Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Alchemy over Essence?

I remember that when I ran Thracia a few players that bought the Alchemy skill complained that it ‘never worked’, was ‘broken’ or was ‘too complicated’.

There were a number of reasons for these complaints – but, the most common was players ignorance and bitching.

Now, I’m not going to blame the players here. A few failings on behalf of the Game Team:

  1. Complaints were never dealt with. I wasn't 'allowed' to approach players because then I was “being a bully, telling them what to do” and the other referees dismissed players concerns as “they’re just being stupid
  2. The process should have been presented and described to players. I was told this would lead them to “cheating based on OOC knowledge". I was also told this was a bad idea because “LARP and magic shouldn’t be number crunching” – despite the fact this is exactly what I had been planning with Alchemy; magical maths!
  3. I should have described the process in the rulebook – see the above negative comments
  4. There needed to be a blog-like post issued which handled the concerns and addressed issues – so there was an official response to worries and people had a frame of reference. I was told it “would only upset everyone. People would moan about it
  5. Players needed official feedback so they could see what they needed to do better – I was told any feedback was “fuel for the bitching fire
  6. Clearer indications of how powerful something was, was needed. I was told that “players prefer being in the dark because then there’s more exploration” – the nature of “game” and “risk” being entirely ignored by the referees

However, players began to neither listened to, nor attempted to understand the rules for Alchemy – which is understandable, as the Game Team had effectively let them down just one too many times.

I remember one player left to play Aftermath because he thought the Game Team was out to get him and was trying to cheat him – when I approached him about it he cited the last 7 times his Alchemy ‘failed’.

The thing was, his Alchemy hadn’t failed on any of those times. They’d done exactly what he requested, exactly what he wanted, each time. What was wrong was he was expecting the Game Team to “you know what I meant” and “be able to get the gist of the way I wanted it”. He was also expecting Alchemy to be like other spell-casting (a ‘point and click’ approach) which it wasn’t. Alchemy was not battle magic; it was a tool and should have been used as such and not twisted to meet his own subjective interpretations we desperately had to guess at.

Alchemy was a process of points. To link two objects via Alchemy was 1 point. From there, the second object could be manipulated through second – it was a ‘sympathetic’ link.

For example, if I had 2 twigs, I could sympathetically link them for 1 point. A further 1 point could be expended for the second twig to empathetically respond to the first when I set the first on fire. The second twig would then also burst aflame.

I could do this from 1 twig to 2 others for a further 1 point – 1 more sympathetic link.

Where it got a little weirder was if the second object wasn’t like the first – say, if the second was a stone. Well, I’d have to expend more points to heat the stone, simply because the twig wasn’t like the stone.


Well, the first object – the ‘focus’ was given a mark out of 5 by the referee – 1 being “not at all like the target” and 5 being “the same thing as the target”. This was added to the player’s points total.

Then it was divided by 3. This gave the spell a ‘Rank’.

All spells in the game were listed by Rank. The equivalent of Level 1 spells in CP (‘Confusion’, ‘Mend’, ‘Lesser Healing’) were Ranks 1-3. The equivalent of Level 2 spells in CP (‘Greater Healing’, ‘Magic Missile’) were Ranks 5-6.

Following the example above:

  • 2 metal armours, linked – 1 point
  • 1st armour is like the 2nd (same material, same shape and size) – 5 points
  • Total: 6 points
  • Divide 3:  Rank 2
  • Effect: Equivalent to a Level 1 (Ranks 1-3) spell – i.e. break the first armour = reduce the second armour by 1 point

  • 1 twig, 1 stone
  • Stone in circle, not like the twig – 1 point
  • Total: 2 points
  • Divide 3: 0.3, No Rank
  • Effect: set light to the twig, nothing happens

The only real thing the players needed to worry about was the wording – players had to tell us what they wanted the spell to do – and this is exactly the same for any other magic, anywhere. The problem was exactly what I just said – the player waved their hands vaguely and used to tell us that “well, I wanna… you know… with…. That…. And them over there…. And… yeah”

Finding him bitching to another game system about our rules not working and putting off potentially new players due to his lack of effort and understanding was… disappointing.

Age of Essence is a LARP that has spell-casting rules developed from the Alchemy rules from Thracia. Luke Still, the creator of Age of Essence was a Thracia player – one that for 3 years described my game as “the best system he has ever played”.

I remember talking to him about possibly changing Alchemy so it was a system of beads of ‘crystallised magic’ that could be drawn from a variety of sources.

We discussed a player possibly being able to draw only from certain materials to start, and as they progressed, the skill expanded to allow drawing magic from other sources. The idea became that crystallised magic – a things “essence” – were exchangeable and tradeable by Alchemists, who then used the beads to fuel Alchemy.

The beads would be a physical reminder of the power you’re using. I was also suggesting that herbal and crafting material cards have numbers on them which would also be their value for affecting the Alchemy. The rules would otherwise be the same.

I then also had the idea of having all the beads as white, and introducing red and blue beads to the mix – red was ‘corrupted’ essence and blue was ‘crystal faith’. If you drew a number of red or blue this became a secondary effect to the Alchemy – the number drawn being the Rank, rather than divisible by 3. This would be the inherently unstable nature of Alchemy – red meaning the caster possibly suffers the blow-back event.

Luke developed this idea onto the colours being from ‘elements’ and Alchemy becoming spell-casting.

I see Luke has since developed a system from this that allows for some interesting spells, and interesting magic – it works, and that’s good. I do think it’s a bit DnD, and lacks the investigative, explorative and dangerous (read: exciting) nature of what I had in mind, however. Its is also, unfortunately, ridiculously complicated to the point that I'm not sure how playable it actually is in practice - seen by the numerous changes that have occurred to it, and still are occurring.

I also think that his dividing it into ‘Lawful’ and ‘Chaos’ was developed from my idea of the red and blue beads somehow creating additional effects, which along with the way Thracia was set up (like LT) with ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ alliances, strengthened to  imply that sides were ‘good’ and ‘evil’, like any good’ol fashioned RPG. It's not my taste, and it's way too restrictive for the clever uses that could be gained from a more neutral perspective, but if that's the way it's working for him, cool.

Maybe one day I’ll get to play around with my original idea and see how well it worked or didn’t. I’m pretty confident it’d work quite well, and I reckon it’d be fun where the beads could else be used – Rituals? Forged into armour and weapons?

Anyway, I’m glad someone got some good use out of it and that it’s going well.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Open Letter to Our Landlords

Dear Marlon and Joana,

First, before I begin truly, I would like to highlight – once again, for the… 6th? …time – that, had to you talked to us politely, met with us in reasonable manner as I suggested, this whole mess can be avoided.

But no – you had to send nasty texts and messages to my partner, you had to be aggressive – you had to start pointing fingers, try to intimidate us – my partner in particular. This type of behaviour is that of bullies – I find your conduct to be the conduct of the worse, vile kind. You try to attack someone you perceive as weaker and less capable of you. It’s the very worst kind of abuse. 

You’ve also been incredibly childish. I knocked on your door and gave you my number and said:
“Please do call me some point later this week. I’m normally home after 6:30, so that would be a good time to call.”
You said: “why not talk now?”
I said: “Because it’s impolite to talk in the street.”
You then send my partner several text messages and 5 phone calls in around 20-30 minutes. OOOOO – SOMEONE GOT BUTTHURT! 

And then you have a go at my partner – “why didn’t you answer my calls?” Why the fuck would he? Why would he want to answer the phone to violent, egomaniacal harridan you become all because I dared to approach you myself?

Now, even with all this behaviour, let’s actually talk about what the problem is – and we’ll take it from both perspectives. 

And, I’ll end off with a handy guide of bullet points of the laws of the for you – since, not only do you not have any clue, but you seem to think they’re exactly the same as whatever back-water part of the Phillipines you crawled out of. I say back-water because you clearly demonstrate on a number of occasions that you can’t even behave in a reasonable manner – going so far as to wait 3 hours for my partner to leave the flat – after barging into our room uninvited – so you can accost him in the street. That’s more than a little be suspicious, and the act of savages.

The Problem As Perceived By You

You are upset because – according to you – I moved in with my partner over a year ago and neither of us told you. This has caused you an increase in bills, meaning less “profit” for you. In understand the predicament for you – but:
  • We did tell you. I was there when my partner called to tell you. You gave us permission. I asked my partner to get it in writing and, unfortunately, he never did
  • If I’ve been there as long as you’ve said – how the fuck have you not noticed? Landlords are meant to carry out periodic checks on the property – to make sure it’s secure, safe and sound for the tenant and to make sure the tenant’s behaving. You haven’t done this. Ever. You lost money because you didn’t know I was there? Get over it. It’s your loss. I’m sorry I’m being callous here – but, with how you’ve acted, I can’t really see how you expect me to care
  • You have a verbal agreement with my partner. It’s informal. Thereby, you should expect your tenant to take a relaxed view. You want it done properly? Get it in writing
  • You can’t prove anything – you haven’t performed checks. Any evidence you possibly have is way after the time you told us you’re increasing the rent to cover me being there – which implies that you agree to be there. And – seriously?! – you have a statement from the tenant across the hall from us that I’ve been here that long? You mean that other tenant we’ve got on so well with, right? It’s your word against ours. Let it go already

Neither I nor my partner are attempting to get something for nothing. We’re not trying to deceive you. 

Our Perspective
If anything, your behaviour shows it’s completely the other way around. We’ve never hidden anything from you – but now we’re talking about leaving, you’re trying to claim that “the rent should have been higher since the beginning” and “we said it’s for one person”, and want to claim “back pay”.

No. You want more money for whatever reason, and you’ve come up with an excuse. 

Practicably, we do understand that “bills have gone up” – but seriously, since it’s Multiple Occupancy Housing, there’s no way to show a significant increase in bills.

The very fact you’ve been pursuing my move in date with my partner show that actually, you can’t tell if there was an increase or not. So it’s clearly not about “increased bills” really is it? You know we’re thinking of moving out and you’re trying to get more out of us. 

However, we appreciate that there’s extra wear-and-tear and the like – and not being unreasonable people – we agree to a rent increase.

Which, you’ve already suggested.

And we paid.

The Law
  • As an informal agreement, my partner doesn’t actually need to tell you when I moved in, or even if we’re thinking about it, or I have. There’s you have no proof of anything that specifically exists to exclude:
    1. A partner in general
    2. Me in specific
  • The rent increase bears with it the implication that I’m allowed to be here. Thanks for that, by the way
  • You cannot legally evict me – I am not your tenant. My partner is. You need to speak to him
  • The number and manner of your messages and phone calls is constant enough that my partner and I could reasonably say it’s harassment. This is a criminal offence
  • You can’t legally charge back-pay. So I’m certainly not paying. If my partner does then he’s a gullible fool
  • My partner paid you a deposit. He’s never had anything in writing to say it’s in a protected scheme, so we assume it’s not. When we move out, we can legally start proceedings against you to get that money back. The Courts can also issue you with a fine of up to 3 times the amount of the deposit
  • My partner’s tenancy is legally classified as an “Assured Shorthold Tenancy” (AST). As an AST, because the deposit is not in the legally required scheme, you cannot evict my partner. At all
  • Also, as he didn’t receive a written agreement (the law says no longer than 2 months after he moves in) then the above ruling applies. So that’s 2 things to sort out
  • You’ve turned up to the flat many times and simply let yourself in. Last night, you forced your way into our room uninvited. Every single incidence of that is illegal. If you want to enter the property, you should give at least 24-hours written notice. Yeah. Bothersome, right?
  • You’ve never provided an energy efficiency document for the flat – nor have you ever provided a certificate to show the gas here is safe, or the electricity and wiring is safe. For all we know, we’re living on a time bomb
  • There’s multiple cases of repair in this flat – from the open-topped power shower, to the broken gas hobs, to the wires sticking out of the only working lighting fixture in the hallway, to the mould-covered, wood-worm infested bathroom because the extractor fan is too small. Guess who’s responsible for all this? Give you a clue – it’s not your tenant’s…

So there you have it. My statement.

I suggest you get yourself a solicitor if you want to do anything beyond shutting up and taking our money.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

When LARP Goes Right: The Catharsis of Generous Play

I’ve been musing for a while on what to write, not merely because I have so much I want to talk about, get out of my system (the vile I have for bad attitudes burns – and as we all know, it can come out in horrific ways; I want to use this blog as a way of exorcising it), praise, bemoan and rejoice at.

To be honest, I sometimes feel that no one would want to hear my thoughts in any case, as my posts and thoughts tend to be of a critical nature – I feel I must point out that this I think is just my nature; I’m an analyser. Some people don’t start or do anything for fear of failure or success. I, on the other hand, tend to do and then look back and be critical. I’m as highly critical of myself as I am of others.

So people tend to see this as a bad thing as I’m “always moaning” or “never happy” or “think that other people are stupid” – all of which are as far from the truth as possible. If anything, the biggest reason behind my social anxiety is self-criticism. It’s as much my problem as it is yours.

The thing is, I see it as a positive thing. Without feedback, without criticism, we do not improve. We don’t grow and change. If it weren’t for a dramatic change in circumstance, we would never change. I have always been, and will always be, open to criticism and debate, open to changing my mind and seeing another perspective – as someone that places an emphasis on science in life, on evidence and logic, there can be nothing grander than emulating scientific thought, constantly re-evaluating and determining a new resolution if the evidence or logic shows me as wrong.

For this reason, yes, I do point out flaws where I see them and they affect me, friends, family – even people I don’t know when I see racism, homophobia, misogyny. Without this, how will things get better?

But this month, we’re going to move away from the gloom – into the realms of what goes right.

My local LARP is Player versus Player. I get the impression most players wouldn’t want PvP (especially in the UK?) as LARP has a seriously bad reputation for back-stabbing, bitching, griefing and down-right abusiveness. There’s a reason for that – because it does happen, A LOT, and LARP as a whole tends to neglect its responsibility to eliminate these things. I mean, com’on – even Empire has decidedly moved away from at least physical PvP

Worse, I would say LARP as a community specifically enables such behaviour and to a degree encourages it. I will happily present my thoughts to people that would argue otherwise or wish to hear my reasoning. I will also happily suggest ways this situation may be changed – I might not be totally right on all my ideas, but I know none of them are wrong.

I found this post a while ago by Mirror’s Song: In defence of PvP at larp

I’m thinking it’s a bit ridiculous that PvP needs to be defended, on three grounds:
  • If you don’t like PvP, don’t play it
  • PvP can be fun – the problem is therefore decidedly NOT PvP that is the problem, but the way people approach it
  • Remember, play to have fun – no matter whether you PvP, PvE or anything else, if you focus on the fun, why would it turn nasty? If you’re not playing to have fun and bring fun to others, you don’t deserve to be playing in the first place

I can totally understand why some people get upset with In Character conflict at a LARP, and I can also get that some people feel upset when their character dies and the one person they thought would help them, won’t – or worse (shock! Horror!) is the person behind it!

The problem is that the person being upset knew they were walking into a PvP situation, and didn’t get any fun out of it. Why? Did they want to win and got upset about being wrong? Maybe they suffered a set-back they thought was unfair?

These issues need to be talked to with the referees, who need to give a clear, concise response – preferably in writing so that when questioned they can show others: “see? This is what happened”. It’s especially true for referees and game organisers – because then, if they’re wrong, you can point out to them where they went wrong and why, and they can then respond to it properly and maturely.

As you see, this also links back to my earlier paragraphs about criticism and feedback.

The biggest problem with any game, I think, is when the goals and aims of players to organisers, organisers to players and players to players don’t match (not necessarily ‘disagree’) – are you creating stories, or gunning for achievements?

I think this needs to be stated by the game organisers as a guideline: creating stories means weakening someone rather than outright destroying them as this weaves interesting drama. Gunning for achievement would require you to destroy them, so they don’t overtake you again.

I think for my local LARP the first instance is better, even preferable because there’ always a way back, if you want it. You just have to be willing to fight hard enough – that and the drama is fun! People pointed out to me on my 3rd game or so that when another player kills your character it can be quite fun because it creates a story that is emotional. Last time I talked PvP I mentioned the execution.

One player mentioned to me that’s is actually more fun when you get killed by a friend. This is brilliantly true – you walk over to them, shake their hand and say “well done, mate. Nice one. Glad it was you” and that it’s been a good game of chess between you because you wove a drama together.

Your IC should never affect your OOC – so why the hell does PvP need to be “defended?”

At the last game I saw proof of it: two characters got so angry at one another there was shouting, bloodshed and one stormed away in anger. That player later approached his rival and said “excellent, dude, loved it. Good role-play”.

The thing is, the player that was telling me it’s better to die from a friend? Yeah, he used to play at the LARP I used to run.

I remember that once, his character was possessed by a powerful spirit that made his say vile things to the other characters – verbal violence as his brief was “short of actually harming them”. I remember that a few players got really pissed at him for this – they were taking IC to OOC – even my referees were saying he was showing his “true colours” by his behaviour. I defended him, stating the IC =/= OOC principle; eventually I gave up arguing, and he was later asked not to return after numerous incidents where grew increasingly agitated at the game, me and my refs.

I totally understand his position in this, and I admit I failed him: I should have argued more on his behalf and put my voice to his, giving him a chance to speak out. To be honest, my game should have ended there – my referees were clearly corrupt enough to spoil the game for people they didn’t like. People, that, professionally speaking, they shouldn’t have opinions over.

I’ve heard before that people say that LARP can be cathartic and healing for the soul. In 12 years of gaming I cannot say that is true. But I can say I experienced it at my local game at the last day event.

Before, LARP for me was CP, once LT and a couple of others. Those LARPs are competitive, achievement-based games – PvP in these games can certainly be aggressive, harsh, and players can easily get upset with it because it can be quite cold and uncaring. My referees and other players came from such games, too – it’s easy to see why they didn’t feel comfortable with PvP in my game.

It’s also because of this that I’ve come to realise I’ve never been too comfortable at LARP; it’s always been competitive, and the back-stabbing and bitching just made it worse. Competition can be great, but it only takes a bitch to make it unfair and miserable.

I finally understood the healing at the last game. You know there’s others out to get you, you know there’s conflict and schemes – but you also know you have friends.

I realised my character has friends IC with character played by people that I don’t speak to often OOC. I realised that OOC I have friends that support by brattish ways IC (I’m sure Michael will forgive me at some point!) and I realised I have friends that I could argue with, be annoyed at, kill and betray IC and we’d still be friends afterwards OOC. This sense helped be relax a great deal: I realised I have friends – on either IC and OOC sides – specifically because we help each other to have fun through telling stories. Friends that see the drama (say it in your campest voice!) of IC, not the bitching of OOC, friends that want everyone – me, you, themselves – to have fun, and not purely out to “do one better” and “screw over the other guy” in the process.

This, then, is the catharsis.

One of the biggest problems in any RPG game played in a group is when there’s a conflict on the perception on the nature of the game, or where goals conflict. This is, sometimes, down to a certain player or group of players having different goals from others, creating conflict – mostly caused because that player is trying to “get one over” on others, to “screw the other guy over” – it’s easy to see how this bleeds from IC to OOC.

It’s partly because the group members don’t listen to one another, treat each other with respect. And don’t say “respect is earned, not given”. Bollocks. We all deserve a certain amount of respect, because we’re all people, with feelings and emotions all that jazz.

But it’s mainly because there’s a difference of opinion on sharing fun – when the goal is less or more than simply about being fun.

But isn’t that what we play games for? To have fun?

When that’s the case, catharsis begins.

Even in PvP.