Clash of cultures

We played the penultimate game session before the summer break of my home-brew campaign Stories from Darkmoon Vale yesterday. The game’s main McGuffin was the demise of a tyrannical lumber baron. The session contained lots of interesting character-driven scenes and a lot of cloak & dagger -style manipulations and investigations. About 3/4 through the game session something very strange happened…

I really like character-driven scenes, that have a strong immersive quality. In my opinion this is the meat of a role-playing session, whereas game mechanics are just the potatoes. I have this habit of pushing my players into situations, where they are forced to act out their character’s personality and motivations. One of the players in my group is very much into mechanics, but he doesn’t know dick about character or drama, so for the past few sessions I’ve done my utmost to force a reaction (any kind of reaction, really) out of this player.

This player’s character is a nobleman who dabbles with arcane magic. The player has described the character’s personality as “rash and hot-headed”, so one would think pushing the character would be a breeze, right? Wrong. Permit me to elaborate. I started out easy with a few burly mercenaries quipping, throwing thinly veiled insults, and hinting about said nobleman’s sexual preferences. The player’s reaction was: “These guys are dicks. My character walks out of the room.” And here I was expecting fire and brimstone. Silly me.

During the game session I gradually increased the pressure on the player. The climax was a meeting with a fellow nobleman, an elderly gentleman wizard with a preference for young boys. I started with descriptions of light flirtations and sexual advances like touching hands and thighs. No reaction.

Later on, when the wizard was encountered in the bar of a brothel, I turned the heat fully on. The wizard was drunk as a skunk, and took to desperate measures to get the younger man into bed: He cast a dominate spell on the PC, who promptly failed his Will Save. Then he started to force himself on the player character. The poor PC was dragged upstairs to a room, and the wizard started undressing the player character. I gave the player a lot of wiggle room to get out of the situation his honor intact, allowing him new Will Saves about once a minute. He didn’t succeed on the save until the point when the NPC was down on his knees between the PC’s legs giving him a blow-job. Did I expect him to blast the old pervert with a lightning bolt? Yes, definitely. Did this happen? Nope. The player just sat there opening and closing his mouth like a guppy out of water. It took the combined efforts of two other player’s to actually get him to do anything at all: “Come on, blast him already! Your character’s supposed to be a hot-head!” and such. Eventually, the player got out of his stupor and started rolling his damage dice. Sigh. My experiment had failed miserably and I now consider this particular player a lost cause. There is nothing else I can do. Oh, almost forgot. I did get one reaction out of the player: He threatened to tear his character sheet in half if his character got one up the ass.

Another unexpected consequence of this scene was the strongly averse reactions I got from two other players. After the game session they berated me for including a scene, which (their words, not mine) made them feel extremely squeamish and uncomfortable. I replied with the question: “Would you have been equally uncomfortable, if instead of a homosexual old wizard, the seducer would have been a hot succubus with a huge rack?” to which one of the offended players remarked: “No, since that would have been funny and entertaining.”

This is how I read this: The players weren’t really that uncomfortable with a scene depicting explicit sexual acts. The problem was, that the scene depicted very explicitly HOMOsexual acts. Also, none of the player’s have any problems whatsoever with scenes containing graphic, gory violence. To me this smacks strongly of hypocrisy and homophobia.

I’d like to point out that I have no problems with people choosing what kind of content they want in their role-playing experience. As long as they tell me about it. If you have a problem with something, just speak up. Open your goddamn mouth and bloody well tell me if something I’m narrating makes you uncomfortable. I’m not a mind reader, after all.


My gaming history, part 4

Enter the Society

Paizo’s upcoming game Pathfinder RPG and the Adventure Paths had managed to capture my interest in the rest of their product line as well. One of the things they announced was a completely new organized play campaign, to fill the vacuum left behind my WotC:s widely succesful Living Greyhawk campaign. Paizo’s brainchild was named the Pathfinder Society. At the Ropecon of 2008 I met and got to know a few of the Living Greyhawk -veterans and we started chatting about the possibility of playing Pathfinder Society games in Finland. The result was the birth of the Finnish Pathfinder Society -scene, which has since prospered with a total of over 30 players in the gamer database, of which around half are active, a rotating pool of about half a dozen active GM’s and a total of 55 game sessions played. Paizo has so far published 20 scenarios, with another 8 coming out before the end of the season at GenCon ’09. This first season is a “Season 0”, that is, the demo-season. At GenCon the campaign switches over from 3.5 to Pathfinder RPG (which is also released at GenCon), and the campaign gets an official start with Season 1. I won’t elaborate on the Society at this moment, since I already posted a blog-post on it a few weeks ago.

More Pathfinder!

The Pathfinder Society player pool brought some fresh blood into my home game groups as well. We did a few short stints into Golarion (the Pathfinder RPG’s default setting) with the new group, before finding our paces with Darkmoon Vale, a campaign which has since run a total of 24 game sessions. We’re currently winding down the gaming season with a two-part season finale, which should wrap up a lot of the loose threads, that have been dangling around since the very first game sessions in January.

My latest game is yet another Pathfinder RPG campaign, this one run by NiTessine. This campaign is based on the Legacy of Fire, another one of Paizo’s Adventure Paths. So far we’ve only played one game session, but I’m already quite exited about the campaign, which holds a lot of promise.

As I write this we’re on the treshold of summer, which usually means gaming activity grinds almost to a full stop. I, for my part, intend to do my best to keep the gears turning, as I would much rather spend my summer doing something that I love and cherish than the usual things one is supposed to do during summer breaks. For the record, I bloody well hate summer cottages and mosquitoes… We’ll see what happens.

My gaming history, part 3

Back from a long blogging hiatus.

Something old, something new

After years and years of playing role-playing games revolving around modern horror, gothic horror, vampires, and new weird I was feeling around for something completely different to get exited about. For a while, I was part of a gaming group very much into story- and narrative-oriented gaming, as well as experimenting with Forge-style rules systems. I really got into Dogs in the Vineyard (which I now rank among the absolute top five games I’ve played). We also played a game of Cold City, a few sessions of CthulhuTech, as well as home-brew systems and settings. This era also marks my return to the grand old man of role-playing games, the so-called “world’s most popular fantasy role-playing game”.

Go Find the Path, young man!

Paizo, the publisher’s of Dragon and Dungeon magazines had finally gotten tired of the whole 4th edition cock-up and decided to go their own way with a world and gaming system of their own. The Pathfinder RPG was announced in early 2008, and there was a lot of hype about their new format adventure books, the so called Adventure Paths. The format, made popular by mega-adventures such as Shackled City, was re-imagined as a series of six book sets, published monthly. The first of Paizo’s adventure paths was called Rise of the Runelords. The game system would take up where 3.5 left off, with a few small upgrades here and there. The new game/work-in-progress quickly earned the moniker D&D 3.75. As I write we’re three months from the release of the Pathfinder RPG.

My Pathfinder campaign, going by the name Tiennäyttäjä started on May 23rd, 2008, almost exactly a year ago. The campaign was Rise of the Runelords. This Adventure Path is, in my opinion, excellent, and the campaign was an instant success. We played a whopping total of 18 game sessions, and all the way through three Adventure Path books. The campaign was eventually canceled due to player line-up changes and some other issues, but I still recall some of those game sessions as some of the greatest in my role-playing career. The campaign was also a great learning exercise of do ‘s and don’t ‘s concerning the game system itself, and how to run very long story-oriented campaigns. I might write down some of these experiences later. For now, I’m just aiming to get this history lesson out of the way.

That’s about all I’ve got time for now. Guess I have to write a fourth installment after all.

My gaming history, part 2


So, come March 2004, no more World of Darkness. The Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension/Doomsday/Winter came, and the whole game world ceased to exist for a pico second, only to be replaced in August 2004 by the new kid on the block, the (new and improved) World of Darkness. Which is pretty much the same old World of Darkness. Except less cool, less crispy, less “amateurish”, less meta-plotty and a whole lot more… Vanilla flavored than the old one. I really wanted to like the new World of Darkness, I really did. I even ran a rather lengthy campaign set in it. I never really understood the argument going somewhat along these lines: Having a strong meta-plot is bad, because you need to know absolutely everything about the game world before you can run a succesful game set in that particular world. That’s absolute bollocks. You don’t need to know anything about the game world outside the material in the core book. Everything else is just candy coating. Oh, well. This topic is getting old, so I won’t dwell on it any longer. Suffice to say I ended up putting most of my New World of Darkness books up for sale, and started thinking about putting my rather extensive collection of original World of Darkness books to good use. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

New vistas

From October ’04 to December ’06 my role-playing calendar had only one campaign in it: Vampir: Miami, a sort of epic character-oriented draama set in 1980’s Miami. The campaign started out with “Lets try out this New World of Darkness”, and ended with me creating my own version of both the game world and the rules system. I won’t go into much detail about the storyline, as my amazing players did a much better job of telling their characters’ stories.

The ideas borne out of Vampir: Miami eventually developed into the role-playing game Rajapolku and the campaign Osasto E, a pulp-style story about the occult, the paranormal, and ancient cosmic horrors. Rajapolku was a great campaign and I really enjoyed running it. The campaign was eventually discontinued for reasons I won’t go into here. Oh, well.

My gaming history, part 1

In response to several other RPG-bloggers (NiTessine, Sami Koponen, etc.) doing a role-playing history write-up I decided to give it a shot as well.

Humble beginnings

First contact with anything role-playing oriented for me was probably the RPG articles that ran in the Finnish version of Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. This was probably sometime in the mid-eighties. The articles were mostly reviews and role-playing -oriented fan fiction. A while later I ended up purchasing a second-hand copy of the so called “red box” D&D Basic Set in Finnish. The art and introductory material of the red box was just riveting. I was hooked. Mind you, I didn’t actually get to play D&D. For some reason I failed miserably at selling my parents and my kid sister on the game. It wasn’t until much later that I actually managed to find a gaming group. Other sources of inspiration for me were the Fighting Fantasy Solo-RPG -books, the Conan the Barbarian comics, short stories and movies, and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animation.

First game group

I spent my childhood in a town of around 20,000 people, so it took me a while to find like-minded individuals to game with. I think it was around ’88 when my actual gaming career got started. The game was the Finnish version of Runequest, a game system that seemed to me a lot more “realistic” (meaning hit locations and lethality) than D&D, and thus a lot more appealing. Our group consisted of me, two class-mates and the other class-mate’s kid brother. The games weren’t much to write home about. There were a lot of combats, and not much story or continuity. What matters, I suppose, is that we were having a blast. Except for the kid brother, that is. The mortality rate of his characters was staggering, causing him to levitate to bigger and stronger character types to increase his chances of survival. I think he ended up playing mostly minotaurs and trolls. Oh, and nobody played ducks. They were considered “stupid and unrealistic”. Go figure.

We played 6-10 hour sessions 2-3 times a week with that group. We took turns gamemastering, and every one of us had our own game of choice. There was Runequest, of course, Palladium RPG run by another player, and Middle-Earth Role-playing run by me. A few years later (after Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now) we were mostly playing modern warfare RPG’s using Palladium’s Recon. The RQ-gamemaster was a war history buff, so we ended up playing games set in virtually every modern conflict (Vietnam, WW II, the Winter War, you name it). Later on it was special forces and swat as inspired by movies such as Die Hard and Predator. Recon was the main-stay at this time, but we also tried some Shadowrun, Phoenix Command, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, Rolemaster, Aftermath, Bushido, Twilight 2000, Space Master, Cyberspace, Nightlife, Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Superheroes, Boot Hill and Traveller.

Rest of the early history

Around ’90-’92 I joined a second gaming group that played Rolemaster pretty much exclusively. We took turns gamemastering and had a total pool of around 8 players. This period lasted for a few years, but eventually other interests (e.g. music, cars and alcohol) drew most of the players elsewhere and role-playing was put on hiatus.

The coming of the World of Darkness

It wasn’t until I moved to Helsinki and started university that I returned to role-playing. There was a lot of Runequest, and some cyperpunk. I didn’t get pulled back into the fold completely until I ended up purchasing second-hand copies of Vampire: The Masquerade 2nd edition and Vampire: The Dark Ages. The feel and gaming style of White Wolf’s Storyteller games was something completely different from anything I’d played before that. I was hooked on that particular dark and gothic world full of night-horrors, awesomely powerful monsters with fangs and/or fur and restless spirits seeking release. I think I ended up running over a dozen different campaigns set in the World of Darkness, and spending hundreds of euros on gaming books. The White Wolf games just oozed gothic cool, and the meta-story of the game had me reading book after book, memorizing trivia and tidbits about the history of the World of Darkness, the genealogy of the different vampire clans, and the lore of the werewolf tribes. This phase of my role-playing career ended around the time the original World of Darkness wound to an end with the termination of the whole game line in ’04.

Gaming versus character

I just ran another game session of Stories from Darkmoon Vale yesterday. After the game session I started thinking about playing styles and game systems as they relate to character immersion and story. I doubt anyone is surprised by the observation that the more the game contains competitive elements and “hard” game mechanics, the less there is room for narration and immersion. There just isn’t enough room for “getting into character” if the actual gaming situations require the need for tactical use of character resources and powers. The latter is really empasized in game systems such as the D&D 3.5 game system. I’m sure its possible to play a character oriented D&D game that’s light on game mechanics, its just that the game system doesn’t support that kind of gaming style very well. In fact, playing 3.5 in any other way than the creator intent (and prevalent gaming style) implies it should be played, would be doing the system a disservice. A more character- and/or story-driven campaign would be better served by using a completely different game system.

My own preferences for gaming styles go in phases. For the past year I’ve pretty much played only D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG (a D&D 3.5 derivative). There was a short stint playing another old favourite, Vampire: The Dark Ages, but that game fizzled out due to lack of inspiration mostly attributed to game session scheduling difficulties. I think I’m starting to reach another turn of the cycle as I find myself wanting more story and character and less mechanics and gaming table off-game banter. We’ll see how it develops.

Role-playing marathon weekend, part 3

Yeah, yeah, I’m aware its already Tuesday. Still… I was in Tampere last weekend for Mother’s Day and decided to run a few game sessions of Pathfinder Society for the smaller “sister-branch” of our Finnish Pathfinder Society -scene. The Tampere group is a whole different animal than the Espoo-Helsinki-Vantaa -group. It rests on the shoulder of former Espoo native and Living Greyhawk -active NiTessine and consists of around half a dozen active players. The modules I ran were #15: The Asmodeus Mirage and #19: Skeleton Moon. Both of these modules are quite mediocre, meaning nothing much to write home about, so I did some fine-tuning of my own to make the scenarios more interesting. I changed a few of the encounters a bit, changed the motivations of a few NPC’s, and added more role-playing flavor. My impression is that the game session was well received, as everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

The main difference I noticed when comparing to the Helsinki groups was that the Tampere group was a whole lot more reactive and less role-playing oriented. The gaming experience was more akin to running a tactical board-game with a narrative. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Its just… different from the more character oriented play-style I’ve gotten used to with my home game group and my own background of running a lot of Storyteller and collective narration -style games, where character immersion is a strong element, and where all of the participants are not only allowed, but expected to carry their own in co-creating the game world.