Comments on TWH #172


Glenn Blacow

I loved your comment to Scott Ruggels concerning elves! Certainly sums up the Northerners!

One thing Scott asked me to keep in mind while running his campaign was the elves were evil -- they represented all that was dark and unwholesome. I had a problem with this for several reasons. Firstly, I'm never comfortable with a race that is uniformly one "thing" or attitude. There should be a few rebels somewhere just for interest. Secondly, I feel a group must see itself as correct in their beliefs. Even if they know they are killing millions of people, they think they are doing it for the best of reasons. To quote Maxwell Smart, "Of course we have to shoot and maim and kill. We stand for everything that's good and wholesome in this world."

So I tried to think of something the other civilized races would find reprehensible and loathsome. Then I made it an integral part of the elven culture. Since no-one in the game's pre-history made any attempt to ask why the elves had done this horrible thing, everyone assumed the elves were awful people. The PCs are meeting a fair amount of resistance from NPCs on this subject.

I also made the elves a somewhat confusing people. I've found that if you know another language, and translate directly into English, the resultant mess makes clear understanding a little difficult. Having to pause every time you're about to say something seems to add to the mystery too.

As an example: "Tengo mucho gusto en conocerle" is Spanish (the other language I can speak, albeit poorly) for "I'm very glad to meet you". Translated directly, and using thee to symbolize formality, you end up with "Have I much pleasure in know thee". This isn't perfect, but you get the idea. It's kind of fun.

You play 50% males and 50% females? Interesting. I've never been completely comfortable about my ability to play a convincing male. I suppose someday I'll actually try -- pwactice, pwactice, pwactice!

I agree -- to me, Bladerunner was very cyberpunk. I saw the movie in Florida. The movie was of a depressing, rainy, dark locale with grim situations. When we came out of the theater, it was dry, warm, friendly-looking, and sunny. One of the patrons said, "Wow... culture shock!" Need I say more?

Re comments on romance: I'll try anything once -- twice if it doesn't hurt!

Dana Derryberry's Dicing Mice #6

Re your comments to Erlandsen on vampires: There are a couple of reasons I'm enjoying the game. We've been having more stuff occur that reminds us that we are vampires. One notable need is to keep control (if a member of your group must frenzy, pick the least physically adept! :-). Another interesting bit is the sexual tension between my PC and an NPC. I really have no idea what she has to offer him, and trying to find out is a delicious puzzle.

Also, the GM has done something that I think is a good idea. He's made us, in a way, super-heroes. We've been formed into a politically neutral, vampire (and sometimes also mortal) team to hunt down rogue vampires. It's a keen bit, it keeps up the danger level, and the political neutrality can't possibly last. I'm having a great time!

As far as the allure of vampires, I believe there are two aspects to it. One is on the part of the victim, and was probably the point of view most medieval people took when vampire stories were told. Remember, this was a time when sex was sinful unless you were married, and enjoying it too much was just as bad. The victim's wicked thoughts weren't their fault -- the vampire forced them to have such evil and lustful thoughts! Yes, it apparently was a form of guilt-free sex, even though the listeners probably felt guilty about any titillation the stories gave them.

The other type of allure the vampire arouses is probably a much more modern view. After all, we now know there are no such things as vampires. We're not even that worried about a pure heart in order to reach heaven. Thus it is a natural reach to put yourself in the position of the monster, rather than the victim. As a monster the vampire has even more allure. Not only are you able to casually force people to do anything you want, including intimate sexual favors, but it still isn't your fault! You need blood, so you have an overpowering justification to use up and/or discard the cattle (excuse me, people) all around you.

If you get the impression I don't care for vampires, you are right. I don't enjoy watching people use vampirism as a carte blanche to act like moronic children and let their PCs run roughshod over everyone else, because it's "in character." What I do enjoy tremendously is the struggle to retain one's lost humanity; the fight to keep back the forces of bestiality that can so easily overwhelm the vampire. That's what I'm playing Vampire for.

A good example of creatures of the night not being scary anymore is in the movie "An American Werewolf in London." We know too much about wolves now, and we live in cities. Wolves are big dogs in zoos to the modern man. When the protagonist woke up in the wolf cage, the wolves were as afraid of him as he was of them, and he was more shocked than fearful. It seemed his lack of clothes bothered him as much as, if not more than, his location. The werewolf, on the other hand, was "wrong". It was well designed to provoke that fear of the unknown: it moved staggeringly, like a spider (incorrectly for a normal mammal); we didn't usually get good views of it; and it was somewhat slimy (if my memory serves me correctly).

I'm a secular humanist, and proud of it! "Do you beeleeeve?" In what?! :-)

I understand the problem with new games. There are several I'd like to try, but I need other people to do so.

My sympathies on the problem of Character concept uber alles. I intend to comment more on this, but I'll save it for a later zine.

I think one of the problems that may cause the Path of Most Resistance, as you named it, is when a GM expects one reaction to a problem, and the player sees another emotional possibility entirely. An example I played in recently was very confusing to me until a long talk with the GM clarified the situation for me.

Basically my PC, on an overdose of testosterone, picked a fight with a bigger man. Remember, she (the PC) is a person who believes that a good night at the bar has at least one fight in it. The GM frantically backed up and backed away the NPC (much to the PC's confusion and scorn), until she trapped him in a corner and forced him to fight. At that point the GM informed me that if my PC didn't stop she was going to get hurt. Since the PC was supposed to have been raised in a very rough-and-tumble world, I agreed with the GM, but had the PC continue to push the man. The man grabbed the PC and slammed her into a wall, and the GM angrily told me that my PC was going to suffer a broken arm. The GM was stunned when I had the PC groggily shake the tears out of her eyes (broken arms hurt!), grin weakly, and tell the man, "Good move, you sonofabitch!"

This was the problem between the GM and myself: we came from different backgrounds. I've always been around horses all my life. If you fell off, you got up and got back on. Two examples, from my family, of injuries that followed this rule: my mother suffered a broken ankle, and I a pinched disc (I think), when our respective horses refused jumps (this was not at the same time, for all you nitpickers!). However, in both cases, we mounted up again after the fall and took that damn jump! Then we collapsed. Perhaps it's a type of insanity; I don't know. I know that my father was quite rude to some EMTs once when they wouldn't let him do the same. When they told him they believed he had a broken rib, a possible collapsed lung, and a concussion, and that he had been unconscious for about five minutes since the fall he apologized and shut up. :-)

My friend the GM, on the other hand, had a very different upbringing. She was a long awaited and much desired only child, and had been told all her life to not do things if she was going to get hurt. She couldn't conceive of deliberately doing something that would cause yourself pain. Imagine her amazed surprise when my PC charged ahead into certain and (to the GM) pointless combat. To the GM it must have seemed that I was either deliberately trying to push her around, or that I wasn't role-playing but rather hacking and slashing.

Conversation between GM and player was the only thing that saved that situation. Perhaps telling the players the dangerous troll in the abandoned keep was a bad idea now and should be saved for later (while out of "GM mode") would have saved the situation.

One of my roommates designed Champions, and the other is a masterful manipulator of the Champions rules. Of course I play mostly Champions! I hardly have to think (even about rules :-) at all!

Failed courtships! Hmmm, I'll have to try that!

You're amused that I think one must be opinionated to contribute? Well... I mean, if you don't mind... you're not like, um, too amused, are you? Well, not that, but um, dither dither.... :-)

Dana Derryberry's Dicing Mice #7

I thrive on players giving me more credit as GM than I'm truly due! Where do you think "my" neat ideas come from?! :-)

George MacDonald's recipe for running a mystery: Set up the situation and let the players run with it. Don't try to come up with the answer -- the players will never follow your logic. Instead, use the solution they come up with -- the second one! Use the first one only if it's incredibly clever. They'll almost always surprise you, and they help you tell the story to boot!

Dana Erlandsen

I found And They Played Happily Ever After... fascinating. I'd like to comment later.

I think you've hit the nail on the head as far as the best way to improve the public view of role-playing. Occasionally we get disapproving people in Planet Ten. Usually reasoning with them works best. I would think angry rhetoric wouldn't work at all; it wouldn't for me. I take some pride in making sure people are at least willing to think about the helpfulness and harmlessness of games by the time they leave the store.

Douglas Jorenby

I agree with some of your commentary. See my comments re the elves earlier this zine concerning moral defectives and "objectifying enemies as a way of protecting ourselves from the realization that we are having a good time playing characters that are murdering large numbers of other characters in a simulated world."

I ran up against this rather amusingly with Scott Ruggels. I'd asked him to do some quick thumbnail sketches of some North Central Barbarians, a particular race of people in the game (Note to all GMs: get an artist in the game! They're great for quick sketches and ideas! Thanks, Scott!). The NCBs were an ugly people! When I asked Scott why the NCBs were so disgusting, his reply was that there was no real reason, the PCs just needed somebody they could kill without remorse. Yuuck! It was Bob, one of my roommates, who pointed out that the sketches were drawn from the point of view of Scott's favorite race in the game, the Northerners. The Northerners hate the NCBs.

I guess the name should have warned me the race was objectified. I mean, how often are you cut off on the highway by a Japanese person, and you comment to the person next to you that you wish you could kill all those nasty East Asian Orientals? :-)

"Bittersweet"? I think I like that. Do you play by mail? Tragedy does summarize rather well what I was blunderingly trying to describe in Peaceable Demeanor #1. I found the write-up of the Madison campaign confrontation between Dr. Marche and Deidre very gripping. As I put it to my roommates, "I want to play that!" :-)

I really enjoyed The First Men In The Moon, and I felt that painful recognition of a similar personal experience when I got to the bit about Parental Approval, or the lack thereof!

George Phillies

Wrt your comments on changing rules part way through the game -- I also find that very annoying. There is a similar problem that often happens in such games. The GM tells you that the rules follow real life pretty much, then gives you bad or incorrect information and expects you to reach his conclusions based on this data.

An example: unicorns are generally portrayed in art as having the feet of gazelles, which leave tracks more like those of a miniature ox than a horse. To penalize a player for not guessing a unicorn was in the area when the tracks are described as identical to those of a horse seems somewhat unfair. To blame the lone player who points this out as being disruptive, and to be told, "Oh, that's just the way he [the GM] is" doesn't really justify the GM's actions to me. Either stick to what you say the rules are, or tell the players not to trust anything you say.

I'd love to see the live action Power Pack. How do I get a copy or something from you?

Peter Maranci

I like your runes -- can I borrow them for some art work?

I enjoyed your Dragonnewts. As far as GMing, I have a basic problem or theme running through the campaign that will cause a great change. The PCs are going to have to form, or deal, with both the great change and its results. I also have NPCs who have their own lives. Everything else is winging it. Some of my favorite bits occur because some curious PC "stuck his finger in the hole to see what would happen" (thanks, Mark!).

Basically I want to tell a fun story with my players. This means I need pushy, inquisitive players. I'd probably bore "GM as God" players to death. They wouldn't challenge me, and I wouldn't really be able to play off them. Ex tempore perfectly describes some of the things that happen in the game.

Role-playing with wargamers can be a lot of fun if you get their help. I firmly believe you can role-play anything. I've role-played Killer Clue with friends, with hilarious results. I had Miss Scarlet -- she had the uncanny ability to faint away in shock only when there was someone there to catch her. The one time someone wasn't there, she took a moment to arrange the pillows on the couch. That way she'd look most appealing when people charged into the room in answer to her post-pillow-arranging, well-modulated shriek. Alas for poor Miss Scarlet -- she fell into the wrong person's arms, and now she is no more. She would be comforted, I think, to know that she made a lovely corpse. :-)

Thanks again for the art compliments! The characters on the cover are also tattooed on Jenny herself. The "Vigilant Eye" (taken from the Eye of Horus, I think) is on Jenny's left eye, and is a badge of honor and responsibility to her. I'd rather not explain its significance, since one of the readers of TWH is in that game. The "Fire in the Mountain" symbol I swiped from a Games Workshop Eldar symbol. I don't know where they took it from, although I suspect it is Japanese (something to do with Mt. Fuji?). That particular character is on the back of Jenny's left hand. It tells people of her race that she comes from the Fire in the Mountain creche, and identifies what genetic stock she comes from.

Robert Butler

Why do you think SCA fighting is dangerous? It only hurts a lot if you do it wrong. "What does one do whose objective in studying martial arts is to avoid pain?" Run. :-)

Re comments to G. Blacow: I've found that PCs will label or pigeonhole an NPC according to how they first met the NPC. Thus, a case of mistaken identity or a particular prejudice will cause the PCs to either trust someone you as GM don't think they should trust, or lose a possible friend. Also, introducing someone in the middle of a conflict is fatal -- if the PCs see the NPC on the other-er-wrong side there's no hope of their ever accepting that person, no matter how sympathetic or pathetic the person may seem. Once they have decided, it's almost impossible to change their minds! I'm not sure if this is a fault of the GM or the players. I didn't notice this as much when I was only a player, but then I've just started noticing this recently.

One NPC I've got is supposed to be a clever and somewhat ruthless nobleman, and careful of his public facade. Why do the PCs, basically a group of lowborn foreigners and adventuring bravos, expect him to permit them to be rude to him in public, let alone be allowed to even speak to him? *sigh* I'm still a beginning GM -- maybe someone will explain it to me when I get old enough. :-)

I know of one case where the pigeonholing was on the part of an NPC. An NPC reporter was introduced who was planned as someone sympathetic to the PCs. The NPC was broadcasting the PCs live, which caused a "bad-guy" group to come out and attack the PC team. The PCs realized this. One (a fire elemental) angrily melted the camera while the cameraman was still filming to a video linkup. This gave rise to footage that is now as famous in that world as "The Agony of Defeat" is in ours. It is known by the team that is still in that game world as the "Super heroes: Threat or Menace!" footage. Needless to say, that reporter was not friendly to the team. :-)

A public clarification:

In a previous zine I commented that Scott Ruggels treated the background of his Fantasy Hero game much like a favored PC -- he didn't want drastic, disruptive change to happen to it.

I do not mean to say that Scott is the only person to do this. It is often a constant in game backgrounds. One quick example: ICE always has a group of somethings that are so powerful that nothing the PCs can do will ever really change anything.

Sorry for any misunderstandings, Scott.

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    Last Updated: Mon Aug 4 1997