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Much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
krisnitori
whitewolf_lj
krisnitori
Here's a gift.

A first look at the Geist Skull.


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whitewolf_lj
johnny_redactor

Hey, gang. I’m back from vacation, all bright tailed and bushy eyed, with another installment of Chambers of Love. Has it already been a year I’ve been doing these columns? Appropriately enough given the title of my column and that it’s the anniversary of my original Valentine’s Day entry, this week we’re going to talk about love and romance in gaming, both within the roleplaying games themselves and around the table between the players.

 

I know a lot of people who are perfectly fine roleplaying romantic encounters and even full-on NC-17 sexual situations, but I’ve got to say, it’s always made me uncomfortable. Then again, I’m not exactly an extrovert, nor am I demonstrably affectionate in public, raised as I was by robots. Still, it impresses me when done well (well, the romance does anyway—scenes of getting it on always seem to come off creepy), since when you think about it, love is one of the prime motivators (if not the prime motivator) of storytelling. From Homer through Shakespeare and right up to modern storytellers such as Joss Whedon, love has been used to drive tales forward and to heighten drama. If you can pull off a moving love scene around a gaming table in someone’s living room or basement, it can be just as powerful as it can be in the theater or at the movies. Again, as something I’m not good at myself, it just serves to impress me that much more.

 

Now, when it comes to love that blossoms around the gaming table itself, I’m a bit more in my element. My wife and I met at a friend’s Mage: The Ascension game, and we first fell for each other around that same gaming table. I’ve known a number of people who’ve had similar experiences, and it’s no wonder. If you meet someone in that sort of situation, you’ve already got something in common (assuming the person wasn’t just pressured to play by another), and with hardcore gamers, who are often quite passionate about their hobby, finding someone else who “gets it” can be tremendously gratifying. In addition, gamers are oftimes forged by the same sorts of other interests and backgrounds as well, so gaming is seldom the only thing two will have in common.

 

But enough about me and my experiences. How about you folk? Do you have either a powerful in-game romantic scene that you’ll never forget or someone you met through the hobby who has come to play an important part of your life? It’s Valentine’s Day, people. Time to share the love.

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whitewolf_lj
eskemp
Some people say that gamers are inherently conservative. Others say that people are inherently conservative, and gamers are just a subset thereof. Now, this isn't talk about politics, mind: it's a discussion of that big mess of psychology that deals with how we approach things we ran into at a formative stage and stuff that changes the material of our formative stage. Consider, for example, any 200X adaptation of any 198X cartoon, comic book or toyline. You'll find some people who absolutely love every single change, some who say "YOU'RE RUINING EVERYTHING," and pretty much a great slew of reactions in between. Anyone who was a kid and owned a Transformer in the '80s probably has an opinion on the latest movie, for instance, and can probably think of someone who has the exact opposite opinion.

Me, I think that people have two particular classifications for things that give us pleasure: the comforting and familiar, and the exciting and new. There's a reason sometimes you want to try a new restaurant that sounds great, and sometimes you want plain old comfort food from your favorite joint. Sometimes you're sick of sequels, sometimes a sequel is the most-anticipated movie of the year. And, of course, movies try to capitalize on both at once by giving us "exciting and new" adaptations of the "comforting and familiar." So do other works, of course. And heck, you could probably argue that sex is a fusion of both at once (if you're doing it right), at least after the first time or so.

I bring this up because last week I went down and got a look at some of the changes that are in store for the site. You may have noticed the sticky about the changeover to the web forums, for instance. That's part of it. They're good changes, and some of them are very exciting. Stuff that I probably can't talk about, but suffice to say there's the desire to have people want to hang out at our site more, and have more cool stuff to see and do there. And it's a strong enough argument for the implementation coming that us employees are starting to feel the same way: looking forward to the new site, and how to muck around with it ourselves. Good stuff a'coming.

And, of course, there's the whole business of game design. I could probably go on for some time about the shift between Worlds of Darkness, and the desire to fuse comfortable and familiar with new and exciting. In fact, I think everyone has their own opinion about that, but honestly, let's draw back out a bit. Because it goes deeper than that.

I'm a strong proponent of the school of thought that novelty is not in and of itself a virtue. If you have something completely new, completely unlike anything seen before, you have no real frame of reference for a viewer. Vampire: The Masquerade was chock-full of new and exciting twists on an old, familiar theme: honest-to-goodness Halloween vampires. If you had tried to do a game of Personal Horror that went dramatically away from the familiar, it would be harder to make the horror personal, as there'd be fewer points of connection with the audience. It would be a neat read — though perhaps reliant on a reader's hunger for "new and exciting' — but really hard to play. And I think every Storyteller out there is well aware of how tricky it is to be able to surprise your players and give them new things they haven't seen before while still maintaining their connection to the setting. You want them to have a sense of the world before something new about it surprises them.

Why, yes. This line of thought is informing Geist: The [edit: Not yet, sorry! — Kelley]. New and exciting? Well, there's a reason it's got a name we've never used before. And there's a pretty critical rule we're bending (breaking, even) that we haven't done yet in any game, I think. But is there comforting and familiar stuff there? Yes. I daresay you'll run across things that you've had in the back of your mind for years and years. That's the foundation we lay, and the rest of the crazy messed-up stuff we build can sprout out from there.

As long as I'm here, I'll selfishly ask for feedback. What are your favorite examples of stuff that changed that you liked best? Where did you find your expectations strangely subverted, only to find that the aspect of change also threw a familiar kernel of an idea into relief? I mean, this can be about anything if you like (even, yes, "His truck form is different but it's still Peter Cullen!"), but obviously the World of Darkness examples help me out the absolute most. And stories about revelation and what you find exciting tend to be good ones. We like good stories, right?

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jachilli
whitewolf_lj
jachilli
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whitewolf_lj
eskemp
Late late, like a white rabbit holding a watch. Things happen, don't they? Quite a lot of that around here of late... but eh, that's hardly newsworthy.

So let's talk about something else. Let's talk about characters.

The roleplaying game is an interesting beast. It produces war stories, and to some extent war heroes. To some extent those stories are universal; to some extent they are absolutely context-related, the Platonic ideal of "you had to be there." The more complicated the context, the more you have to explain to your listener to get across why this particular dice roll, or this one witty quip, utterly electrified the group around you. Now to some extent, that's one of the advantages of not just a shared system, but also a shared world setting. People already understand the context. It's one thing to tell your fantastic Vampire: The Requiem war story to people who also play the game — it's a little trickier to get the gist of it succinctly to gamers who don't know the World of Darkness. And explaining the whole of it to people who don't play at all? Yeah. It can be tricky. It's only complicated by the fact that really great characters don't exist in a vacuum. I mentioned Romeo and Juliet last time. You can sum up Romeo rather easily, but try getting what makes his story great without explaining his father, his best friend, his hated rival. Good characters come with a lot of ties to other characters, and that makes establishing context even more tricky.

But I'm not here to talk about swapping stories at conventions or bookstores, exactly, though the example is instructive. You see, there's an authorial and developmental aspect to this, too. After all, one of our primary goals is to relate to you the story of a character in such a fashion that you can find it interesting and useful. We need to provide sufficient context that a character make sense, but not so much that the reader's eyes glaze over. And — here is the tricky part — good character design on our end means creating characters that make sense in a different context, specifically whatever situation and environment you folks may choose to throw them into. They should be able to drop into a chronicle, bringing whatever makes them interesting in the first place with them without overwriting the Storyteller and players' own creations.

This is a tall order. It requires some measure of passion on our part, writing about the kind of characters we find particularly interesting, but not buying into our own hype. Get too enamored of how strong and clever you want a vampiric prince to appear, and you essentially eliminate reasons or opportunities for readers to use him. Consider the trap that some novice authors (and Storytellers) fall into — the trap of "would never." Think of a Hierarch who "would never" fall for the wiles of a seductive character — in the attempt to try and portray her as resolute and full of integrity, you both are outright saying "there is no point trying" to the player of a seductive character, and you are giving her no reason to participate in a certain sub-classification of storyline. How much more interesting is it to say that the Hierarch is incredibly resistant to such an approach, and then to consider what sort of character might indeed have success in seducing her? Absolutes close doors. I'll admit I wrote some absolutes myself in my day, but I honestly think that leaving some wiggle room without being wishy-washy makes characters more real.

Good characters make people want to use them. Really good characters encourage people to use them well. You can see how we erred on the side of the absolute and the "overwrite your chronicle" in the previous incarnation of the World of Darkness, and you can probably also see how we were more sensitive to characters inhabiting your context and less inclined to have them bring context of their own for a while. But of course, really strong characters do have to bring some context with them. What good is a feared serial killer if he doesn't bring a legend, or a vendetta that might cry out to target a character in your chronicle? 

With the absence of metaplot, creating characters has been a matter of taking snapshots and profiles, and prettying them up for self-insertion. It's not about creating characters that will change the world no matter what your players do. It's about creating characters that will tempt you to invite them into your games, and that will spark actions by their very presence. Now, metaplot was a great way of establishing just how frightening or resourceful one of our little guys could be, but without that we have to rely all the more on just plain good writing. The Night Horrors semi-series is a big example of us giving that a shot: trying to lead by example, to create icons and archetypes with fully realized forms. Giving you people you want to interact with, that you can drop into a chronicle and watch the sparks fly.

It's always going to be a tricky bit of business; after all, "interesting" and "provocative" are not exactly objective descriptors. But it's our job; characters we create are a utility (asuming they're usable at all), and with any luck they'll be fun to read about to boot. And as challenges go, it's always a rewarding one.
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