Comments on TWH #174


All games mentioned in this zine are probably the trademark of someone somewhere.

Mark Swanson

Sniffle! Don't I rate? No mention of my zine in the table of contents!

I've always been part of what might be called fringe hobbies. As a child, I and my whole family were avid participants in hunter/jumper and three-day eventing horse shows. Try telling someone who really *really* wants to go to a movie with you that you can't; you've got to braid your horse's mane for the show tomorrow! It's believed almost as often as "Not tonight, I have to wash my hair". To cap it off, in high school I was pathologically shy (okay, maybe I exaggerate for effect).

The only answer that I have found that works fairly consistently is one I use all the time when I'm trying to sell games at Planet Ten. Namely, never, never, never act as if what you are doing is something to be ashamed of. Yes, gaming may be a "kid's hobby" sometimes. But do you really feel like your games are "kid-simple"? Some of the games I play in are marvels of complexity when it comes to the plot-lines and personas. No, I can't take credit for them either!

As someone else put it (sorry, can't remember to credit!) gaming is like painting. Kids and adults both paint. However, adults are usually better at it. You are creating a work of art with your players, and your game world is your canvas. Would you be ashamed if you were a painter? Then why be embarrassed to explain your art? (Obviously I'm in big trouble metaphor-wise if there's someone out there who is embarrassed about their painting!).

Find a point of common interest with your audience. One person I talked to at the store thought gaming was stupid. She was buying a book on Disney's The Little Mermaid. I explained gaming to her in the context of the book. "Okay, you're the mermaid and I'm the GM. You've got this curiosity about the surface world. You're swimming along and you're late to Daddy's concert, and a storm is rising, which means swimming on the surface is right out. As you flash along, deep in the water, you notice the bottom of a ship in the waves above you. It's obviously breaking up due to the ferocity of the storm. On the other hand, Daddy'll skin you if you don't make the concert. What do you do?"

She was fascinated. She wanted to play. She liked the idea of gaming.

I like my hobbies. I intend to help everyone who'll stand still long enough for me to get to them to enjoy my hobbies too!

Enough moralizing. Whoops, "Christian versus Pagan intolerance". Hey! I'm trying to stop moralizing! Okay, only one story.

When I was ten I lived in Spain. I attended an English-run school, and it was common practice in Europe to have summer school trips someplace neat that the kids would enjoy (the subsequent peace and quiet at home probably didn't hurt the parents any either). One year we went to southern Spain to inspect all the Moorish remains. Believe me, there's a lot left, and they're gorgeous. However, the scene that stays in my mind is a baptismal in a church, which had a raised relief of a cross on the side. The arms of the cross had been carefully worn off, so that instead of a cross there was only a straight vertical line. "Gosh," said I, the precocious foreign brat, "the Moors must have been really mean to do that to the Christians' baptismal."

To his everlasting credit, the devout Catholic gentleman teacher gently enlightened me. He pointed out that when the Moors took the city they had indeed defaced many of the crosses, and insisted that all people in the city convert or move out. However, when the Christians retook the city they insisted that all people in the city convert or die. It was at that point that I began to really dislike the intolerance of Christianity.

Whew! Enough ranting. This time for sure.

Dana Derryberry

I strongly agree with your comments on "bad players", having been on the other end of the story. I know I'm not a bad player. I've been told I'm fun to game with, several times by several different people. I don't expect to be told I'm a good player. But it still hurts, a lot, when some careless, arrogant, insecure idiot tells you that you're not playing your character right, or something like that, and the only crime you're really guilty of is having the courage to stand up and disagree with the GOD, pardon me, the GM.

Changing subjects slightly, I also agree with "no absolutes" in NPCs. However, I feel that you can apply this to any genre successfully. Did you say that already and I just missed it?

I've found that dice help a lot in deciding when a PC figures out "what is really going on". If you know what's going on, give yourself the fun of playing the ignorant PC. If you really enjoy it, keep doing it. If you want your PC to figure it out and you're not sure if they would, try the dice. In Hero System, an INT(elligence) or PER(ception) roll usually works.

I've also read that while people may know they're hallucinating, they usually err on the side of caution. Thus if it's a possibly life-threatening situation, the PC may believe it is not real, but reflexively dodge anyway. When I'd been driving a 2-ton truck for over 12 hours straight, and saw a giant, colorful snail waving 20-ft antenna at me in a friendly fashion I knew it wasn't real, but I still pulled over!

Re comment to Robert Plamondon: no, no, no, you don't want to be a "fringe geek", you want to be a fringed gecko! :-)

David Dunham

Thanks for the hello! Re acting, I've found I can say more "intimate things" if I get eye contact and hold it in such a fashion as to exclude my perception of everyone else. Unfortunately, it seems to have the side effect of disconcerting the person I'm talking with!

Re "Optimistic Cyberpunk". To me the world you describe sounds more like science fiction than cyberpunk. Isn't the "film noire" look supposed to be a part of cyberpunk? Also, when are you going to run your optimistic cyberpunk game, and can I PBM? :-)

Dana Erlandsen

I can't resist -- are you and Dana Derryberry related?! (Sorry, sorry, sorry! when you're alone most of the day in the store you've got to find your humor somewhere -- I think that one came from under a rock! :-)

Re single vs multiple plot thread games. I much prefer multiple threads, but I'm really un-fond of notes. I've found that you can usually talk to a GM sometime during the week to develop alternate threads. I find those little one-on-ones fascinating chances to more fully develop your character.

I understand that notes are sometimes necessary. I guess I hate them so much from the times I was in such a game as a new player. Nothing would be accomplished until a flurry of little white notes had been thrown around the room, carefully analyzed and digested, commented on, re-flurried around the room, carefully nauseam. You get the idea. As a new player, I got to watch people throw notes, disrupt conversations, and interrupt the GM's storytelling for hours on end. I wasn't able to participate, since I didn't know enough for my character to be of any use to anyone. Perhaps it's more fun if you get to throw paper around too. :-)

I'm going to have to remember your statement to Doug Jorenby -- I really liked it! For posterity: "I came, I saw, my character suffered, but I had a grand time." Ms. Erlandsen, can Doug come out and plaaay?! ;-)

Interesting bit about silence in APAS being considered disinterest. I'm trying to take your advice and make comments on everything that interests me. (my god, won't she ever shut up! :-)

Thomas Harlan

??? What's Under the Shadow? What's happening in the background your story is set in?

Douglas Jorenby

See my comments above to Mark Swanson re being embarrassed concerning your hobbies. Just bear in mind that my hobbies are fine, it's yours that are perverse!

I've found that some of my best swipes, er, ideas come from multi-tracking a game. Plus, I get More Game Time! And no-one complains! Also, one-on-ones give me time for "de-briefing". They're very useful.

Re your new myth, may I add a corollary: ahem. ;-)

Jorenby's Myth (with Collier's Corollary): A Quality Game Will Always Attract. Quality people usually seem to be too kind for their own good! Just try, just hint that you want to get rid of that One Annoying Player, and see how hard he grabs on to the game and squeals! :-)

If I understand Scott Ruggels correctly, it isn't the planning he enjoys so much. It's being a part of a good team in action together, like the well-oiled parts of a machine. To see the scheme succeed and the team triumph are the exciting parts, not the planning. I tremendously enjoy that "rapport and intensity of a critical moment in the game,... the creativity and intelligence of it all, ... the delight of the gestalt that forms in a group where people play off one another easily." (thanks, Dana Erlandsen! You said it better than I could.) I could be completely wrong though. Scott?

George Phillies

"...cute woman with her head in a bag...." (grin) thanks! When Scott Ruggels initially saw that piece he somewhat melodramatically inquired as to whether I had any self respect! My reply was yes, it wasn't my idea or PC, and furthermore I also had money in my pocket! He wasn't amused. Much. :-)

John Sapienza

"Communications Courtesy" -- Yes!

(pronounced with the Monty Python 'it's too perilous' accent) "Oh, pleeease! Just a little power gain!"

Hi, I'm Collie! Blame me! ...sounds like an ad. :-)

Argh, I'm running out of steam -- one liners, yet! I liked your zine, I'm just short on comments!

Marc Willner

Re comment to Dana Derryberry: "Most satisfying death"? Yeech! I think I would have preferred "fighting against insurmountable odds" rather than killing myself. Different strokes, I guess.

Wrt what you said to Robert Plamondon: I know Robert will sometimes be deliberately confrontational, or put what seems to be an out of context conclusion at the end of an argument in order to initiate more commentary. I just sort of assumed that was what he'd done here:

"...most of the more successful super-heroish graphic novels of recent years emphasize...people with special abilities with some trouble figuring out how these abilities ought to be used. ... [A] superhero scenario has the most potential in a setting where the word "superhero" has not yet been coined."

The last sentence was the inflammatory statement -- it didn't seem to follow logically. Just because there are super heroes around doesn't mean each one isn't unique, or that the voyage of discovery isn't necessary. After all, one can be confused as to how to run one's life regardless of the number of successful people around one. The need to use super powers in a constructive way can be part of the game even if the background has "groups of heroes working for some kind of authority." For example: should I just accept my paycheck and forget what I'm told to forget, or should I look into a possible miscarriage of justice? This is the premise of a lot of spy and thriller stories -- it works just as well here.

The important questions that make the superhero genre different are always present. For example: are super heroes above the law? Are they even human? Can we control them? Will they destroy our culture, or life as we know it? Most super hero games give only a passing nod to these questions, but they can add a whole new level of interest to a game.

Look at your average superhero team in the military sense. They can be considered equivalent to planes, helicopters, artillery, or tanks. The one thing they are not is infantry. It's comparatively easy for super heroes to take territory, but they can't hold it once they've taken it. Infantry is necessary to hold a position. This is why a superhero team probably wouldn't successfully take over and hold a government. It would be imperative they gain the help of the local populace. Otherwise, they'd be in a constant running battle to "stop up the holes in the dike". As one problem got fixed, another would present itself.

Consider another possibility: a government is sponsoring a superhero team. There is a huge battle of paranormals. Think of the collateral damage. Who's going to pay for it -- the government? Riiiight. The supers? Let's put them out of business! There would be a lot of public resentment as soon as insurance rates started to rise. "I'm sorry, Mr. Smith, but you were insured against acts of God, not against acts of the X-Things. You're not covered."

The ramifications of a government-sponsored team or individual were somewhat explored in the graphic novels Watchmen and Bratpack. Admittedly, it can be argued that both cases really deal with "heroes", not "super heroes". However, as far as Robert's quote, the "heroes" do fit the bill. They are:

"...unique, always working in unprecedented situations where they had to figure out their own strategy, and come to grips with the moral implications without expert guidance. ...[T]hey were all strongly individualistic."

Also in both cases, there is an actual super being. Watchmen has Dr. Manhattan, and Bratpack has Trueman (he wears a TM on his chest!) No-one knows why they have the powers they do.

In Watchmen, foreign governments were deeply resentful of the power advantage Dr. Manhattan gave America. Thus when Dr. Manhattan left, a cornerstone of the countries' strategic defense vanished -- all their plans revolved around Dr. Manhattan. A similar situation happens in Bratpack -- Trueman gave a misplaced sense of security to the country. Thus many public works, such as bridges and atomic plants, were built presuming if there was an emergency Trueman would save everyone. The story opens with Trueman long gone, and some people starting to realize just what the ramifications of those assumptions were.

Both of these backgrounds would be interesting campaigns. In either case, one would not have to play a government-sponsored super. The morality of, and how to use one's abilities would be a strong issue of the game. Both backgrounds address the issue of power corrupting, both individually (the super being) and as a group (the government).

Also, "superhero" per se is just another genre: stories are stories. Look in the supplements Western Hero and Ninja Hero for examples of things that aren't really "western" or "oriental" but which can be used in many contexts. Star Wars (the movie) is cited in both. The old teacher (Obi wan) trains the new student (Luke), then dies in the battle to free the down-trodden masses (the rest of the galaxy) from the large, more powerful nasties (the Empire). Star Wars is usually classified as science fiction. It was based on old Japanese martial arts legends. That's two genres right there.

We could easily adapt this plot to other genres. The Great Retired Swordsman trains the Brash Young Man who finds out that the King is an usurper who crushes the people so that they cry out for relief to their true heir, who (much to his surprise) just happens to be the Brash Young Man! Add a dash of magic, or superpowers, or blasters, and there you are, same old story, brand new genre!

Robert? Any comments or clarifications?

Robert Butler

I found your dissection of a game fascinating.

Of course it's my fault! I love controversy, as long as it's polite! Nyah hah hah hah!

Glenn Blacow

You know, Scott Ruggels has a Nambu he's trying to sell!...

Marli's world was very enjoyable. Did you get to play her much? Do you ever take PCs from games where you don't really get to explore them, and put them in other games? I have one PC I've tried to put into about five different games. I think in every case I scared the GM in some fashion, and the game closed down. Unsatisfactorily. *sigh* I guess Tease/Pyrite is doomed (somber music) to Never Be Explored.

Peter Maranci

I read "The Horror.. The Horror..." portion of your zine. It is not my intention to say you are completely wrong. However, as a retailer and someone who likes getting her facts straight, I feel some clarification might be nice. I agree with you that TSR is not the most friendly of corporations. Name me a corporation that is -- I'd love to work for them. :-)

TSR doesn't irritate me half as much as Marvel Comics. Marvel knows that most retailers will buy some of all their stuff, regardless of its quality. Marvel also knows that retailers only have a limited number of comics dollars to spend each month. Thus whenever the independents get too numerous, Marvel will put out a handful of awful new titles. The retailers use up the limited slots available on Marvel junk, because they know it Will Sell. They then have nothing left over to buy the independents. No-one buys the indies, and they go out of business. If TSR tried to put out garbage to drive other game companies out of business, they'd go broke. No fair saying TSR only prints junk, either. At the very least you can raid their products for ideas and pretty pictures.

I've heard of the "SPI died for your sins" buttons. For those of you who don't know, SPI would get a loan every so often, using their copyrights and trademarks as collateral, when cash flow got tight. They'd been doing this for years. All TSR did was buy the loan from the bank, then demand payment. Slimey, yes. Evil, no. If you must be angry with TSR, be angry at them for a good reason. I consider it worse that TSR just sat on SPI's game stuff! Nobody died for my gaming sins!

TSR is basically trying to make a profit. This doesn't excuse what they did to SPI. But to say "TSR has always been evil" is to overstate the case. I have come to the opinion, from hearing gossip (and that's all it is) that I don't care for some of the people in upper management. But I don't believe for a minute that the people I have met and talked to (like Jeff Grubb or Harold Johnson) are evil people. They seem to have a genuine desire to put out a good product, and a love of gaming that suspiciously mirrors people like us! To say "It's all for profit, and nothing -- no standard of quality or self-respect -- can stand in the way." isn't fair or true.

I feel TSR's official "ethics for games" is a weenie piece of garbage. If anyone is curious I'll print it in my next zine. But I understand why they are saying LRP isn't a part of their game. Consider how many times we've heard the lurid accusations about kids being driven to kill because D&D made them loose touch with reality. Not Cyberpunk, or Champions, or GURPS. Just D&D.

As far as "...GAMA could refuse to allow its members to sell products to any store that carried non-GAMA goods...." do you have any facts, or reason to suspect this would happen? GAMA is a voluntary trade organization -- it wouldn't last 10 seconds if it tried to pull that. Just for my store alone, I'd desperately try to get my hands on any product that GAMA said I couldn't sell -- so I could sell it! Some examples:

  • Macho Women With Guns (yes, it's wonderfully awful! :-) is sold out here because some local schoolteacher said it was porn. The kids loved it! No, it's not porn, just a lot of ripped T-shirts.

  • I'm still trying to get my hands on some Wings of the Valkyrie, the discontinued Hero/ICE "what if the Nazis won?" product. ICE buckled under to some Canadian distributor, and now it's a collector's item. Anybody got some?

  • Finally, we proudly (and always) carry two copies of White Wolf's Faerie (sp?), the product with the 3/4 rear view, half-naked goat-woman on the cover. For anyone who cares: White Wolf does have some distributors who will not carry it. However, it is not out of print. There are no plans to pull it from the shelves. I know this by virtue of a phone call to White Wolf.

  • I'm not trying to slam or flame or whatever the term is. But not having one's facts straight or using a generalization for a large group of people isn't good. Isn't that exactly what the Fundamentalists are trying to do to us?

    Humanity Points in Nightlife: I've noticed a similar problem in Cyberpunk with Empathy. Generally, this stat is seen as a non-renewable pool of points to make your character as ugly as possible. Players take Empathy down to fractions of a point so that they have as many points as possible to sink into cyberware. The emotion of empathy, per se, is never played. Then again, I've never seen a game last long enough for a PC to get emotional or be taken over by a GM, so I guess it doesn't really make a difference. It's just one of the reasons I don't usually enjoy Cyberpunk games.

    Thanks for the um, compliment? on the cover! Hope the zine isn't too strident.

    I believe some Hero products have what could be considered multi-threading. There are several encounters that lead to necessary facts for the climax of the game. They can be mix-and-matched to individual PCs and for different orders of encounter. Is this what you mean?

    Bye for now!

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    Last Updated: Mon Aug 4 1997