Showing posts from 2017

Game Hack: Writing Toronto for Urban Shadows

I run a lot of games set in Toronto. It's my city. I love it. I hate it. I live in it. I've been here for a lucky 13 years, probably more now, and it's always one of my favourite places to run games. Toronto is unique in so many ways, and yet feels the same as any other metropolitan city at first glance. Whether it's because it's tucked away in Canada, or because all Torontonians believe themselves at the centre of the Canadian universe, or both, it isn't clear. But what is clear is that Toronto provides an excellent location in any urban game.

Running a game set in Toronto, like any game set in a place you're not from, will require you to do some research. Like many major cities, Toronto is home to dozens of neighbourhoods. Each has its own unique vibe, purpose, and subculture. Hell, someone even drew the neighbourhoods of Toronto and assigned magical creatures to them. Whether it's post-apocalyptic Toronto or urban fantasy Toronto or Victorian Toront…

Off the Beaten Path: 3 Little Games

Between conventions, retreats, hang outs, meetup, and monthly events, one of my favourite things to do with my friends is try out weird little games. It's how I end up playing things like Lost in the Rain or Slayers or Before the Storm. At every turn, whenever I hear someone mention the words "it's this weird little game" I'm instantly listening and usually buying just moments later. I love one shots and I love intense experiences. So far, I've found the best way to get that in the short term is these tiny little games.

What makes a great little game? The same things that inspire any good game: it hits the notes it promises and hits them hard plus it's easy to play and grok. When I'm playing these games, I'm looking for how many hiccups there are on the way, how good it is at pulling emotional feedback, and how much work it is for me as a gm or a player. To me, little games should be pretty fast to pick up and play. There shouldn't be a tonne …

Absolute Power: Playing Oppressed as the Oppressor

If you don't know, I recently went on a WWII Poland and East Germany tour. It was unsettling, horrifying, impressive, incredible, and deeply upsetting. I don't have words to describe some of the things I heard, saw, experienced, or felt. I only saw echoes of a past I couldn't comprehend. I was hearing stories and seeing scars I would never have. This wasn't my past. I could listen and bear witness but I could not understand. I could stare at the wall of hair, the piles of shoes and glasses, and walk through the gas chambers into the crematorium and still not understand.

The world is inherently full of horrific things. Our history as a species is bloody. It is full of corrupted power, politics, war, and death. It has mass killings, starvations, genocides, chemical warfare, biological weapons, conspiracies, vast political lies, and bloated bodies. Some of us have benefited directly from this world. We sit in our homes and complain about how slow our internet is or how ex…

Let's Be Bad Guys: Playing the Villain

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?

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

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

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…