Saint-Sebastian #8

Plugs

Before we get too far into this issue there are various plugs for things I am involved in that I have to make. Since I rarely get involved with anything that I think is awful I would like to think of these as recommendations also.

Firstly Tim Eccles's new WFRP sourcebook/adventure Private War is out and I would thoroughly recommend getting hold of a copy if you are either a fan of WFRP or interestingly put together roleplaying scenarios. Covering the mysterious flight and subsequent pursuit of a university professor Private War sensibly opts for a central storyline around which plenty of background material is arranged to ensure that things are kept far from linear. It is a quality product and at 10 almost insultingly cheap.

Declaration of interest, Tim has contributed articles to my "other" fanzine CARNEL but he is also a regular columnist for Warpstone magazine. Neither of these facts change my opinion about the book - it is good particularly when placed against the current slew of sub-standard d20 products doing the round at the moment.

Next is Infinite Threads, a new fortnightly gamezine from veteran PBM moderator Colin Forbes. The entire effort is free which is highly admirable and therefore deserves major support from other gamers. The zine is primarily distributed as a PDF over the Internet to keep costs down, this also means Stateside gamers can easily get involved by visiting www.infinite-threads.co.uk and reading a copy for themselves. There are two roleplaying games, a "Fantasy Stockbroker" game, two Middle Earth Diplomacy variants and the usual word and fiction games.

My interest in it? I play in Colin's excellent Heroes of Olythanus PBM and I am running one of the RPG PBM games.

Finally my "regular" fanzine CARNEL has just clocked up another issue #16 in fact. The zine is available for $4 (PayPal) to people from the States and nothing more than an SSAE to those in the UK and Europe (96pp). Stocks are limited so it is first come, first served. See the website www.geocities.com/shudderfix/carnel for more details.

Interest? Well I write it dun I?

Transylvania Characters

Cicero Rex - Initial concept

Cicero was my first character for the Transylvania game. Destined to be an elder, the initial inspiration came from a visit to the British Museum's Roman Britain section and a picture from the Dark Ages rulebook of a shadowy figure using two swords.

So essentially Cicero started off as nothing more than a pig Latin name and a swordsman with a pair of Roman Legionnaire swords. I had not read any of the Roman orator and statesman's work when I named Cicero so it is fortunate that when I did get round to reading about him and his life there were some similarities that would help explain the character's adoption of the moniker.

The "Rex" element has its obvious source in the T-Rex or the king meaning of the word. Cicero was an independent character, an early believer in the importance of his historical significance. He was "king" of himself and the subject of no-one. This feeling really needed to grow during the game as while Cicero considered himself an individual all the characters began the game blood-bonded to their Elders (I told you the game was linear).

Later in the campaign the name took on a significance in its "tyrant" meaning. I am extremely fond of my goose-stepping little Austrian Nazi but almost right from the off Cicero was in many ways a bullying character convinced of his own self-righteousness. By the completion of the first chapter he even demanded that God judge his future greatness. Given more time Cicero suffered some setbacks and had his character softened but essentially he remained (remains?) a character who is a noble, cultured, diplomatic scholar and leader of men for the most part and has underlying it a nasty bullying arrogant and selfish thread to his character.

Some characters are made by their names but for Cicero the character grew into the name or at least I, as the player, could make all sorts of connections between the evolving personality and the name.

Comments

Lee Gold, Tantivy #315

In a comment to Jim Vassilakos:

And "burning the entire middle east off the map" seems awfully unfair to poor Israel.

Presumably this would be the same "poor Israel" that is condemned by the UN for indulging in extra-judicial assassination and persecuting minorities within its own citizenship? The same Israel that sunk an American monitoring ship to cover up their wartime massacres. Whose leader wants a "million Jews" to help colonise the West Bank and marginalise the Palestinians in their own territory. The same Israel who attacks stone-throwing children with tanks. "Poor Israel" indeed.

While Jim's suggestion was both emotional and atrocious there is no need to romanticise the aggressive policies of Israel. The current conduct of the Israeli nation is deplorable and reminds me of the old adage "with friends like these who needs enemies".

Steve Gilham, Agents of Fortune #192

Those not present - another hobby-horse of mine - it 's a good thing if a player (in the setting a few hours per week) can be reminded of things the character (there 24/7 since birth) would not have forgotten! Penalising such reality checking is another way for a GM to shoot himself in the foot.

I personally prefer it for players to make notes of relevant points in notebooks and the like so they don't have to break character to be reminded of relevant points. Incidentally when I play I do use a notebook and keep notes myself, I also appear to be gifted with an astonishing ability to remember the essence of an evening's events a week after it occurred (sometimes even longer).

We also tend to have a "warm-up period" before the roleplaying begins in earnest where people can kid around and the more dedicated players recap the last session events for the others - the GM can also kick in an offer their perspective on the campaign.

You seem to be saying that the principle of staying in-character should be abandoned because some players have poor memories or need the occasional prompt. This seems to be throwing the good out with the bad. I would say that the prompt should remain the exception to the principle of staying character rather than be a reason for wholesale abandonment of the principle of immersion.

I know from experience that talking in the 1st person is not a guarantee or indicator of role-play happening - it is, if anything, more true of "avatar machines". Also it implicitly limits to 1 PC per player - which with small player groups, can be impractical - amplifying 2 or 3 players to a more rounded group of half a dozen characters.

I didn't realise there was a minimum character quota for roleplaying! What a sheltered life I have obviously been leading. Is the six character quota set down in the now sadly out of print "Gygax Guide to Roleplaying"?

I regard the "multiple characters to player" principle to be an abomination, it is hard enough to embody one character without taking on two or three. Some talented roleplayers (usually those with a good experience of handling multiple NPCs and so on) can do it but not Joe Average.

It is clear though that we have very different ideas of roleplaying since I regard two characters having a meal in a restaurant to contain the potential for a night's fascinating roleplaying. Your implication though is that it just ain't a party unless the players are also playing the waiters, the two diners are going on a double-date and someone gets to play the cook.

None of the ideas I wrote about guarantee good roleplaying, I offered them merely as assistance to try and help weak or unconfident roleplayers to identify with and thus better embody their characters.

Write-up bribery - Is this meant to be an amusing pastime or a way of life?

One of the delightful things about roleplaying is that it can be both. All levels of commitment are possible, personally I believe that roleplaying rewards to a degree determined by the commitment given to it.

Player votes for "man of the match" or similar - I tried this. Once. The players discussed the issue and then abstained en bloc. What would you do then?

Players are voting for the person who contributed most to their enjoyment of the game. If they are all abstaining they are saying that no-one contributed anything of worth to the game. Far more valid is perhaps that all the other players contributed equally to game. If so they should simply vote at random. Mostly though it is clear that some people are having a good session and not voting for them is pure churlishness which I am glad is absent from my circle of roleplaying friends.

Oh, and I hate to burst your bubble, but the vast majority of PCs are and have always been "anonymous avatar machines" (or proxies as I've termed them). I can only think that your assertion is at best a triumph of hope over experience.

I cannot help but read this as "I cannot agree with what you are saying therefore you are lying". The goal of the article was to provide ways of moving the fledgling player from producing simple "proxies" to more fully-realised characters. I have been through this process with numerous players whether you believe that or not.

While I can accept (but not agree with) the argument of those who state RPG is "only a game" and therefore should aspire only to be entertainment your argument here seems more nihilistic. In essence it states that because there are poor players there is no reason to do anything other than cater for the lowest common denominator. I cannot and will not accept that and fortunately for me I do not. I play in a group of mixed ability but which as a unit and as individuals within that unit have (crucially) improved as we have played together. Playing and refereeing are both evolving skills so sorry you haven't burst my bubble but you have made me sorry for you, I'd hate to accept second-best as easily as you appear to have done.

Apologies

I would like to apologise for the last two issues of Saint Sebastian which were generally slapped together with little cohesion or even a general concept of what I was trying to do. I feel into the trap of feeling I had to write something to meet the deadline rather than writing about what I wanted when I wanted. In addition to that there was then the zine of "over-writing" less is most definitely more.

Masturbation

Distinct apologies to Brian Rodgers: my "intellectual masturbation" comment seemed to imply that he is a wanker! Not quite what I had in mind, rather than I distinctly like gamers who take a perfectionist approach to their games, who in card games build decks based on precise mathematical probabilities based on the knowledge of the entire card set. When playing wargames with people I hate those players who agonise over every move and try to ensure that all their pieces are optimal distances from one another and the enemy. To me the deck statisticians are the same in their field. Whatever happened to the "fog of war"? If you want a "pure" strategy game play chess! The "intellectual masturbation" is the desire to optimise a game response when the game itself has inherent random elements that encourage tactical responses. Non-collectible card games are attempts to return the emphasis firmly to the tactical situation.

Apologies also to Brian Misiaszek: "Rolegaming Product X ... is not a satisfactory substitute for God."! Perhaps this apology should also be to the English language, impassioned but incoherent rhetoric does not good reading make. Brian of course was not implying anything of the sort. The comment is correct in the essence but utterly overblown in its language.

End Words

Always wise to hide comments at the end so people aren't cross when the read of the rest of the zine. A few last points though, due to the fact that I have been writing a little too much recently I am going back to a self-imposed limit of about four pages, that means - no Theme related articles! To be honest though I don't find the next two themes to engaging. "Guest Customs" are a way of conveying NPC perceptions of PCs to the players, in terms of PC adherence to Guest Customs this is nothing more than "flavour" and not particularly more important than any other background flavour.

Player agendas for their characters are highly individual, which is exactly as it should be! I don't know what I could sensibly write about the topic, even my own "player agenda" varies according to the game, the setting and the GM!