The Importance of a GM

Well, that just seems silly doesn’t it.. Everyone knows how important the GM is, right? But do you really?, and do you show it, in action?

The GM is essentially your world, he’s the living breathing environment that is you as a characters life. But did you ever stop to think: What does the world do, when you do nothing? The answer is simple.. it does nothing.. we not entirely true, things are moving behind the scenes, and NPC goes about their business. But when you as characters sit around a table discussion what to do next, in essence you press pause on the GM.

Is it therefore important not to ever be still, never to linger but a moment? no of course not, but there needs to be a balance, not everything should be a debate, not every decision should be a discussion of pro’s and con’s. And not only so, to keep the momentum, but to keep your GM engaged. After all he’s only human too, and while we as characters take an hour to discuss the finer details of storming a castle, we are all engaged, but the GM is not.

For the work they do, they receive little credit, looked upon as part of the team/group, not many players realize what amount of effort goes into proving entertaining narrative for this team. So next time you see your GM, let him know how much you appreciate his efforts. And consider him a partner in your adventure instead of just the canvas.

After all, you don’t want your Dungeon Master to turn evil now would you?.. 😉

evildungeonmaster

The Importance of Friends

helping

Why does anyone need friends anyway? The obvious answer is strength in numbers right? It is of course much easier to overcome obstacles, and stronger foes when you are not alone to deal with it. And then the other obvious part, it might get a little boring playing an adventure without your buddies.

But very much overlooked is the fact that you as a team have the ability elevate each other to greatness seen from a roleplaying perspective. For the record the following was not a sudden discovery of yours truly, but a perspective introduced by our GM.

There will always in a session be periods where some characters have more to do then others, simply because of their class choices. For instance unlocking a magical door which is warded, might give the Rogue and the Mage lots to do, but the Warrior and the Ranger might feel left out, especially if the obstacle requires extended research and work. It might be each players own responsibility to not just sit around on their respective arses, but it’s perfectly legit and should be encouraged that other party members offer suggestions.

For instance the Rogue might turn to the Warrior and ask him to procure wedges to make sure the door stays open once unlocked.

The Mage could turn to the Ranger, placing his hands on his sides: “This is going to take some time, do you think it possible to secure some fresh meat for our meal tonight, I have a feeling we might have something to celebrate”.

Sure the Warrior or the Ranger could have thought about this themselves, but sometimes you just don’t. So make an effort to include your fellow players in the action. Besides the gold star for being a good comrade in arms. You “risk” bringing a lot more dynamic roleplaying to your team, and that’s never a bad thing, good roleplaying feeds of interaction between players and the GM, so remember to help your friends out when they seem a little stuck.

 

The hero’s dilemma

In my last post I talked about this RPG taking place in a brutal and highly lethal setting – in some ways it’s as much a survival game as a fantasy adventure. But what does it mean to be a survivor and a heroic one at that? We often discuss this both in and out of session — the complications of morality in these extremely difficult situations. I don’t mean difficult ala puzzle solving, but delving into a philosophical question with no real answer — how far do you go to save someone else at the risk to yourself, and is it worth it for you to die in the attempt? The latter question is sort of obvious being that you can’t play the game anymore if you are dead, but you can’t be paralyzed by that fear either. You wouldn’t be much of a hero if you never risked your own skin.

But as the GM tells us, there is a difference between a roleplay hero and a movie or book hero. Movies and books are inherently finite. Even if they have multiple sequels, they eventually have an ending one way or another. But roleplay has the potential to be ongoing for the rest of your actual life. This setting is designed to keep going, there is no real ‘cap’, no ‘finale’ or ‘end level’. As long as the GM draws breath and you keep your character alive then he/she has the potential to last decades. Some have. I’ve heard epic tales from the GM and other players about characters in this setting who have lived decades in real time. While that may not be the norm given the lethality inherent in the setting, it certainly is possible. So if this setting isn’t a one shot or temporary scenario like a movie or book, then how does heroism change?

Technically, a player could choose to risk their character’s life knowing full well the permanent consequences in real life – all that effort, investment and time gone to fulfill some heroic deed. Will it be worth it? Must you know that your character could truly sacrifice themselves because it’s in the very nature of the character itself? Is that good roleplay? Must one be on the prowl to do epic deeds for others or could even the mundane, day-to-day nobility of a character determine his or her real heroism?

We often focus on big dramatic events, like the soldier throwing themselves on a grenade or a mother pushing her children out of the harms way, a moment of absolute and utter self-sacrifice. But what of lasting sacrifice? What of ongoing or even subtle gestures of humanity? A lifetime of actual altruism? Roleplay is a place to escape the bounds of reality, and here you can play your character doing all the selfless things that you may, or may not, be willing to do in real life.

It sounds easy to be the good guy, to do the right thing, to be the hero. But in a brutal, unforgiving and ultimately plausible world, how easy is it really? Imagine a scenario where you are involved in a rebellion or uprising against a ruthless tyrant, you are fighting an asymmetric war against a seemingly invincible opponent. How far would your character be willing to go to ‘do the right thing’, act ‘for the greater good’ or sacrifice him/herself for a ‘greater cause’. These are all noble sentiments until the moment they aren’t. Like all things human, they can be corrupted, warped and distorted to great acts of evil in ways that are either subtle and invisible or overt and dramatic. The horrors of the 20th century weren’t caused by men who thought of themselves as evil. They believed in their hearts they were doing the right thing — that is until they lost. Then survival or even an awareness of the true consequences of their actions dictates a change of heart. Unfortunately, distance, time and space can distort the facts on the ground and make it much easier to devalue human life. I imagine this problem can be tenfold if you forget to consider NPCs as living, breathing human characters with their own dispositions and valuable lives.

This begs the following question: if your character found him/herself in a situation so depraved, so horrible and so unjust, what would they do? Turn a blind eye? Take it to some ‘higher authority’? Tackle it directly even if it surely means suicide? Or perhaps even participate. It’s easy to say to someone ‘it’s not like you had a gun to your head’. It’s not so easy to feel like you do. Threats are not always so explicit and the insidious nature of evil doesn’t always make ‘bad guys’ so blatantly obvious. The Rwanda genocide was one of the most insane, horrible and depraved moments in human history yet it was committed by relatively ‘normal’ people. As to the exact reasons it happened is far too big a topic to unpack here, but my point is that it’s easy for us to say ‘why didn’t you just put down the machete’ when we weren’t there.

In a roleplay setting that is as difficult as this one, in a world so harsh and unforgiving, a period of strife and suffering — how far can a good guy go until he’s not so good anymore? That is the real question here, the real stakes. Just surviving is one thing, but surviving with one’s humanity intact, their soul untainted and the morals uncorrupted – that’s another thing all together. The Rick character in the Walking dead is a good example of this. He’s a good guy, right? What about the fact that he’s killed people in absolutely savage and horrible ways? He’s been on the brink but he always comes back. Until he doesn’t. I wonder how much the show would change if that happened. Maybe it already has, I suppose it depends on your particular morals. Rick ultimately does whatever it takes to protect his group, his ‘people’. Is that the right approach in a roleplay setting such as this? Can morality be so simple? This has been an excuse for atrocity throughout history. But somewhat paradoxically it also allows for true heroism.

This GM is extremely good at giving us a setting that explores the very concept of heroism, doing the right thing, being the ‘good guy’. On paper, classic RPG moral alignment seems easy, but I can assure you in this setting it isn’t. Stick to those grids and you’ll be dead and/or corrupted before you knew what hit you. But stray too far from your morals and you might as well be dead. It’s a tough balancing act but it’s an incredibly interesting one I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else.

I want to live!

The GM often tells us that this is a game about survival – it offers limitless character development and growth, but only if you can live that long. I’ve been playing a few years now and have gone through a bunch of characters. But they didn’t die because arbitrary reasons, they died because I didn’t pay attention, I didn’t speak up when something was off or I simply made stupid decisions. Forgetting that this system is plausible, that NPCs are actual people, and that the world is cruel and does not give a damn about you – that’s what gets you killed here. If that seems daunting, it’s because it is. A lot of work goes into creating characters and it’s hard not to become emotionally invested in them. But the payout for this, for putting yourself out there, for putting the work in — is great.

It reminds me of trend in popular TV shows — main characters dying suddenly. The two most obvious are The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I won’t go into too much detail due to *spoilers*, but playing this RPG evokes the same tension and stress that comes from watching one of your favorite characters at risk in the aforementioned TV shows. You know that none of them are safe, they could be built up heroically and them BLAM, gone, winked out because of one lapse in judgement or being on the wrong end of some devious plot. In hindsight, their death doesn’t appear so random, but it sure feels like a shock in the moment.

This kind of roleplay isn’t for the faint of heart. The paradox is that the more you invest in your character’s success, the more you plan, the more you develop them, the more likely they will survive. Maybe. One false step, one moment of laxity as the GM puts it, and that’s it. New character time. Not because the GM is cruel, I can vouch for his complete neutrality, but because that’s just the harsh world the characters live in. This isn’t the 21st century, it’s medieval times and a fantasy setting at that. A sword wielded by a peasant will chop you in two just as much as cleaver from an orc. Granted it’s easier for an orc, but medieval weapons are no joke whoever wields them. Humans are basically just fleshy juice sacks and it doesn’t take much to puncture or crush them.

A saving grace in this system are immorality points – not quite ‘new lives’ ala Super Mario, but they can function as such, at least to a degree. I once had a character shot through the gut with a crossbow bolt. He was slowly bleeding out, dying in absolute pain and horror. Had he been a normal man he would have certainly died, but due to a divine intervention the bolt dissolved into nothing and the wound bound shut. My character felt something permanently missing, a feeling he can’t understand nor describe, but he knows he should be dead. The GM intentionally reveals little of our ascendancy, a mysterious relationship with the gods, it allows for character development, a sense of mystery and a hint at something much bigger lurking below the surface of the setting.

Unfortunately, immortality points likely wouldn’t mean a damn thing had I been killed by a spell that specifically targeted my soul. My character would effectively be gone for good and it’s back to making a new one at the starting level. The very nature of the mechanic means you can’t depend on it to save you, nor should you. As the GM emphasizes to us, not only is that bad roleplay, ‘oh I’ll just run in and get shot, but it’s ok because I have an immortality point’, but it’s ridiculously out of character. You don’t really understand why or how you are special, and you are still a human being who isn’t willing to risk their life on something so mysterious. Besides, doing absolutely absurd and irredeemable acts will obliterate your character regardless of how many immortality points you have – it’s more important for the setting to remain plausible and the GM neutral than it is for you to survive. You can always make a new character, but the GM can’t make a new setting. So sometimes you just got to grit your teeth and move on.

Think of it this way, The Walking Dead wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if you watch *spoiler* get his or her head crushed in only for he/she to reappear a few episodes later, “oh hey guys that was actually my twin that died, but I’m fine and good to go!” or some crazy story about them turning into a zombie then back to a human again. The show would go to hell real quick (in a bad way) if the writers started pulling that nonsense. People don’t watch The Walking Dead for cheezy soap opera drama, they watch it for the grit, the relative plausibility, the high-stakes drama. Sure, it sucks when your favorite character is bludgeoned to death by Lucille, but the show must go on and other interesting characters will develop or take his/her place. It’s the same in this RPG. It’s only over when you stop playing and that choice is ultimately up to you.

Heroes

Who doesn’t want to be a hero? It seems so simple, slay the bad guy, become the good guy, have everyone love you, right? But after the initial jubilation is over, the mighty oppressor is gone, then what? Who takes his place, if anyone? What kind of vacuum is left behind, which cockroaches will scuttle to fill the void? If you remove the symptom, but don’t cure the disease, what have you really done?

Our group just made a play that upset the power balance quite heavily in our area. It was the right thing to do, it was just, it was epic, but was it prudent? I imagine many settings treat this scenario in black and white — you either solved the problem and all is well or another bad guy will simply take his place. But knowing what I know so far about this setting, it won’t be so simple or predictable.

We’ve uncovered just the tip of a few seemingly intermingled but separate plots lurking below the surface, and only just begun to understand the implications of our actions. Sure, we are currently lauded as heroes for freeing the improvised masses from the clutches of a tyrannical lunatic, but we haven’t improved the harvest, given people work and wages or even given them any new leadership, at least not yet. There is still so much to be uncovered, so much to be done, and so many new enemies with their eyes now on us.

I don’t regret what we did, I just don’t think it’s really sunk in what it will mean in the long run. That’s obviously the point of the game — to find out. So I’m not concerned as much as I am curious. I won’t go into too much detail here, it would be much better told in a different format, but there are a few things I’ve been thinking about that the GM hinted at:

Outlaws – We just murdered a Castellan and everyone knows it. Luckily, the only witness thinks we are heroes, and the only evidence is a pair of boots thrown down to the bottom of a mine shaft. Well, and a melted mine entrance with a few tons of obsidian beside it, but who cares about that, right? Or the row of scorched trees… they’ll grow back. Regardless, in time questions will be asked and some sort of authority will show up to resume its role of ‘protecting’ the people. The funny thing is that protection may actually be needed. We were told one of the duties of the Castellan was to guard against whatever horrors dwell in that massive forest to the east of us. We don’t currently know how diligent the former Castellan was in that duty, or how necessary it was, but I imagine that could bite us in the ass if we forget about it. Does this mean we are now responsible for that duty, at least in the term between whatever ‘official’ will show up to take over?

Fame and infamy – Sure we are heroes to some, but what about the allies or friends, if they had any, of the men we killed? They surely thought they were doing the right thing, as horrible as it was, perhaps those that are left behind feel the same. To them we are the villains, the usurpers, the murderers. And they are right, in a way. While we were just in our actions, we still took the life of someone who firmly believed in what he did, and conviction can be contagious.

Plots and schemes – we obviously put the breaks on one plot, not that we have any idea what it really was/is, but we also stumbled across a few more. If there’s one thing that intrigues me about this setting in particular is that it’s both real and unreal. What I mean by that is what the GM tries to emphasize – the world is plausible, realistic, graphic and brutal; in that sense it’s like Game of Thrones (to give a pop culture reference) or more accurately like medieval Europe (at least the part of the world we are in; it’s a ludicrously massive setting). Daily life is ultimately mundane and uneventful for most. Going about one’s daily business isn’t all that exciting. Yet at the periphery, under the surface or just out of focus is something fantastic lurking. So much will pass without us ever knowing. Crazy shit is going down (to put it bluntly) and whether through accident or intent, it’s exciting to come across it simply because it isn’t everywhere.

As the GM tells us when we go over the top – less is more. That surely is the case here, and we have a lot of things ahead of us to find out. Or not. We could always take the villagers praises, their money and then their women and head off to the luxury island to the west to retire. End of story. Right? *glances nervously at the man behind curtain* Right?

Torches

I was surfing the youtubes the other day and came across this video series on torches. I kind of wish I didn’t because now it’s going to bug me. So fair warning, you may not want to watch the video or read further if you are sensitive/anal retentive about ‘realism’ (whatever the hell that means) in popular media. Granted I’ve never used nor seen a torch so I can only take the guy’s word for it. Feel free to chime in if he’s off his rocker.

The gist from the videos is that most popular media portray medieval settings with lots of torches and fire everywhere regardless if it makes sense or not. Fire needs a constant source of fuel, much of which creates thick smoke, and smoke makes it hard to see and well, live. Not only that, fire is everywhere for dramatic effect, even during the day, like it’s some sort of must-have otherwise it’s not an authentic medieval setting.

So with that in mind I’ve been thinking further about RP lighting. When I visualize a setting I’m often using what I know from movies or video games, both usually utilizing ridiculously unreal (for the time) fire light that’s not only unusually bright, yet non-blinding, but relatively smokeless as well. The real light sources are almost ethereal in effect, generated artificially off-camera or by the glowing rocks/walls that infest video games.

In video games, the solution to a pitch black environment (if there are any) is usually endless torches or limited torches that run out, but you can carry 1,000 of them in your infinite adventure sack. In roleplay, that can really break immersion. A few sessions ago the GM had to point out how ludicrous it was that we assumed we could carry many torches, as we didn’t realize just how big and heavy they were.

I bet most video gamers don’t crank the gamma down to minimum or even the recommended amount. (I often don’t, it can be really annoying not being able to see stuff). Not only that, most media doesn’t really demonstrate what fire light does to blind you, another thing the GM has pointed out to us multiple times – so if you are holding a big lofty flame directly in front of you because you think it’ll make you see things better, you are likely doing it wrong.

If anything, candles (sometimes in a lantern) and natural adjustment to the dark are a heroes best friend, not some gigantic Indiana Jones style torch.

Coming back to the classic RP dungeon crawl – we got a taste of one a few sessions ago, vividly described by the GM here, and it was scary as hell. Not only because there was a gigantic spider stalking us, but the GM would only reveal a few feet in front of us, despite us having the ‘mighty torches’, and when those ran out then we desperately scrambled for a new light source. If we weren’t careful, or clever, we would have simply run out of light and been completely blind because there wasn’t magic light emanating in every hallway nor were there courteous torch-lighting zombies running around preparing the hallways for our arrival.

So, while torches are cool and I’m sure they have their place, it’s not every place. When the GM reminds us we can’t just walk into a dusty old house with books scattered about, light a torch and expect a good result (which nearly happened), we shouldn’t take our foolishness being pointed out personally. Instead, we used the mighty sock and candle combo and all was well. While it may not have looked cool on camera, at least we didn’t burn the place down.

Let there be light

I don’t know how most RP settings handle something as mundane as lighting, but here it’s something that will get you killed if you aren’t paying attention to it or you are taking it for granted. When I was spelunking down a well, one of our biggest problems was simply lighting. But very few movies or video games I think of seem to deal with that, which kind of makes sense given that it would be a very dull movie if you couldn’t see most of it. It would probably also make the viewer nauseous having a dull, swinging light revealing tiny bits of detail for 2 hours straight. Movies or video games just can’t really capture what it feels like to be in the dark, and when they do it’s usually only for brief periods for dramatic effect. Same with books, granted my literary experience is minuscule, but I’ve never read anything that really captures that all encompassing sense of helplessness that comes from being simply in the dark.

Adults don’t really like to admit being scared of the dark, but I think at some level we are all because it’s so debilitating. We rely on and take for granted our sight so much that we don’t really notice it until it’s taken away. Back in the day, I would often visit my girlfriend who lived outside town on a dark country road, I rarely had a flashlight (I was an invincible kid) and I remember humming or even singing to myself I was so damn scared despite knowing full well there was nothing dangerous nearby. I have flashlights all over the place now, light my bike up like a damn Christmas tree, and damn near refuse to leave the house without some sort of light, yet I want to think I’m not scared of the dark. But it’s simply untrue. I don’t care who you are, darkness is f*cking scary.

Offhand I can only name a few games I’ve played that got lighting right, sort of, and neither are in medieval settings. One of them is Doom. That game scared the crap out of me and I didn’t play it much, probably because it was too damn dark and creepy shit kept jumping out and murdering me. The other game I remember leaving a mark is aliens versus predator. I remember the darkness alone scaring me to high hell (granted the classic aliens motion detector blip, blip, blip didn’t help).

So when it comes to roleplay I’m trying to wrap my head around this situation. I understand that games can’t get bogged down with every minute detail, and my character is much more accustomed to low lighting than I am, but we players must make some sort of effort to maintain immersion. I imagine the GM has been generous with our oversight in this because we are still learning the setting, but I can see us dying simply because we ran out of light, got lost, and died of thirst (or some nasty creature).

I’ll let someone else who actually knows about the medieval ages chime in on just how dark it likely was, but I think it’s a fair assumption that much of this RP setting is pretty damn dark. Plausibility is king here and without direct sunlight or magical means, you probably can’t see all that well, at least not to the degree that we take for granted now. I’m starting to think I should be a cleric of Cortek again – “Hay God, Can I has floating orb of light plz? Oh drat, some peasants saw it and now they are grabbing their pitchforks. Oops.” Nevermind.

The adventure sack of infinite inventory

I remember playing Wolfenstein 3D, Doom or Duke Nukem 3D and feeling a little silly that I was effectively a floating barge of heavy weaponry. A pistol, excellent. Shotgun, yea I can see that. Ok, now a machine gun. I guess I could sling it around my back. Oh now a rocket launcher too. Dang, where do I stuff all these rockets? Whats this, a BFG? How many types of ammo am I lugging around!?

Coming from the video game land of ridiculous inventory systems I find myself wanting to have one of everything – rope, torches, candles, blankets, sleeping rolls, fire starters, logs, a tent, donkey and cart; a horse… wait, am I going on a camping trip? I can’t decide if I’m a ranger or a boy scout. I know there is something to be said for being prepared, but how much is over doing it? This is still an adventure, right?

Yet at the same time there are some essentials that are vital so we don’t freeze to death or find ourselves lost in the dark, a feast for spiders. We lowly non-magic users don’t have the luxury of conjuring things out of the void or snapping our fingers and having fire appear. However, this setting is highly flexible in what can be done. For example we found some old wood, wrapped it in a spider web, and voila! Torch! Granted that’s an obvious example, but a little reasonable Macgyvering can go a long way. So if that’s the case, how much do you really need to carry?

One of the key differences between veterans and rookies is knowing what to carry and what to leave behind. The socks jingle sticks to me, and it works. It got to be a little ridiculous once, but we found all sorts of uses for socks, (candle holder, ancient evil artifact protector, etc.) Granted that doesn’t mean you should carry 20 pairs of socks, but you can creatively make use of what you already have.

Then there is the trusty ol’ backpack. When you look at these epic fantasy photos, where is the hero’s backpack? How are they carrying their food? Do they even have any water? What about sleeping gear? Do they just magically camp out on the bare cold ground in their heavy plate armour? What happens when it rains or snows? Ok, so they have a horse, that must carry everything! But then where can the horse go? How do you feed it? What happens if it breaks a leg? I imagine it can be a pain to drag them through certain terrain, such as a deep (fantasy) forest. Then what if the horse refuses to go? Whipping it doesn’t seem very heroic.

I imagine it’s easier for a ranger as they can make do without the luxuries of home and can operate somewhat independently. How else would they range? But what about those wearing heavy armour? Mages or priests used to a life under a roof? I assume there’s a reason why militaries have baggage trains – it doesn’t seem very efficient nor practical for most combatants to carry what they need simply to survive the journey. Even then there’s countless stories of armies crumbling due to hostile environments before they even make contact with the enemy.

We are so accustomed to hopping in a car and going from point a to b quickly, complaining “are we there yet?” after only a few hours in our cushioned, air conditioned comfort. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t even that long ago that travelling across country was a dangerous and risky venture. But travel is a staple to adventuring and here is where immersion breaks for me in so many video games or movies. I understand that logistics isn’t exactly the most glamorous or exciting thing, but you can’t really ignore basic physics if you want an immersive experience. So when the GM says ‘you can’t carry that’, think about it from his perspective – if what he sees is a mighty adventurer hauling around a gigantic sack like he’s some sort of armored Santa Claus, we are doing it wrong.

So, now what? What the hell do I bring? It depends… ugh.

How do I look?

I’m working on beefing up some background on a ranger character and I’m stuck in a bit of a conundrum. One one hand, I want to look like Aragorn or more specifically Strider from the LOTR movies because he is badass, but on the other hand I’m trying to expand my horizons beyond basic archetypes. I haven’t read a lot of fantasy and from what I do read I tend to have difficulty imagining what characters look like regardless of how much detail is put into them. It’s usually not until I see an image of a character that I have a sort of aha moment, but even then, that’s a step removed from what the author originally intended. Maybe I need to convince the world that picture books aren’t just for children… Or maybe I just need to work on my imagination. Either way, for whatever reason I can’t seem to picture what my characters look like without directly ripping the idea off a picture from someone else. So Strider is the obvious choice.

But if I want to break away from that archetype, then what? My default response is to google image “fantasy ranger”, but that query just pops up with basically the same kind of thing — hooded guy in leathers with a bow and sword. I’ll think I’m crafty and change up the search terms a bit, but ultimately the same core image pops up in various degrees of sexy/badassyness.

I tend to pick from one of these images I like, then go about describing my character as such and keep that image in my mind. But then the GM asked us why we tend to go for these stereotypes all the time and why we don’t have at least two sets of clothes, regular daily garb and our adventure garb. I didn’t really think about that until he mentioned it, but now I feel ridiculous running around in my video game adventure uniform screaming “look at me world! I’m a badass ranger!”

As the GM has pointed out to me, in the LOTR movies even Aragorn wears downright fancy clothes when he’s staying at Rivendell; he’s not running around getting mud and dust on everything at all times. If anything his garb, appearance, even composure changes drastically as the movies progress. As the GM tells us, it’s the same with any good character in any setting, they need to adapt to their environment and change their appearance to reflect how the character has grown (or regressed). So it’s not really a problem that I’m imitating Aragorn’s image, the problem is I’m sticking to only one of them. So while certain character types would obviously be more likely to wear certain functional things, the rest is quite flexible and most importantly it’s all situational.

The GM here is quick to emphasize that NPCs here will react to what you look like, and while it may not always be obvious, it’s happening all the time just as it would in real life. If I were to show up to a job interview wearing a hunting backpack, camouflage gear and a rifle, do you think I would get the job? While there is something to be said for sticking out of the crowd and defying expectations, sometimes that’s not the best approach. I might get the job if it was for a hardcore hunting company, but I doubt that as I just walked into with a store with an illegally handled weapon which doesn’t say much to my professionalism. But even then, that’s from my cultural perspective. In other countries that could be considered a wonderful approach. This setting also takes into account those cultural variances which is why skills such as law, culture, etiquette or even anthropology are on our character sheets.

Now we have all sorts of layers of complexity here when it all started off so simple in my head. What do I want my character to wear? I suppose it’s the same answer I give when I get ready to leave the house — it depends…

It’s all in the details

I think one of the hardest parts for me in RP is being observant, paying attention to the clues and asking questions to investigate them further. I’m an RP noob, but a long-time video gamer so I’m having difficulty deprogramming the expectation of having everything presented in front of me so blatantly. I find that when I play video games I already have a preconceived notion of where things are, where to go next, which things to click on and interact with—jump on this ledge, go through that shaft, click on that lever, push on that secret panel. Most games now have glowing halos over interactive objects, mini maps or even lines on the ground with big red arrows pointing towards where you are supposed to go next. Some of these aids can’t even be turned off anymore and when they are its advertised as some sort of special feature or hard mode. Even renown puzzle games like Portal are linear and relatively simple. With a little trial and error, and little to no consequence for failure, you’ll eventually find the right sequence and be guided on your way.

But in an RP setting such as Ascendancy you don’t have the luxury, or handicap, of those visual aids. We are provided amazingly beautiful and detailed maps of the region and a basic top-down sketch of our immediate surroundings in Roll20, but it’s up to us as players to ask the right questions to populate those surroundings with relevant data. This is a point that the GM has to remind us of constantly. While he’s technically able to go through every little tiny detail we have ever seen, he has to do it vocally and that simply takes way too much time. So when he says we’ve entered a room and lists a few details of what we immediately see, it’s up to us to probe further. And in this setting, as has been described by one of our players (PCkillerY2K) here, those details are not just “fluff”. A cobblestone road is not just some road. It has a history, it has a reason for being there, it’s special. Think about the amount of work and effort that would have to go into building that road without the machinery we take for granted today. Imagine walking on a dirt road through the woods in the middle of nowhere, not seeing a soul for days, and then suddenly you are on a 4-lane paved highway. Where the hell does this go? Why is it here? Who made it and for what purpose?

Yet when we came across this road in session I didn’t think anything of it until the GM later asked us why no one bothered to ask anything about it. He had to point out that these details matter, not because he was trying to guide us anywhere in particular, but because he had to emphasize that in his setting things aren’t just seeded randomly. Even something as seemingly mundane as a road has a history to it, a purpose, a reason for it’s existence, and he can’t sit there telling us all of this because taking a step outside the door would result in a 10 hour description of every tiny detail we see. So it’s up to us as players to sort out what we think is relevant and pursue those hints until we are satisfied with what we know.

So what questions can I ask, how can I probe further without going CSI on everything and how do I keep track of it all? Anyone got any tips?

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