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Let's Be Bad Guys: Playing the Villain

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Villains are the classic heart of a good story. As much as we love to say the heroes are the beating heart, it comes down to how they respond to the world around them and how the villain of the story is maneuvering. The heart felt moments, the beautiful moments, the breathtaking action sequences happen on screen for your heroes. But behind all these dynamic, flawed, beautiful heroes is the villain, classically twirling his moustache and spouting out his secret plans for the viewer.

In gaming though, we don't really give screen time to our villains. In fact, we make a lot of effort to hide what our villains are doing. In Trad games, our villains are the classical types, whose plots are laid out like breadcrumbs for the heroes to follow. In many story games, the villains aren't anymore grey than they are traditionally. Except sometimes there aren't villains. There's just some people who can be bad guys if you piss them off.
But in that transition from trad to story, how…

Believable NPCs: What Makes A Person?

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The question I get asked most as a GM is how I make my characters so believable. When I'm running a game, people often talk about how layered the npcs are or how alive they seem. My players fall in love with them. They want to help them. They want to save them. They want to be involved in their plots. Why though?

What is about npcs that can make or break a game? How can we make these characters feel like they have life and purpose? Really, making good npcs comes down to how effectively we, as facilitators, can use the npcs to communicate a realism to the world. They are tools, like any other tool, allowing us to infuse a certain feeling and style to the world we've put the characters in.

On top of that very huge demand, we're also using them to impact our PCs and our players. Npcs have a huge responsibility that comes down to making the players care, just as much as making the characters care. Partly this means using the npcs to invoke a certain amount of bleed. Which inh…

Game Review: Hearts Blazing

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One of the most satisfying things in the world is playing out an entire season of a television show you wish you could watch. And that happens sometimes. Sometimes you manage to make it through nine or twelve sessions of a game and come out with a full beautiful arch, where everything has been woven back in and you're left on a great cliffhanger for next season but so totally satisfied with everything that happened this season. I mean, nine out of ten times this doesn't happen. Scheduling, mostly being the problem. But when it does? Gold.

Last year at Jiffycon I sat down at a table with a lot of amazing people, including my best mates Rob and Rach, Shane Liebling whom I've come to love immensely, and the ever impressive Glenn Given of Games by Playdate. Hearts Blazing was on the table and since I had backed it on Kickstarter, I wanted the chance to try the game. I had played Ten Candles earlier that day with Glenn and had enjoyed gaming with him, so I was delighted to see…

Breaking Consent: Dominate, Charm Person, and Love Potions

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Recently I was playing D&D and we were choosing our spells. I'm a warlock, and a chaotic evil character (pirates, right?). Friend was on the list of options. I looked at it and remembered the days of Charm Person. Those days when you were caught in an alley and the brigands looked like just maybe, maybe they could be reasoned with. And you'd roll diplomacy, inevitable fail, but before the GM could toss you on your ass with an attack of opportunity, you'd reach out, touch that ugly as sin bandit, and charm his ass off.

Ah, magic.
Whether it's Charm Person in D&D, Ron Weasley drinking a love potion in Harry Potter, or the vampire hypnotizing you into liking them in Monsterhearts, our culture, and evidently gaming, has had some serious problems with consent in the past (and today). As our culture begins to shift into one where rape jokes aren't cool anymore and consent is taught in schools, gaming seems to have yet to catch up.

For decades now, the power to t…

Real Games: Gatekeeping and Dismissiveness

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Once upon a time, in the blessed lands that held our gaming ancestors, there was a way things were done. There was the GM, the players, and there were rules with mechanics that supported the game. These mechanics helped define what would happen in the fiction of the game. The fiction of the game was the world the characters, who were played by the players, inhabited. The world was illustrated and controlled by the GM. The goal of these games was to explore fantastic worlds, be the heroes, and provide a simulation of what being in that world would be like. The more close the game tried to be to real, the more rules it needed to pin down every possible bit of the world. The end.

Except it's not. Gaming has evolved so much in the last few decades that some games are hardly recognizable against the traditional games we know and love. I sometimes wonder what our original designers would think when they look at games like The Quiet Year or When the Dark is Gone or Fall of Magic. I mean…

Breaking Down Tropes: The Avenger

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The paladin waxes on his family, their loss, and how that has left him a broken man. The knight speaks of his daughter's death and how he will stop the tyrant who killed her. The wronged talks about how she became a hunter because her wife was killed by the demon she hunts. The child has grown up to become a cop because his parents were killed and now he keeps the streets safe.

By Grabthar's hammer, they shall be avenged.

Society loves the person who's hunting for the thing that hurt them. We love a good revenge story. We eat up stories about wronged children, fridged wives, dead babies, and the poor soul left behind who takes it upon themselves to right the wrongs committed against them. Well, against those they love. We love it so much entire television shows are based around the Avenger. From Revenge to Supernatural, popular media has fully embraced the very classic revenge trope. And so too has gaming.

In any game I've played, it's perfectly normal to have som…

You Belong Here: Building Inclusive Spaces

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I'm sitting in bed working on inclusivity policies and harassment policies and community guidelines. In another document I have some ideas on how we can make Breakout even more welcoming to all gamers. As I flick from screen to screen, ensuring that all my ducks are in a row and that I'm not excluding anyone, I wonder what I should blog about. It's on my list for today and honestly, I haven't really thought much about it. I know I have topics patrons have asked me to do. And one of them was how to make an inclusive community.

At the time, I thought the question was answered by my guide to making conventions more women-friendly and inclusive. Partly, I'm not comfortable talking about how to make communities more welcoming to other minority groups because I'm not part of those minority groups. I'm a woman. I'm queer. That's all I got. Otherwise I'm as white as it comes and raised in the middle class and currently live in the lower-middle class.

A…