Saturday, December 29, 2012

What's On Their Minds?

Recently I have encountered some issues in my super hero game, where one of my players took exception to how I responded to one of his character's actions.  Allow me to set the scene:

The team was at an auction, planning to bid for some magical item that would be key in bringing one of their own back to life.  Hey, it's a super hero game based on comic books, characters always have a chance to come back to life; it all depends on the circumstances.  The team's plan was to bid on the item and if they lost then try and convince whomever won to turn the item over.  Or beat the crap out of them and take it.  Again, it's based on a comic so violence is almost always a solution to any problem.  Things grew confused.  One player made an initial bid and another wondered if that was according to plan.  Bear in mind that after a couple weeks memories can get a little hazy.  I was not precisely sure what the plan was; I was going by a list of events I had planned out that would be triggered based on their actions.  However, I gave everyone plenty of time to change their minds if they wanted to.  Their item was the twelfth up for bid and I went over the first two items by way of providing the players an opportunity to scope out their surroundings, see the competition.  They had some two weeks of real time two change the plan somehow if they so desired.

Things began to break down.  A third party bid for the items, a potential ally or enemy depending upon circumstances.  It was at this point that the player in question decided to threaten to use their magic to destroy the items if they were not given to the team.  The auctioneer took exception to this and threatened sanctions against the character's magical clan if such an action were taken.  The player decided to vent to me privately.  They were upset that I did not give them enough time, that the implied consequences were too harsh.  Finally, they were claiming my assertion that he could not carry out the implied threat anyway did not matter because his character was bluffing.  I admit at this private e-mail I lost it.  For the past couple months off and on I had been getting these annoying e-mails from another player on one thing or another.  It was really calling my competence into question.  And now I was getting this long e-mail suggesting I had gotten so many things wrong?

This player has quit my game.  They might come back, I don't know.  Right now I don't really care.  I don't need that attitude in my game.  They were wrong about the execution of the plan, they were wrong in regards to the amount of time I gave the players to change the plan, they were wrong where it came to the threats the NPC was making against them.  And they were especially wrong when it came to the bluff.  You see, the player did not tell anyone they were bluffing.

This is not the first time the player had run a bluff and made a mess of things.  Months back, with another character, they had captured a wounded enemy.  This player told another player to threaten to destroy their captive's knee, to cripple the wounded villain. Keith, the one threatening to cripple the villain, role plays Black Angel as someone with She Hulk's strength-

Black Widow's training-

 and Wolverines psychotic attitude.

Black Angel was going to cripple the villain (Feldgrau, whom everyone thought was a Nazi based primarily on the name and the pic I chose, which has a woman wearing a leather military cap. Personally with her whip I saw her more as a dominatrix.  But I guess Keith thought that hey, if she were a Nazi then all bets were off.) without a second's thought.  This resulted in William, another player, role playing his character as strongly objecting to this torture.  The result was a big mess with my contentious player claiming this was all supposed to be a bluff.  The problem?  He did not tell anyone he intended this to be a bluff. He had assumed everyone would be on the same page as him.  The result was his character becoming unplayable because he was now stuck in the role of hero gone over the edge due to stress.  It was a horrible mess because he did not do one of two things. The first would have been the most direct, and the would have been some means of in-character interaction suggesting this was a bluff.  Keith's character could have easily made the threat of crippling the bad guy believable with Black Angel's training.  The second?  Internal monologue

Internal monologues are unique to PBEMs; they allow a player to express their character's inner thoughts, opinions and intentions so that the GM has a better handle on what the player has in mind.  If a character does not say out of character what their intentions are then use of an internal monologue is a perfectly acceptable (In fact, I would say preferable) alternative in many cases, provided the intent's nature is not needed to be known by other players.  This player did not seem to get the idea that if they are committing an action that seems ill-conceived or out of character, the other players and his GM are not telepathic and are unaware of his true intentions!  The same goes for table top games; a player can't simply sit there, tell the GM his player said something and assume that the GM knows he is bluffing if that is his intention.  One cannot assume anything is implied.

I hope this player comes back to my game at a later date. I have known him for twelve years and it would be a shame to end our friendship on this sad note.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Song of the Week, other stuff

Hey, look at that; I've got a tenth follower!  Welcome!


Damn, that makes me feel obligated to, you know, write something RPG related.  I am working on something but it probably won't be up 'til after the holidays.  In the mean time I realized that where Song of The Week is concerned I haven't posted any Tori Amos outside of her doing a cover of Kate Bush.

Tori Amos is one of those performers who was, in a way, cursed with starting out with the perfect album (Y Kant Tori Read does not count.  Why? Because I said so, that's why.).  Little Earthquakes is a masterpiece and I rank it up there with the likes of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love.  The problem is everything Tori did after that, to my ears, at least, simply does not measure up.  I like some of her songs here and there but overall I think Tori really nailed it on Little Earthquakes in a way she never quite did later on.

Okay, now this could just be a situation where a musical performer has gone to places I simply do not wish to follow.  I was never a fan of Prince's work, post Purple Rain.  And as much as it pains me to admit it, I am not digging Kate Bush's new material.  It happens.  So it could be that creatively Tori is still spot on and I am not hearing it.

Anyway, I think my favorite song off the album is Tear In Your Hand:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Song of the week

Every Sunday night I listen to a radio program called The Sideshow.  Hosted by Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fame and Kerri Kasem, daughter of Casey Kasem.  It is a heavy metal show and while I am not into all the tunes on their top twenty I often do come across some music I like. Take Volbeat, for example.  Danish rockers, Volbeat has been around since 2001, battling in the music trenches to finally get some recognition over on this side of the pond.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Study in Evil, Part VII

Last year I wrote a series of articles talking about various villains from different franchises.  I discussed T’Pol and Khan from Star Trek, The Empire from Star Wars, and Marvel Comics’ Emma Frost, The White Queen.  In each case I explained why I thought the different villains worked in their respective storylines and how in Frost’s case she had been horribly botched due to the retconning of her character in an attempt to make her less villainous.
Over the next few weeks...or months...I am going to be discussing a new crop of villains in much the same manner. But what separates these bad guys from the others is what ties them together.  I speak of a character’s journey from villainy to the side of light...or at least moving a tad bit away from the dark. 

We begin with this man.

David Xanatos.

Before I get further into this I have to talk about the series this character comes from.

Gargoyles was one of the best television series ever made.  Not just animated series: television series.  Period.  Not only was the art good, the plotting was well laid, the scripts well written.  The voice acting talent was also wonderful; it was comprised of half the cast of Star Trek, The Next Geneartion.  It was a show adults and children could both enjoy in that the violence was not too extreme but at the same time writers did not shy away from adult subjects like family, loss, death.  And on top of that villains were actually complex; I think of all the bad guys introduced only one of them aside from the Vikings in the first episodes was out and out evil.

And speaking of complex villains we return to the picture above, and the most awesome bad guy of all: David Xanatos.  Xanatos was the principle villain through a majority of the Gargoyles television series (We are ignoring the follow up series The Goliath Chronicles as I never saw it and from what I have heard it was terrible.  Apparently Disney made the gargoyles more kid friendly, thus largely destroying that which made them cool.).  He first appeared in the series as the man who broke the gargoyles’ curse by purchasing the castle where they rested and placing atop his skyscraper.  This fulfilled the conditions of the curse which would allow them to once more become animated during night time.  Xanatos then proceeded to manipulate Goliath and the gargoyles into staging a series of robberies, his entreaties aided by the appearance of Goliath’s former lover (Which we discovered was given the name “Demona” by the humans she had terrified.  It is a name as subtle as Sinestro.).  Goliath discovered that instead of recovering property stolen from Xanatos, the gargoyles had instead acted as thieves!  When confronted Xanatos responded , using robot gargoyles to attempt to kill the real ones, a plot that failed.  Demona apparently fell to her death and Xanatos was arrested by the police for endangering the public.

After this utterly awesome story arc that 1) established the gargoyles’ origin, 2) introduced two of the series’ principle villains and 3) provided the setting where most of the series would take place (New York City), Xanatos would appear in later episodes.  Even when he was not directly confronting the gargoyles he was manipulating events from behind the scenes.  So, what makes him a great villain even though he lost in his initial outing with the gargoyles?

Xanatos has a wonderful origin: David Xanatos’ father was a simple fisherman from Maine, but old man Xanatos’ son had bigger aspirations.  He created an empire based around selling a series of old coins sent to him anonymously.  It turned out that Xanatos would later travel through time, acquire the coins and arrange to have said coins mailed to his younger self, fulfilling his claim that he is literally a self made man!  

Xanatos is charismatic as hell:  Along the way David secured the services of Puck:

No, not that puck.

And not that puck, either.  I am talking about the Faerie puck, the trickster.  And he discovered Demona and secured an alliance with her.  The man even managed to manipulate his girlfriend into becoming a super villain for him when he created The Wild Pack!

Xanatos is resourceful: This is a guy who likes to change things up.  Robot gargoyle’s don’t work?  Fine, create a super villain team to fight them.  That did not work?  Find Goliath’s old brother, turn him into a freak of nature cyborg called Coldstone and sicc him on the heroes.  That did not work?  Create a suit of hi-tech armor.  That does not work?  Bring back your super villain team but upgrade them.  Huh, that didn't work either?  And true, Xanatos often lost, but…

The Glass is half full.  Xanatos was such a master schemer he always got something out of his losses.  When the gargoyles destroyed his robots he learned something from it.  When they defeated The Wild Pack, again he gained intelligence.  The man’s schemes never ended entirely in defeat.  He was so good at planning his method of thinking became known as The Xanatos Gambit.

And finally...

Xanatos is reformed.  David Xanatos had a very fulfilling character arc.  He went from arch nemesis to ally and through it all one could see the character's growth.

So as a GM what can you learn from this character?  First of all, if you do have a recurring villain, each time he appears there should be a fresh take every time the heroes encounter him.  Each plot should be a little different, his goals should change.  Or if they do not change he is coming at them from a different direction.  Xanatos exemplified this.  Imagine how boring the series would have been if every major encounter involved the team having to split up into different groups to head to different parts of the Earth to retrieve a segment of some device?

I find it a miracle GI Joe lasted as long as it did considering just about every episode descended in people firing red and blue laser beams at one another.

Second, do not be afraid to make your villains intelligent.  Now, that does not mean you should make your players feel like idiots, but there is nothing wrong with pushing your characters a bit, testing them.  These are supposed to be smart guys.  So even if they are defeated and captured they should have an out.  This does raise the problem of players growing frustrated with never capturing or entirely defeating the bad guy, so it is very, very important to use your recurring villain sparingly.  Make every encounter with him an Event.

Third, rather than making your villain a two dimensional cardboard cutout, give him some depth.  What if he can be reformed?  Remember this guy?

Now remember when Luke managed to turn him back to the light side?  When he threw The Emperor down the shaft?  It was a wonderful, feel good moment.  Hint to the players that there is a core of decency, morality, honor buried somewhere in that menacing, manipulative visage.  Have players try and reach it, cultivate it.  What if the true victory is not to defeat or kill the villain, but to turn them?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Song of the week

Back in the nineties there was this song, Tubthumping, from a band named Chumbawumba.

Wow.  I really hated that song.

That being said, I was watching Todd In The Shadows last week (Todd has a great show at That Guy With The Glasses: One Hit Wonderland) and he was discussing Chumbawumba.  During the review he played a clip of Chumbawumba's other hit single, Amnesia.

And I really wish this is the one that got airplay here in the States.