Femme Fatale is a kind of a character who uses her sexual "prowess" to control men and make them do really bad things, usually for her, usually for a promise from her, that she "forgets" to fulfil  She tosses them aside, using the newer ones to eliminate the old ones among other more terrible things. Although this character originated in the French literature, she's more famous in the Film Noire genre.
Anyway, after explaining what it is, let's go to what she does in the movie, won't we? From the first moment we see her, she catches our hero's eye (can't say protagonist about a murderer) and starts to seduce him. She's all present, teasing him with canny answers to his questions. 
The next time we see her, she becomes more of a "to the point" kind of girl. She asks about this accidents insurance policy. Neff immediately realises that she wants to kill her husband, to murder him, and says it won't work. He leaves, and later that evening there's a knock on his door. When he opens it, there's Phyllis again, and a short time afterwards is not only agreeing to sell her the policy, but he leads the way and plans how to kill, using every possible way to get more money.
Neff here is passionate about killing the husband, passionate about planning it, and most of all, doing it to get Phyllis (who has plans of her own). This last thing makes Phyllis the perfect Femme Fatale, she makes them want to do the bad stuff, and not just making them do it.
Applying it to RPGs is a little bit problematic, though. If one of the PCs is a Femme Fatale, going for this way of using it is not a problem at all, 'cause one can control the NPCs without making the others feel useless. On the other hand, Femme Fatale controlled by the GM can be an entirely different beast. Holding secrets from the players and their characters is the first step to making it easy. Making the character seem like a good person and her enemies like bad ones is the second stage. I like to play on my players thoughts about women and power, women and obedient and so forth against them. In this manner, it helps a lot when the players think that woman can't be nothing but the victims till it's too late.
Do you use Femme Fatales in your games? How do you use them?


"I've Got Wife and Kids, You Know..."

A little thought for today: When the characters catch a killer, or a bank robber or something like that, what does this criminal say to his/her defense? I guess that most of us say things like: "It wasn't me", "I just followed orders" etc...
But think for a moment about this bank robber who says to his defense: "You don't understand, I have a wife and kids". Wouldn't it be much more powerful? Won't it create an immediate sympathy for the criminal? And most of all is of course the immediate creation of a moral dilemma: "If we'll put this man in jail, what about the wife and kids? Wouldn't they end where this person is going to be? And if not, what about the rise of crime rates that will be made? Is saving a family is more or less important than maybe saving a person here and there?"


What I Want From My Players

I GMed today another session. It was really nice, and the players enjoyed it (at least, that was their answer when I asked...) but I went out of it feeling a bit disappointed. You see, I came to the game with expectations that were too high. Most of them are good players, that I GMed for at least a couple of times, and yet it wasn't as good as I expected. Maybe it was me? Maybe it was because I didn't stress from beforehand what I want from my players? And then I started to think: What is it that I look for in my players? What special things, beyond coming on time do I want from them? My conclusions follow:

  1. I want my players to be an integral part of the game. It means 2 things: First, I want them active, not sitting in the background waiting for when they are attacked to do something. Secondly, it means that I want them to come with ideas ("wouldn't it be cool if we'll meet the dragon for a final battle just above of his cave?"). Nothing too fancy, just, you know, suggesting things that they may find cool.
  2. I want my players to participate in the stories we tell. I don't want them there to just say "I attack" or something like that. I want them to make important decisions, to fight for their morals, to help create a better story. The fact that I'm the GM means that I'm helping to advance it and that I have a bigger share of telling the story than each one of them, that's all.
  3. I want my players to keep to the tone of the game. I don't want them cracking Monty Python jokes in a horror game, nor do I want them to go kill the king and all his men in a political game (at least, not in the normal hack and slash way...).
  4. I want my players to help me with making sure that each one of them has about the same screen time, so all of them will be able to shine.
  5. I want my players to come to every session wanting to go out and explore a different world, ready for adventures and horrors and stories yet to come.
  6. I want them to come passionate to the game, and I want them to think about the game beyond of the normal gaming hours.
  7. Lastly, I want them to deliver characters that are more than just their stats, characters who have a personality, conflicts, background, relatives, and all other ways to make them part of this world we're telling the story within.
There are surely more things one expects from his/her group of players. After all, the GM is only one mind, one brain, and the players have more brains to come with more ideas. Also, they have less of a responsibility, and as such have more time to invest in more things of the like. Is it too much? I don't know, but I don't think so. What do you expect from your players?


"The Big Rulebook of Fables"- Plans For an Upcoming Changeling Campaign

My Changeling campaign is coming closer with each passing day. So, we'll begin the campaign and all my planning will be tested, but until then, I've got at least about 2 to 3 weeks, maybe even more. As such is the situation, I've decided to get into the fairy tales a little bit closer, so the first session will be a session that worth the wait. Anyway, I've came to a few observations about this genre of stories. My changeling game is supposed to resemble these tales in so many ways, that there's no other way so beneficial to prepare for the game. What follows are some of my observations, accompanied by how I plan to use them in games.
My first observation was about the world. It's pretty much clear that all fairy tales occur in a place that is  familiar and alien. In one hand, there's its normality, with normal human inhabitants, wars, kings and queens and much much more. On the other hand, though, there's the strangeness of the world. It's a strange, peculiar, alien, wonderful world, filled with all kinds of wonders (and some other things). A world that is both familiar and alien, fearful and wonderful, magical and mundane is hard to create in a moment, but it's not impossible, and that's something that I plan to do in my game.
The easiest way to make this happen is to make it some kind of an urban fantasy game, but it may be too familiar this way, so a twist has to be made. I'm still not sure what mine will be, but I'm sure thinking about it, and that's where the magic of the world will come from. Possibly an exile? Attack of the Gentry? Maybe a discovery by the humans?
Another thing is the infamous justice. What's bad shall be punished, what's good shall be greatly rewarded. How can we insert this into the game without making it feel strange or forced? Maybe it's more suited to be strange and forced, to come in terms with the strange world? I'm not sure, but I have to make the punishment something both peculiar and frightening, and the main inspiration for that will be the dancing in the burning shoes. When thinking about rewards, it's much easier to think about things, as rewards in fairy tales are pretty much normal: Marriages, nobility, gold.
The last thing I wanna go over today is the point of "Happily Ever After". How can we make that into a game? How will it be happy? How will it go in line with horror gaming? My take on this is quite simple; I think that I'll go for the tragic "Happily Ever After" end. Things will end badly, really badly, but the lesson will be learned and the mistakes and bad deeds won't come back to hunt others; people will to handle properly. I think that I start this game with the "Once Upon a Time" notion, told by the only living person from the story that s/he tells.
How will it go? Will it work? I don't know, but I'm eager to find out. Maybe, just maybe, this will help to make my game better, or even I'll be lucky enough to help another's game also...

The Story-Cart Is Going Fast

There is one little thing each one of us GMs will be judged by. No, it's not how great our stories are, although that's one of the things most affected by this little thing. It's not how cool our NPCs are, although it surely helps. There's one mandatory storytelling tool each one of us should master, or at least come close to mastering it: The art of pacing.
In some games, it's the only thing that matters. In others, it's one of the leading most important things. If you pace your game badly, the game may drag to a halt, or may go too fast for the players to follow it. It may destroy every one-liner if done wrong, and will make every villain totally badass if done right.
Pacing is one of those things, that can turn a good story to a bad one, and vice versa. There's no one way to master it, but there are a few tricks that I use to help me control the pacing, even (and especially) when I'm improvising (which means about half of the time).
Before we delve into it, I must confess something: I usually GM with a soundtrack, and even improvise according to it on other times, so some of the tricks have a connection to it.
During stressful, tense or high speed situations, I have two main tricks in my arsenal. The first one is that I shout a lot. It helps to get the players into the excitement, but also, no player likes to be shouted at. If done correctly, shouting a little at a player will make him/her do things faster to avoid more shouts. Don't misuse it, though, as it can turn pretty much like a boomerang if done wrong or too often.
A second trick, during those situations is counting. I usually give my players about 6 seconds to act during their round. If they take the time and go over the 6 seconds, they miss they're turn. "Too bad, but your character didn't hold to the pace of everything". They have 6 seconds to decide what they want to do, then afterwards they roll and give the final modified number, but the 6 seconds for deciding are what important. It is of course accompanied by a shout from me about what happened based on what the player rolled. If I want to make things even tenser, I might count on my fingers. When their eyes catch the time, it forces them to be even quicker on their feet.
When characters/players are too long discussing something, except for of course bringing the battle to them, another nice trick that I found was raising up the volume of the music. To keep hear one another, they had to raise they're speaking volumes to the point of shouting, and no one likes to shout for too long. The discussion dies shortly afterwards.
Another way to get things going fast is to use a fast soundtrack. Humans adapt to music far faster than anyone of us have thought. When the music is fast, so are the speech speed and the thinking speed.
If things move too fast, lowering the volume and speed of speech helps to create a calmer environment. Things seem less harmful and the players have to lean closer to me. Things go naturally must slower this way.
Another way to slow things down is to play soft slow music in the background. As expressed earlier, it does magic on the players.
In conclusion, pace is a very important thing, one of the most important ones actually, and there are a lot of ways to control it. These ones are only a sample of the endless amount of ways existing.


"All Kinds of Colors, Big and Small"- A Fiasco Session Recap

Not a too long time ago, I participated in another great game of Fiasco. We had 3 characters: Robert Geldof, a drug dealer, Cob, a man who fell in love with him, and Lisa Melanis (played by me), a desperate woman with desperate needs and tools...
The game started with Lisa looking desperately for a way to earn some money. She meets Cob, and persuades him to get a "wiggle-waggle" for some money, so she'll be able to buy a new dose of drugs. She then continues to meet Robert, who comes to her with a suggestion that she takes. She'll be his lab mouse and he'll give her 20% of cash and some free doses.
Cob, on the other hand, doesn't stay quiet, and comes to the underworld to meet Rob, so he'll be able to expunge the "mistake". He then expresses his affection to Rob, but a bus just passing by prevents Rob  from hearing it.
Back to Lisa's whereabouts, she tries a new drug in her new job, and goes completely high. She then returns to herself, and leaves the place. When she goes out of the house, Cob notices her. Then, in a 3 character scene, Lisa said accidentally that Cob and she were together; despite that, Rob and Cob do succeed in surpassing all difficulties and go on to being together.
Lisa, after leaving the place, calls from the phone, and tries to blackmail Rob, as revenge because of them robbing her house, but her scheme falls short to a trick by Rob. She comes to take the money, but Rob hits her and Cob wounds her with a gunshot, after Rob "accidentally" shot a cop.
When she wakes up, in hospital, they come to visit her. Cob starts to realise what a bad influence Rob is on him, and trashes him. Rob tries to get him to be back together, but he fails. Mad and fearful, he decides to burn the place, as a way to express his broken heart and his still burning love. Cob goes back to Lisa, and they decide to start a new life together. When they smell the fire, they jump out of the window, but don't die. They end up in a different hospital.
Rob finds it hard to cope with what he did. He goes up in rank within the underworld, but decides to put an end to his life, and wakes up in heaven.
Shocked by Lisa's state that escalates to a critical near death state, the now awake Cob is clueless. In the end he kills them both, so they'll live happily ever after in heaven. When they finally get there, Lisa awakes from her dream about all this stuff, and goes back to work.

And Now, With Style

A story is as great as its villain. Think about whatever movie, story, novel, comic or whatever else. The villain is the character that we remember best. Remember how Lecter said in the end "I'm having an old friend for dinner"? We don't remember Clarice's answer, although she's our protagonist, although she's the one who saved the day. Remember how Norman Bates took the car to the swamp? How we hoped that it will drown there? Although he's the bad guy?
Remember how the Joker told Batman that they are destined for each other, that each one completes the other?
A story is as great as its villain, and if you'll create a great memorable villain, the story will be much better. And when the villain falls? The sweet scent of victory will be even stronger.
So, how do we create a memorable one? There's no single right answer, but movies and stories can help us a lot. If we'll look at the Joker and at Lecter, none of them did what was expected from them. They were totally unexpected. Our first sight of Lecter, after we heard how bad he was, was of him standing there and just looking. When we first saw the Joker, he completed a mission in which each person killed one of the participating persons to lower the share. Then he killed the last, saying how he received his scars.
Another great thing we can see from them is humour. Lecter is an ironic human being, and his famous "I'm having an old friend for dinner", said by a cannibal made this line so much better. The Joker uses jokes all the time.
Another thing, this time from Psycho, is the innocent look of Norman. He just looks harmless, like a little boy, and it works. We don't suspect him; we're not prepared to the big reveal.
Always remember, the villain can't be all bad or it won't be sympathetic, and then it won't be any difference from the other monsters. He has to be cool, he has to be evil, and most of all, he must do everything with style.


Morality or A-Morality, that's the Question

Last week, we talked about the Overreacher Plot. Today, we're going to talk about the place of morality in the horror genre. It's no surprise that horror has such a connection with morality. Some of the most used horror stories have a connection to the religion, and many of them serve as a new and modern morality story. One of the leading examples for this can be found in Slasher Movies like Halloween.
In Halloween for example, our masked killer preys on a very special kind of prey, on the teenagers who aren't modest. He usually catches them while they do it, and kills them immediately. Then, when he's confronted with the modest, pure girl he's defeated and has to run away. The amorality is his enemy, his prey, and against the moral persons he can't stand his ground and has to flea defeated.
At the beginning of the movie, he catches his sister doing it, and kills her after her boyfriend is out. In the continuation of the movie, he doesn't pull his knife out, at least till the teenager he's about to kill does a bad thing. The moment s/he does it, he starts to act, separating them and then kills them.
 Laurie, on the other hand, remains pure and defeats him. It's of course to her credit that she defends the kids that she babysit, while risking her life. This is another highly moral thing, and as such she's even in higher regard, ready to stay alive at the end of the movie.
But 18 years earlier we had a different movie. Apart from all of its originality and influence on the Slasher sub-genre, it had a huge frightening power that derives from the morals of its main character. In Psycho, Marion steals 40 grand at the beginning of the movie, and runs away with it. She's being followed by the policeman, but runs away from him and arrives to the Bates Motel.
She talks with Norman, the owner, about his mother, and after a not too long conversation, she goes to her room. In there, she decides to hand the money back to the rightful owner. Then she decides to take a shower, symbolising her new identity and cleaning herself from her bad way, and that's when she's murdered.  Not when she's done the crime, but after she reforms, when we the least expect it. "Once a rogue always a rogue." 
In Psycho, the characters die after trying to do the right thing, and as such their death comes much more frightening: No one looks for the noble moral human beings over the bad ones; they both die in the end.
Our last example comes from the wonderful comic called Watchmen. Although not horror, it does express well one of more frightening aspects of morality: The villain who does the most horrible thing to keep the world from falling apart, because s/he is a moral person, even though not in the way to talk about. At the end of Watchmen, it is revealed that the masked vigilantes' disappearance was caused by Ozymandias. It's also revealed that all was part of his plan to finish the Cold War and to create a new era of peace and prosperity, by sending a machine that looks like an alien who will kill half of New York. Although it does create peace, and does finish the war, it's still a terrible thing and half of the New Yorkers die in one of the most famous scenes from the comic.
It's much more frightening when a bad thing is done from all the right reasons. It is much more frightening (at least to my belief) than just killing the bad persons. 

How can we use all of this in RPGs? Morality takes a great place in Psychological horror, as well as in Personal Horror games. These are the kind of games where the characters try to cope with their problems, and where they try to remain humane and moral in the face of danger.
There are a couple of ways to use this:
  1. The first one is to decide what place the morality of the different characters will take. Are they all going to be pure against the evil, or something in between? Will the monster/villain kill all types of persons? Only the sinners? Only the nobles? For what cause?
  2. The other should be done mid games: Every time there is a death, you need to connect between it and the morals of the game. It creates believability, and it also helps to express the moral themes of the game. 


"I'm Not Left-Handed"- Lessons from The Princess Bride

I saw again today the swordfight scene from The Princess Bride. A great movie and this scene is a good example that a round by round fight can still be awesome if dealt with properly. So here are five lessons from this scene about how to improve our fights:

  1.  "You are using Bonetti's defence against me, uh?" Using famous names and techniques while fighting makes the fighters seem more professional, like they know what they are doing, and helps them look totally badass when they do that. Note how Inigo looks as though he knows what his rival will do.
  2. "Cliffs of Insanity". I talked about it yesterday in another post in more detail, but it belongs to here also. The terrain of the battle has a huge influence on the cool factor of the battle. Reward using it and it will be even better.
  3. "He flips over a beam and lands next to his sword". Tumbling and acrobatics as a way to move. The enemy already knows how to guard his surroundings so you'll have to trick him if it was a real fight. Why not in a game?
  4.  "I am not left-handed". If you always go by the rules, you'll become predictable and boring (both mechanically and in other aspects). In a fight, you begin by learning the rules, and then you break them to gain that important advantage. It's a gamble, yeah, but without it there's no way to finish the fight. Another great example of this, from another movie, though, is in Pirates of the Caribbean, when Jack pulls the gun to get that so important advantage against Will.
  5. "Please understand I hold you in the highest respect." Battles don't have to be a life or death situation. Battles should be more than a "you win or you die" situation. Always present, or at least don't say no, to other endings to the fights: Surrendering and running away are only 2 other possibilities out of other, uncountable possibilities...
So these are my 5 lessons from this scene. Have you spotted another thing? Do you use any of them? A completely different thing?


Exploding Dolls, Underwater Bar Fights and Flying Castles

"Remember that battle when we were like in the middle of a factory, and all the dolls that were created there exploded?"
"Remember when we fought a bar fight under the water like in that movie, Top Secret?"
There are always this fights that are kept forever, that we look for again and again. Some of them involved great Roleplaying, or a critical at the right time, but most of them were in really cool places. At least in my games that's the situation.
When I GMed action games, I always reminded to myself one simple thing: "Every action movie has a cool, very cool, set-piece for the final confrontation of the movie". In TV series it's right also. Think about the end of season 4 of Buffy, with the fight in the dream, or one episode earlier when they fought Adam in the Initiative Basement. Think about the end of Matrix, where Neo and Smith fought in the train station. That's the kind of battles, of fights, that we remember because it's cool, because it's special and unique, because we didn't see that before.
So, after I have reminded to myself this thing all through the session, saying it to myself again and again like a mantra, I started to use it, and it paid off. I had a fight in a flying castle, where suddenly it fell and they used magic to keep it afloat while still fighting the villains. I had a battle between ships, with PCs and NPCs going from side to side and trying not to fall. I had fights in total darkness, and multi-planar battles. And after the fifth battle that I ran and was this cool and special, they started to look for it, to wait for it, to try to guess where it will be, and some of them even suggested places by themselves.
It's not a lot of work, making something like this, but it pays off, and it makes the games so much better, and the battles so much special.

A Letter for My Players

Dear Players,
You know, there's something I need desperately, something that I'm looking for from each game session that I run. You probably know what I'm talking about, but still, it's the fifth session since the last time you gave it to me.
No, I'm not talking about money, or books, I'm not talking about apologizing for another session where you blew my entire plans for the campaign (that was awesome, though, so thanks for asking anyway), I'm talking about a far more important thing, a thing that without it there's no reason to continue in this hobby with the hope of advancing to be better, a thing that without it I may (and I do, actually) come back home feeling that something wasn't right and I just don't know what.
You know, I do a lot of work to plan these games for you (even if it doesn't seem so), I work extremely hard about improving and creating the feel and the mood and the tone and working on so many other things. No, I don't want you to apologies for the work you're putting me through, I'm enjoying it, I'm enjoying the surprises, I enjoy GMing. I really do.
All I'm asking for are 2 simple things: a thank you, so I'll know that you understand how much effort I'm putting into it so you'll have fun (me also, but I thank myself everyday that I'm "working" on it). The second is much more important for me, 'cause it includes the first thing, and helps me much more: Feedback.
I want to do what I did great, what I did well, what I did not so well and what I did badly. I don't want to know it so I'll feel that I'm a bad GM or a good one, but for an entirely different reason: To know where and how I can improve. If you can suggest what would have been better, so much the better, but I don't require it or anything. I don't require even what I'm asking for. I just want to know what I can improve so all of us will have more fun every session. Is it so hard? Is it taking so much effort?
Your GM


London for non Londoners and Other Assorted Feels

Most of the games revolve around PCs who travel from place to place, like starting in England, going through London, Cairo, Tokyo and finishing in New Zealand. Others do the same in a homebrew fantasy setting: Starting in Rockey, going through Ezrypoold and finishing in Yorikhoold. But here's the problem: most of this cities feel too much the same in our games.
-"You travel for four days and you arrive to a city with big walls and lots of people buying things in the market."
-"A main road?"
-"No! A Cardo."
So how can we make a place feel different? The answer is simpler than it seems: Go for the most stereotypical things, the first things that pop into your mind. 
Arrived to London? Big Ben, tea, strange black hats, etc...
What will feel more British: Fighting a demon in unnamed road 77 or fighting a demon in Fleet Street with the St. Paul's Cathedral nearby?
I know that it may sound banal, but actually it makes a lot of difference. Also, it creates the feel of the place in much less work than reading every book about the history of London.
It's of course not limited only to London. It can be used to create a Japanese feel (kimonos, tea ceremonies, sumos, etc...) as well as an American one (think about North by Northwest for a great example of that in action).
It doesn't have to be perfect; it has to create the feel, for further advancement. After you've created the basic feel, going to both directions (enhancing it or breaking it) will be much more rewarding.


New Meat is always Neat

In my years of GMing, I've been able to bring a couple of new players into this wonderful hobby. Some of them had earlier experience, but for one reason or another they left this hobby, while others were completely new to the thing. Today, I want to go over how I present this hobby to new players.

  1. First of all, I say it's an RPG game. I don't believe in pretending, and so I just say it plainly and proudly. "Yes, I play some RPGs, it's like reading a novel or watching a movie, but you play the hero." I'm try to answer their questions, no matter how foolish they are, as patiently as I can. This is the point that should show that "hey! I may be a geek, but I'm not that strange or anything".
  2. Then, I suggest to them a quick example, about 15 minutes of time, an example of what it is like. I always start by letting them choose what genre they want. I give some examples, sure, but they are diverse enough that it won't seem like a fantasy/sci-fi only activity. "Do you want an historical game in the French Revolution? How about a Mafia Game? Politics? Star Wars? Something else?" This point should show how diverse this hobby can be.
  3. Then we go over a quick character creation. I help each player get a concept, and a little bit of background, like a very important and life altering event. This is a quick part, which should help them feel that they are playing something else, and that it can be a very different person. "Oh, I always wanted to be a crime boss!"
  4. Then we start the game. The first scene is one of the 2 most important ones, and I usually try to bring a grandiose thing. The fall of the Bastille, the explosion of a spaceship etc... You need to catch their attention from the first word. Something big with a lot of enthusiasm (but not too much, or nothing will be left to the end of the game) will do the job.
  5. Then we play a few scenes leading to the end. I try to never say no, and to let them roll the dice a few times. This is where they should understand that the only limitation is their imagination, while also learning why and for what we use dice.
  6. Then we get to the twist. This is where they should feel like this is a movie or a book. It doesn't have to be big, but unique, special, and unmentioned in books or novels. After they become the new queens of France, Napoleon arrives and frees the original king. The Robot they tried to kill pulls out the nuke weapons...
  7. Then we get to the big end, the climax. This is usually the point where I raise my voice and bash on the table. All the enthusiasm should be utilized to here. The goal is to catch them with the same enthusiasm. I usually finish with a BOOM.
  8. Always ask at the end if they had fun. If they do, suggest a few ways to play RPGs at home: where should they start, prices (if they ask), etc... If not, thank them for trying and remain polite, at least till they are gone.
And that's how I do it. Nothing spectacular or too big, just what you'll find in a good story. One thing to note, though, is that player input is a really important thing in here. That's why it's improvised, and short: That way, there's no need to deal with consequences.
A few examples from my own games:

  • Female wizards during the French Revolution, trying to help the poor people against the nobles.
  • Last survivors of the starship Enterprise, after a computer virus destroyed all of it (based around the Exsurgent concept from Eclipse Phase).
  • A fantasy game where the characters tried to catch a serial killer inspired by Jack the Ripper.
How about you? How do you present this hobby to others?


Memories from a Festival

There's a magic out there, and it's real. There are games that are kept forever within ones heart and mind; there are modules that are always there, waiting for you to look back at them, one last time, and then another. One of my best games, as a player and at all, was in a con, where we played the wonderful module B-11 King's Festival. We were a group of five: A cleric, a magic-user, a thief, an elf, and a fighter (me).
We started at the entrance to the dungeon, like in the good old times. We entered the dungeon, surprising the orcs, and killing 2 of them on the first round. A lot of misses followed, and then the magic-user finished the last orc with a magic missile. Then he looked at his character sheet, "Shit! I've got only one more spell", "so do I" answered to him the elf. One of the most important things happened after the battle: I found a spear, 2 of them actually.
 Like in old times, there were no negotiations with any of the orcs that we found, this time and later, we just came, killed and continued. Kobolds and orcs, all died to our whims, and we continued to kill monsters like good characters. Sometimes, we killed monsters, although we knew that they aren't in our way, but just because we could. We continued with this till we reached room 13, where we found a dead orc. That was the point when we got angry (for the wrong reasons, though) about the orcs.
After we defeated the orc chief, and the rest surrendered, for the first time we negotiated with them. We made an agreement that they won't attack the village anymore and we won't tell that they are alive or where they are. We left the dungeon a short while afterwards and only then we started to question ourselves why we came there. "Oh! This Aralic guy is still there, and we rushed back, taking him with us, and going back town, happy and victorious.
At no point later we returned to there to finish cleaning the dungeon, an agreement is an agreement, and we finished the game 30 minutes before time.
It wasn't a clever game, or a deep one, or anything of the like, but it was full of funny moments, and is still an example that even the simplest games out there does carry their magic for years onward.

OSR Week is Here

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The War Is(n't) Glorious

I watched today a movie called Platoon (a good movie, maybe you heard of it), and it made me think about the place that battles and wars take in RPGs. If we look at every game out there (well, almost...), we can see that the combat aspect takes a great dose of rules and a large part of the book. Also, when we come to the game, it's not a common thing to have a session without at least a single battle (and some games have even more than one a session).
The movie, if you haven't seen it, revolves around a soldier who comes to Vietnam sure of the righteousness of the USA in the Vietnam War, and slowly learns to question the morals of the other soldiers. The movie also shows the uglier sides of war, those that we don't normally deal with: Bugs, leeches, diseases, (dis)obeying orders, etc...
I think that, after seeing the movie, I at least want to further explore these ugly aspects in games. After all, the glorious parts have been explored enough, so why not trying something else for once?
What about playing a game about the soldiers who return from the war, but the memories still flicker and destroy their lives? What about a game that revolves around the families that are left behind? Or better yet, what about a game that revolves around some pacifist or idealistic soldiers that were forced into the army like in WWII?
I, at least, find these ideas much more fascinating, and much more important to explore, than the common kill&loot games...


When Scientists Go Mad

Last week, in our horror series, we talked about using knowledge of the monster as a tool to enhance the horror. Today, we're gonna talk about the second common plot in horror cinema, which is the Overreacher Plot.
While the Discovery Plot criticized the shortsighted nature of science, this plot criticizes the scientist's ambition and need to achieve higher ranks of knowledge. It revolves around the scientist, who tries to complete an experiment, and then has to deal with the dire consequences of his failures. It can be seen in movies such as Frankenstein, X-the Max with the X-Ray eyes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and so on...
As with the Discovery plot, there are 4 stages to this type of story:

  1. The preparations for the experiment, which include a discussion of the reasons for making this experiment, as well as of its philosophical implications: Jekyll discusses how sure he is of the fact that there is good and bad in every one of us; Dr. Xavier discusses how improved eyesight can help save human lives... There is criticism against the experiment, but the Dr. won't listen to it, and will continue alone, assure of his rightness. 
  2. The experiment succeeded, but only partially, and the scientist wants to further work on it with the goal of fixing all the problems. Xavier, feeling that there are still some problems with the drops, returns to them and try different ingredients...
  3. But the experiment destroys human lives/ bestows damage to the surroundings/ endangers the scientist relatives or even the scientist himself/herself. Frankenstein's monster runs wild, and threatens Frankenstein himself; Hyde kills ordinary people who passed the street at the "wrong" time... At this stage, the scientist understands what great evil he unleashed (or goes completely mad). Frankenstein tries to negotiate with the monster he created; Jekyll tries to stay away from the drops; Xavier goes insane and runs away from society...
  4. In the last scene, there is the confrontation with the monster. The peasants kill Frank's monster; Hyde is killed by a policeman shot...

Applying it to an RPG game:

Unlike the Discovery plot, this one is a bit harder to apply to RPGs, but it is adaptable nonetheless. We'll take as inspiration another Lovecraft's story, in this case the story From Beyond.

  1. The characters are research assistants to Doctor Geldof. Geldof is trying to understand how to see the universe as it really is, by inventing a machine that will see through the mist that lies everywhere. The game begins with him describing to the characters how close he is to achieve that, and how angry he is because of the other scientists who almost "murdered" his experiment. The characters help him with the final preparations, but are yet to object.
  2. Geldof conducts the experiment, but is not satisfied as he can now see the mist, but not through it. He begins to be obsessive about the experiment, much to the characters' fear.
  3. Unknowingly, a kind of a worm enters his mind, and it starts to control him, making him kill people to feed the worm. The characters begin to notice it, and try to stop it before it's too late. Geldof himself goes insane.
  4. At the end of the session, the characters confront Geldof, now controlled completely by the worm, and kill him.

Some changes can be made, of course, but the main plot-skeleton should be kept.


The Players Ate my Baby-Dice Fudgers

So today in our show: "The Players Ate my Baby", we're gonna talk about dealing with cheaters. Every one of us cheated at least once in his/her gaming career. It can be fudging dice, and it can be rerolling 1s when we're not supposed to. I'm not gonna talk about GM's dice fudging, mainly because sometimes it is important to fudge a little, but on the other spectrum, when players do that.
"Rob, roll reflex against fireball."
 Rob rolls a 1. - "11, made it?"
We all had it happen to us, we all encountered that, and all of us tried different ways to deal with this, be it ignoring it or killing the characters. I, personally, believe in a different method: "We GMs can always cheat better than the players." So, according to this method, if the players can cheat, so can we, and when we'll cheat, it's gonna hurt them really bad.
It doesn't matter if the cheat will be extra damage, extra life, or something much more sinister, as long as the lesson is understood: "Don't cheat, or we'll hurt you so much you'll pray the character was dead." I, for example, when one of my players "fudged" his die from a 1 to 20, "fudged" my 4 dice from 1 to 20. When that particular character lost his arm (I don't kill many characters), he pleaded for a second chance. Needless to say, he didn't ever cheat again...
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't believe in killing characters, or making game un-fun. It's not my style. But, when a player cheats, it hurts the fun of everyone else on the table, and if it won't be punished, it will return (usually, at least).


Finishing with a BOOM

I think that it's time to talk about something that is a little bit more practical, about finishing game sessions. I finish my sessions with what I call a BOOM. I differentiate between 2 types of BOOMs: Those that I use to finish one shots, and those that I use to finish campaign sessions.
The first kind, that I mainly for one shots is the explosion type. It is usually quite straightforward; something explodes a short time before the end of the session. The logic behind this kind of session closure is very simple: It looks cool, sounds cool, and there is no time to further explore the characters, so the game should end with the most positive note that I can close it with. The explosion doesn't have to be physical, though, as it can be an explosion of all the bricks to remain moral or something. It should be something unique, or different, and it should look and sound like something that the characters will want to remember, like being stomped by Cthulhu or something ("remember that time when we were locked in the house and Daniel missed a shot and the blue liquid exploded and killed James and Tom, and then that yellow something came and stomped us?")...
The second type is BOOMs of campaign session endings. There I find two types: The classical cliffhanger, where something remains open for the next session ("the enemy army marched to town, and we all saw it at the horizon, waiting for something..."), and the Bang. Bang is a really important choice that lights a certain aspect of the character. There is no right choice or bad choice in this aspect, what is important is the choice itself, and what was chosen. When Bruce Wayne has to choose whether to reveal that he is Batman or no in "The Dark Night", he's faced with a Bang: What is more important, short term future or long term future? Saving a few people now, or saving a lot more lately, when it might be too late? This choice lights the moral aspects of Bruce.
Usually, I try to finish most of my campaign sessions with Bangs, as I believe it's much more rewarding than the cliffhanger. Also, I find the cliffhanger as cheating. There is no sense of achievement when every session (or most of the sessions) ends with a question mark. Also, I believe that Bangs are much more dramatic, and as such are much better suited for the stories we so strive to tell.
What about you? Do you use any of those ways to finish sessions? DO you use something else? Does it work?


No Wolf Survives Alone

You probably know them; they live between us, hiding in their closets only to come out of the shadows when it's too late to stop them. Yeah, I'm talking about the lone wolves.
Maybe you call them in other names, maybe you don't call them at all, but they are always there: those characters that just don't get along with their groups, those characters who think only about themselves, that feel alien to the group.
 Those characters, whose players defend them with saying: "That's what my character will do", and you don't have anything to say to them, against it, just because you know it is true, because you know you made a mistake.
And that's one of the purposes of the background: to identify these things and to stop it before it can happen, to cure the disease before it rages on. Because no wolf survives alone, for that they are in group, to survive and to prosper before they'll all die, because "together we stand- divided we fall".
   There is no real tip in here, just 2 things to consider: The first is to look for these things in the background. Characters that have nothing in the world, or characters who have problems connecting with people should be left out already in this stage.
The second is to remind those players that it is a social activity, to remind them that they're not alone in the world, and to remind them that no wolf survives alone, that living without anyone in exile is a more moral way to sentence someone to death.


Dark Game in Broad Light

Yesterday, I watched the movie The Maltese Falcon.  The movie is from a genre called "film noir", the first great movie of the genre. And most of the plot unfolds in broad light, with not that many shadows and the like.
So, I've started to think, do all games need to be that classics of their genre? The Shining created a lot of horror, it just terrified me, and most of it happened by daylight. So, can't we go the same way with games?
I'm not sure I have a solution for that, but a horror or film noir game that takes place in almost broad daylight, or a murder prevention mystery, sound much more interesting, and may even be a lot of fun to try. 


The Yale Hotel is Here Again

So that Thursday game became a campaign. The second session took place today, and another confession occurred, so I'm quite pleased with it. Two corrections to the post of the original session: One, its Bob Luchiano, and not the original name I posted. Two, Daniel and James stopped at the third floor. They thought about the 4th, but Daniel's intuition chose the third.
Anyway, we started from the same spot where we left. Jessie went to the fourth floor, and after examining the door to the corridor, she opened it. The corridor continued to both sides, without an end, and just ahead of her was the door to the room of Robert Geldof. She shouted that she's from the FBI but there was no comment from within. When she entered, she found Robert sitting to the table, eating without a sound.
Tom followed Bob, shadowing him through all corridors and turns, until they reached the end of the corridor. There, they found an elevator tube, and Bob turned to Tom, signalling at him to come.
Daniel and James continued their walk with Bob, and he led them to the end of the corridor (although it was a shorter one), where another elevator tube waited for them. There was no sign to the continuation of the corridor, where Tom walked. They interrogated him, while accusing him with a lot of different crimes, but for no help. They decided to enter the elevator tube.
Robert Geldof asked Jessie what she's doing in his room, and when she mumbled, asked her to close the door. She ran away and closed the door behind her. Then, she turned left, to far end of the corridor. Voices called to her, reminding her of her past, of her promises, and of her family.
Tom went out of the shadows, and talked for a while with Bob. He learnt from him that the rest of the group is down there, in the lobby, with a replacement night clerk called Rob. After that, he entered after Bob to the elevator tube, and the tube went down. It got stuck between 0 and 1 level, and Bob disappeared.
Daniel and James went with Bob to the second floor, where he succeeded in running away from them. In the corridor, a couple of old people (an elderly woman who was a little deaf, and an elderly man who didn't respond to James' questions) caught James attention, and he tried to talk with them, leaving Daniel to run after Bob alone.
Jessie ran to the end of the corridor, discovering a little too late that the corridor ends with a mirror. When she looked at it, she saw her back, and heard footsteps from behind. Then, in a confession, she opened one of the doors to the right, and found in a bathtub a rotting body of a woman without her head. She rose from the tub, water turning to blood when falling from her, and she went to Jessie, who ran away, closing the door behind her.
Tom opened with a little bit of the magic the door of the elevator, and found himself on the 12th floor. It was a small one, with walls in sick green color, and a black door ahead of him, a vase with a thick tree to each side of it. He went to open the door, and that's where the session ended.


This is a Conspiracy

I've just found this, read all through it, and I'm looking for a chance to use it in a game. Thought it might be a good idea to share it...

This Improvised Game is Brought to You by...

I talk a lot in here about games that I improvise, and today I want to tell you how I do it, 'cause I believe that maybe, it might help you to advance the game when it's stuck or to GM a game spontaneously.
The first trick that I use is to know the genre and style of the game I want to GM. If it's a horror game, I start to go through horror plots and motives that I know well. If it's a high fantasy game, it will probably be close to books like LOTR or Dragonlance or the like. The genre is a place to both draw inspiration from, and a place to go back to when something goes wrong. Knowing the genre well also helps to get the feel of the game right.
The second trick that I use is to know the PCs well. If one of my players wrote in his/her character's background that this character's parents were killed by orcs and I need and enemy, I can use orcs, or I can connect the dead parents to a different monster, as a twist ("they only pretended they were orcs. They are, actually, a kind of evil vamps..."). When improvising a game from scratch, it's usually a good idea to ask the players a few things about their characters, to get the imagination engines rolling.
Another trick is to never say just a regular yes/no, but to add the and/but at the end. "I try to hit him. -You hit him, and he's now on the floor, calling for help..." Or: "I try to break the door. -It is broken now, but you made a lot of noise while breaking it and footsteps are heard from afar..." With adding a simple word and a sentence, an entirely new situation is now created.
This concept can be further advanced: You can let the players give you the ideas. "Is there a barrel? -Yes, but its 20 feet away." The players are now creating the scene, adding the little details and letting you concentrate on other things, which may be far more important.


Sometimes, You Also Have to Choose

I ask a lot of questions when I GM. I'm not talking about questions like "What do you do?" Or the like, but of the other type. A lot of times, when my players, for example ask me if there is something there, I ask them: "Is there?" For me, my players are there to create the story as much as I'm there, and because we don't have the same mind, and we think differently, I don't know what they're gonna do with what they are asking for. If it's cool, why say no beforehand?
That leads to a different kind of problems, of course, but it also enables the players to achieve cooler and greater things with their characters, and to enhance the game and the mood/tone/etc of the game. For me, as long as it isn't really not fitting (like having a swimsuit in the desert), I don't say no. I usually say yes, but sometimes I just let them decide, so they'll choose if it's cool enough.
What surprises me the most, though, when I use this method, is when the player looks at me like I'm supposed to be the judge, or that I'm supposed to say yes or no. But hey, being the GM means that I'm the leading storyteller, not that I'm the only one, or that I can't pass responsibilities...

Knowledge and Fear

Last week, I talked about the discovery plot. Today, I want to go through the power of knowledge. Knowledge in horror is one of the trickier parts of the genre. Too much information and the monster isn't scary, too little and the players won't know they are supposed to be scared. The trick is to give them as little as can be given to make their imagination to start rolling with it. No matter what you'll describe, the horror that is created by the audience will be much more terrifying.
The first method for giving little info to the players, but making them imagine what happened, is by the crime scene. The characters get there, find the ripped body, or the body that missing something, or even just a hand and a few footsteps, and they'll start to ask themselves what did it? Will it come back? How did it happen? Etc...
Another method is the difference between character and player knowledge. To make it clear, I'll use an example from a session I had on Thursday. When Bob returned the last time, the player of Jessica knew that Tom is on the third floor, and that the others were on the fourth floor. She heard it happening, as a player, and she knew that Bob is still with Tom and still with the others. So, how is he there, with his files? What is he keeping hidden? This method, utilizing the fact that the players are also the audience, and just like with a horror movie, knowing that the character is in danger, without being able to react to it, makes it far more terrifying.
Another way is to show just glimpses of the horror. In that Thursday session, when the pizza man opened the door, something went into his stomach, they didn't know what it was, and they only saw a shape going there. 
The last way that I want to talk about, is using the normal things to make things seem scary. The phone that rings at the most appropriate moments is a cliché of course, but also the pizza man in the deserted city, the hotel where once there was a university. These things, that are normal by themselves, seem alien when they are in another place. Another way to do this, is to make the things themselves, and not where they are alieמ. Lovecraft did it with "The Colour Out of Space", where "The trees grew too thickly, and their trunks were too big for any healthy New England Wood." What makes that happen?


A Game for GMs?

Yesterday I tried a new thing. Once in a while, my players ask me to improvise a game. They give me some elements (usually genre and tone), and I run a game around based on them. Yesterday, it was a post-apocalyptic high fantasy comedy game.
The game itself wasn't all that interesting, at least not to write about it anyway (although it did include an electrical tiger blowing up a 40 meter long dragon), but I tried a new mechanical trick. It was very simple: During character creation (which was done collaboratively by all players) each player chose 2 events that changed the life of the character.
Then, at certain points in the game, there was a role switch: The character had a kind of a flashback to the event; one of the other players (or me in one incident) played that character (in that event), without knowing how it is supposed to end; the original player GMing the flashback scene, with the goal of making it come close to what he originally envisioned, without railroading.
I think it went really nice, and added a lot of tone and comedy to the game, but as with any experiment there were a few things that weren't done well. The most important one was that the other players railroaded too much. The second thing was that the players didn't know when to end it, and sometimes it felt too long. Luckily I was there to stop it when I felt it was enough, but it felt like a forced conclusion.
I don't know yet if I'll ever do that again, but I'll make sure that I have fellow GMs as the other players. I think that their understanding will surely help to reach a fuller potential of this technique.
Has someone tried something similar to this? How did it go? Any tips will be welcome.

Werewolf & Vampire Academy, Now on ABC...

So this month's blog carnival is about "Campaigns I'd Like to Run", and although I ran quiet a lot of campaigns that are still with me, years after, there is a concept that I wanted to try, but just couldn’t find the group for it.
The concept was of a werewolf & vampire academy, bundled with power levels of failure sidekicks. Were the characters played the students, forming a group. The rule system was supposed to be Primetime Adventures.
 The idea itself came from a LARP that I participated within, called "Sidekicks Anonymous", which was a LARP about a group of sidekicks trying to save the missing superheroes. Some of the characters were the "Exploding Boy", the "Laminator", and the like.

The game itself was supposed to be campy, and very different from my usual horror/dark comedy style of games.

I didn't came to plan much of the game, partly because I didn't have a group to begin with (They preferred a Paranoia XP Campaign), but I envisioned the teachers starting to disappear, the headmaster cowering under his bed, the BBEG turns him into a baby, and the whole academy falling from the sky, and a closing scene were one of the characters needs to choose between saving his lover or the academy.

The campaign itself was supposed to encompass 9 sessions, with the first dealing with everyone arriving to the academy, and being allocated into 2 different groups, vamps and werewolves, and to end with the two groups creating a brave friendship after a big feast.
The sessions from then onward were supposed to be character centric, with some of their most beloved teachers beginning to disappear, and with them starting to investigate, when they still try to do class works and the like. The last one was supposed to end with a boom, with the academy starting to fall, and with one of the characters, who was the leader of this formed group sacrificing what is important for him to save the school or vice versa.

The teachers themselves were supposed to be colorful, with a headmaster that is in love with his advisor, another who will be in love with one of the characters (and trying to seduce her/him), another one that takes everything much too dramatic (in terms of doing everything theatrically) and so on.


Yale and the Hotel

Today I ran an improvised game that maybe will be the beginning of a new campaign. It was a kinda horror oriented game, about 4 students who have a little understanding in magic, and lots of bad luck. To give the game a little mechanical twist, I used to concept of the "Confession Chair" from InSpectres, which was used one time during this session, and advanced the plot quiet well.
The game started with the characters studying for their upcoming tests, a little time before the big exams that will come after the Easter vacation. When they opened the newspaper, one of the characters (Daniel) found a headline about the "dog-killer". They read it, and rushed to the place, finding 20 dogs' bodies, forming a pentagram. The scene was full of cops and FBI agents, and after failing to convince the cops to leave the scene, they created a lot of noise, and entered the house. There, they found a house which is just too clean and empty, and a cabinet which looked black on the inside. When they threw a drawer into it, there was no hitting sound, and when they looked behind it, the drawer flew to them, smashing in one of the characters (Jessica). Then one of them (James) put a stick into it. Another one (Tom) touched the marks on the floor.
When they looked back, the other cabinets were gone; fire marks were all that was left from them. The scene with the dogs included no dogs any more, but an old phone. All was quiet, like a ghost town. Then, a motorcycle sound came. When the motorcycle finally came, its driver got off it, went to the back and pulled  out a pair of pizza boxes. Then, in a confession by James, he came to the door, knocking on it slowly but steadily. He didn't respond to the characters' questions. After some time, he opened the doors, on each hand a pizza box and something strange came into his stomach really quickly. He put the 2 boxes on the floor, bowed and returned to the motorcycle, driving away. The whole time, his head being covered by the helmet. They examined the pizzas, but they soon stopped, after green slime came out of it, and one of the characters (Jessica) almsot lost a finger because of it.
The phone rang, and a voice told them that they are late, and that they need to give the pizza to a person called Robert Geldof, in the Yale University. They went there, finding their university looking closer to a hotel than to a university. When they entered, the night clerk called Bob Laurezzio welcomed them, and two (Tom and Jessica) went to deliver the pizza, while the other two (James and Daniel) stayed to talk with him. A bit of time passed, and when they were back together, someone shot at the lamp. They ran after him, but he disappeared. One of them (Tom), of course, stayed with the clerk, who decided to go upstairs by the elevator. Tom followed him through the stairs.
When the other characters came back, they found Bob going through his files, and Tom missing. When they asked Bob, he said he went upstairs.
The characters used some magic to convince him that they are FBI agents, and 2 of them (James and Daniel) took him up, to search for the missing Tom. Jessica stayed down there, going through his files. She looked out of the window, and when she came back to the files, Bob was there. He told her that James and Daniel  had told him that he was free to go back, when they were at the fourth floor. The session ended with her going to this floor.


A Fairy Tale Feel

In his commentary to the movie "Pan's Labyrinth", Del Toro expresses a key concept for making movies that feel fairy-tale like: the fairy tale is a simple story with simple characters. you can change one of the elements, but not both of them.
If we'll look at Pan's Labyrinth, the plot is complicated, with intervals of fantasy in the middle of reality, and with these 2 worlds colliding to each other. But the characters? They are really not that complicated. The Capitan an egocentric person whose love for control and order is unquestioned (as can be seen by his work on his clock). Ophelia's mother is a pregnant woman, who is in love with the Capitan, and who surrenders to whatever he says. The Dr. and the maid are double agents, who are not brave enough to join the rebels, but that's as far as they are complicated. The illusion of complexity is broken once one looks into the film.
At the other end of the spectrum, is the movie Spirited Away, a movie that although I didn't like it, I truly appreciate. The plot is pretty straight forward, with a girl trying to save her parents, but the characters are full of eternal conflicts, of metaphors, of allegories. All the characters in this movie are not as simple as seen at first sight, and even the evil ones are not as evil as they seemed.
In both movies, there is a strong feel of a fairy tale story. True, there are other elements there that make and/or help to enhance the theme, but this concept is one of the stronger and more important ones.
In RPGs like Changeling, this little thing can do magic. The stories in Changeling (or in Grimm, or the like) resemble and are closely related to fairy tales. While Changeling goes back to the original uncensored ones, and Grimm to the twists on them, keeping the idea and the feel of the fairy tale is a need in this kind of games.
Because usually, one gets to these games when they are more advanced as players and GMs, the characters will be much more rounded and much less flat usually. That means that the GM has to shift the focus from the plot to the characters, and that his/hers NPCs must be more developed and also, must resemble the concepts that the players want to explore in their characters.