Friday, January 30, 2015

Sins of the Crusade Season 02 Episode 05 - Byzantine Allies

Note: Listening again to the game, I was really out of it. Thank you goes out for my players patience this session: +Dan Mungham  , +Wilton Heath  , +Milan Runic , +Il Pella , and +Mike Dulay for playing. I was basically losing my train of thought every 5 mins. 

  • Discussion about Dan's character and the possibility of the PCs killing him. So he made up a back up character. The next one would explore trying to export and import opium. 
  • Olek's Research, about 6 weeks or 6cp in Surgery. >>1cp in Philosophy (Empiricism) 
    • 1cp surgery for the Great Night Out
  • Dominic's Unravelling and Petty Intrigues.
  • Imperial Negotations. The party now has met and been introduced to many of the Masters of the court, and can make deals with them, while these "Masters" have the PCs in their radar. 
  • Cato's Nightmares, and working to a point of exhaustion.
  • Rumors of Theodor Garbas, Bishop Theophylact, and Micheal Taronites. 
  • Cato's Friendship with Constantine Doukas, and discussion to meet his mother Empress Maria of Alania.
  • The Party's Dinner Adventure (lots of things happened) - Intrigues with the former Empress, and the unusual alliance offer, and the unconventional acceptance. 
    • Dinner with Empress Maria and the Arrangements. Shock and Awe of the Empress coveted 3 Emperors. 
    • Enjoying themselves have consequences - strangely positive and no assassins jumping out to kill the PCs. 
    • Cato, uses his Psychology and discovers the vulnerability of Constantine Doukas. He brings the young Constantine as his apprentice. 
    • Offers and Negotiations. A reminder of the place of women, even those as beautiful or skilled as Empress Maria, in the Era.  
    • The drunk Pyromancer suggests a viral idea in the Empress. Later on the session, Xenophon, the Privateer, offers companionship to a woman who's served at the pleasure of Emperors.  (my signal was breaking up when I said this and the guys can't hear)
  • Cato's relationship with Adonai developes. 
  • Berthold's Tracking - Tancredi's secrets - meeting Nikephorous Milesenos and Bellanca Arenall. Nikephorous is meeting with two sets of agents. Berthold improves in Psychology, Area Knowledge, Intelligence Analysis (Espionage), Interrogation, and Acting by 1cp. 
    • His encounter with Peter Aranal, "thief" instincts cant find words whats wrong. 
    • Spending time researching Nikephorous Milisenos. 
  • Vito's Dealings with the Dalasenos. He gives up the "Empress" and lies to the Dalasenos that Bohemmond has dealing with Irene Doukas. (a lot of whispers being typed in the dead air).  
  • Xenophon, courting the Empress. Xenophon gains 1 charisma while he is with her. A lot of her rubs off him, and he learns more about the court. He gains Politics 1cp, Savoir Faire 1cp, Area Knowledge: Constantinople 1cp, History: Dynasties 1cp, 
  • Cato, and the Compromised Household.  
    • Infiltrators in the Vorenus Household. (a lot of whispers) 
    • After taking Constantine Doukas as an apprentice, and the Empress Maria leaves 
    • Poison attempt on the household of Vorenus. 
    • Konrads defends the household from Espionage. 
    • Olek's uncovers the lead poisoning Constantine and the food of the Party. He 
  • Xeno and Peter, and the 20 men. 
    • News of the Greek islands are asking for support. 
    • The Fleet has been assembled with John Doukas and Constantine Dalasenos "the Old Admiral". 
    • Xeno wants to kill Peter, and prepared an Ambush. He holds off killing Peter when he sees how pathetic he is. He takes Peter on as a armsman when Peter shows him how good he is with the sword. 
  • Cato confronts Dominic, with Olek. (3hr 30mins)
    • Examines the Poisoned Palace 
    • Dominic Vulnerable and Insecure 
    • They get Dominic really drunk, and in a spring of Inspiration - Ship him to fight with John Doukas and Constantine Dalasenos. Olek becoming the administrator of his estate while he is gone. Xenos helps the team, get Dominic in the Ship through 
    • Olek,begins his business in Opium.  
  • Xeno's and Rjogot
    • Vito helps him find a Fine and Balanced hatchets, and Fine and Balanced Axes, and Fine and Balanced Spear.
  • Rjogots' Wife, investigations with Berthold and Vito.
    • Vito manages to find the wife, Berthold investigates. They have their own intel, that the woman, a slave, seems to have a child with a Middle Class bureaucrat administrator in the city. She appears happy. 
    • The two talk to Rjugot and Rjugot wants to see for himself. He stakes out the house and finds the intimacy of the husband with his wife uncomfortable, and notices she takes care of his ailing wife. When they break in, Rjugot leaves a tuff of a his hair and the symbol of his ship in hopes she would seek him out. The child wakes up to see him go, bright red hair common only to his people and not these. 
  •  The Negotiation with Alexius Concludes. 
    • Vito plays a card, that seems to pull the rug under the team. Despite the significant gains of the Party, the Emperor learns of the secrets and alliances of Bohemon and quickly does a lot to undue them. 
    • Negotiations grid to a Halt, the emperor is trying to Starve out Bohemmond and despite the monumental efforts (Tied at a margin of 11 contested roll), bohemmon may need to agree to the lesser terms. Tancred plays his card, Nikepherous using his influence at the expense of the Emperor AND Bohemmond to resume talks and get them to agree. Bohemmon will say his Vows with a set back, Nikephorous entering the field and betraying him and the Emperor, leading the war at the front and probably STEALING all the victories from Bohemmond as well as the Titles and Lands these victories will convey. 
    • To salvage the situation, Cato points out the agreement's one flaw - IF the Emperor gets to ATTACK FIRST. This means if Bohemmond can take a Seljuk Occupied city, they can renegotiation terms from a position of Strength (among other advantages). With this new opportunity the Party assembles their sneak attack like crazy. 
Next Session is called "Back Stabbing" because thats what the party is doing to the Emperor by giving his Rival Bohemmond this opportunity to Win (and give them selves titles).

Monday, January 19, 2015

What Milsim has Taught me about Describing Combat and GMing

Airsoft and RPGs always keep being a source of contemplation. RPGs and behavior economics give me the words to describe most of what is happening in the game (while philosophy is for the WTFs). By knowing these terms I am able to describe what is happening and learn from it.

Then there is how I've improved in airsoft in the 7 years I've been playing coming from a sheltered, panicked, absentminded, and anxiety ridden person. Whats happened is that I had to find benchmarks/anchors by which to measure and understand what is happening and improve. Pain and Suffering is arbitrary - it is always hard, and change has always some sacrifice and suffering. The thing is when I found these benchmarks, the amount of Pain I can take, and the familiar symptoms and emotions they became a signal of what is to happen next - I learned control and a glimpse of what may be going on in the minds of my Characters and the Heroes I've read.

We don't look for the -5 penalty we are able to suffer to still succeed at a 80% chance, I look for a profile so small that my Iron sights will cover it when I aim my gun down at a distance I've experienced my BBs travel straight enough. I know in 25m I can hit the corner of my enemy's head if they tried to peek and I have the initiative. I know some of my guns can't hit that range accurately unless I use a mid cap and fire and correct my shots for it to hit, and even then the BBs are unreliable in their paths. I learned that I cannot assign penalties to what I feel, and they can never describe quite as adequately what is happening....

Go by Sensory and Emotional Cues

Hesitation, Buckling into a severe expression, the Sound you hear of footsteps and shuffling to the periphery of your vision, etc.. These Sensory and Emotional Cues can be learned by reading novels OR by actually experiencing them in reflection and in After Action Reports.

OK, after action reports is when we all talk about what happened as we percieved them. There is no judgment on the error - if you were mistaken, it happened what is important is getting the most honest and accurate information about what happened so that we all (everyone involved in the AAR) can learn something. Perception plays a lot of Tricks on us, there are many biases acting on us BUT its easier when we have something shared to talk about and communicate - What happened in this event. You can say this becomes a REALITY benchmark, and you can measure from here.

Note, my captain and a lot of the team are GURPS gamers, and GURPS books draw a lot from Technical and Historical resource books plus experimentation. It should be no surprise why it becomes a very useful language when we describe` some of what happen 

"When I got to the vantage point, I took a Wait maneuver, expecting an opponent to come from those corners (A successful tactics roll). The moment I saw any movment, a shadow or a reflection from the particles that littered the floor I started shooting. Sure enough they were there and they didnt expect me to fire so soon..."

For me. I can now see how my hesitation and anxiety clouded my judgement as I grew more confident since I journalized all these feelings. It illustrates how our emotions can handicap us immensely from performing at the level we can do... then there is the Heighten performance of being in the "Zone" when emotion, consciousness, and physical action are in perfect sync. 

This list can go on, but it will be so artificial to memorize. If you have the chance to challenge yourself in a new experience and try new things (while Tweeting/Sharing) the  words that arise from it, you may grow your own vocabulary to describe these many sensory and emotional instances. 

Teamwork - a Gaming Group is a TEAM 

Playing with a Team, and learning about my Team mates got me into to their heads that I have an internal conversation with them. I know what they normally approve, wont approve, and would do and we cover each other's blind sides. In TTRPGS, when I GM I feel the same kind of camaraderie and meld with the players when the Game is getting good and the DICE is making things harder and harder for us.

Its not that I know what they are going to say, its just that We've had this conversation before and I would be an ass if I wasn't paying attention and remembered what their answer was. In fact I can predict how they are going to act, they just gave me the tone and stance they take to know when something is important to them.

Having a reciprocation or responsive relationship is not just in the realms of  romance, companionship, and work... it is found in other mediums like Games. It can be as simple as making sure you give a receipt that you received communication (like "copy") but in RPGs its more of "Active Listening" type of Receipt.

Friday, January 16, 2015

GMing Back to Basics: Gming with very Basic Mnemonics - Active Listening GMing

The most basic mnemonic of GMing is being a good listener. Effective and Scientific Communication Skills are easy to take for granted - but there is a Science and Study on how often we fail to communicate - just some "house cleaning" about our communication habits would be a huge help our GMing or Playing.

Going back to Listening as GMing. Active Listening GMing, means the GM will restate his understanding of the Character and the Player's through a Narrative. Instead of restating what you understand in other words: you do it in a narrative. 

Player "Carlos believes in integrity, but does not care much for loyalty to any one individual."
GM (w/ Active Listening) "So how does that work? How does he seperate the sense of integrity vs personal loyalty to an individual" 
GM (w/ Active Listening GMing) "Carlos' works for Damien, a just and fair Patron. But Damien has certain expectations from his Agent, Carlos. Particularly Discretion, and begin talking to Carlos in private about his loyalties. Particularly what lines he would not cross for him, Damien his master."

Instead of Explaining or Restating. Work the question and conflict into the present situation (no time like the Present). 

What happens next is basically the GM taking the time to do this with every player. On their turn, he does this kind of Active Listening, and with every player his connects each one until he comes up with a narrative that involves them all. 

This method is so basic and fundamental, you can use it even if the characters are not together. The narrativistic Active Listening works and keeps the game fun when everyone discovers interesting things about each other and can make connections. 

I do realize this is the mnemonic I use when I run games. When I have the anxiety and doubt about what I can achieve in the narrative for the session, this method powers me through because who doesnt want the attention and the importance the GM gives to them in such a method? 

Other Tips: 
  • Like in Active listening: Keep asking, and try to get a picture. You ask what they want to do, while informing them of the extent of the situation where their character would be privy to. 
  • When the player explains and narrates a lot: Thats Great! (They're involved!) You save time by "Yes-&/But", basically agreeing but adding conditions ("...But") or complications ("...And"). Agree basically (while informing them of some particularities their charater would have considered for the optimum response). This way you give everyone as much attention as possible. 
  • When you ask for a roll, leave the player to set it up for you while you Start on the NEXT Player. This saves time and gets the game moving.  This technique grants a lot of Trust to the Players, reciprocating the Trust they place on the GM. 

Emphasis on Understanding.

Active listening is not better communications and not just simply having more data out of the other person. it is about having a deeper level of understanding and awareness. It is to gain understanding far greater than the sum of the words, Ideas, and non-verbal communication exchanged. 

Its the difference of a simple fact - ex. "Tom likes Jonie" vs "Tom is attracted to Jonie in a way that many of his negative compulsions arise and he is his worse self. Something about Jonie makes him more unstable, cynical, and sees the worse in people. In the same way Jonie enables this, despite Jonie's best intentions and attempts to correct and reverse this." 

Such great understanding its almost lke Cold Reading, but its through mutual trust that guards are down and good faith is assumed. 

It follows the Sun Zi tenet of "Know yourself, and know the Enemy" but instead of Enemy its just the other person. Its to better predict what the other person will want or do and how to best match that want with your own strengths. The "ultimate" strategy always boils down to the primary variables: which is people and being able to predict and react to what they are about to do or want. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Running GURPS like Fate, and a conundrum

So I've been running GURPS like Fate... this would tear the hair out of any GURPS GM. But then I go back to the detail of GURPS when ever it suits ME (so I carry the burden of the players trust heavily on my shoulders). Still even if it Suits ME, the players are free to use CP like they do in FATE (but GURPS has rules for such) which is to control the story and add elements by their own initiative or creativity.

The conflict is: If I can run GURPS pretty much like FATE but have the freedom and power to draw from the details of GURPS should I use FATE?

Character Creation

  • One big deal is that FATE is an easier character creation vs GURPS but...
  • ...GURPS has a level of detail that gives me TONS of things to work on or exploit to make for a complicated set of factors and conflicts.  
GURPS can be hard, its only been easy because I spent close to 500 hours making my own GURPS Medium (for my own use and not publicly distributed). Basically Taking GURPS Lite filling in the stuff that it left out of the BASIC SET BUT but cutting down the word count by up to half or less. So instead of 30 pages of rules for combat, I summarized the same rules (and every element) from a paragraph to a sentence or two. When players dont understand, they can always check Basic Set and various other source books being used for the Campaign (example I made a GURPS Lite for Sins of the Crusade, GURPS Lite for Warring States). 

Narrative vs Traditional

If you are from the Traditional school of Tabletop RPGs then the Narrative style is alien. This is very close to Improv and Story telling games more than an RPG. The Market for Fate and such a game style is smaller (see the Orr groups Industry report). In fact I have players who don't like this method of running a GURPS game. When they think GURPS, there is a very different style of GMing to be expected. I dont blame them, and honestly I am a GM who cannot give them that kind of game without burning out AND really can't because of my competing hobbies (I'm part of an airsoft team and there is a lot of fitness and various exercises that are needed).

Sunk Cost

How hard it is to rebuild everything in Fate vs Remaking everything in a more Streamlined GURPS. the Two years I've run The Ware Beneath Heaven has given me a TON of research material on balancing GURPS magic and making it easier. If you read my doctrine analysis of GURPS Magic or at least read the summaries you'll notice that I went it about the wrong way, there is a much simpler solution to all this. 

Announced I will use Fate

I have announced I will use FATE, but that is subject to change since I have not started a session and people have not signaled their intent to join the game. Still it was my contribution to the GURPS community to have a GURPS game and maybe it can still be that... except there is a serious difference in style and expectation...

The thing is if we are to be serious about GURPS claim that any rule can be thrown out, then this method is that Right being Enforced... and how one can enjoy a game that throws out rules so easily to favor stories or enforce them in such an arbitrary manner makes the recorded sessions an example of Hypocrisy or Complexity - call it what you will, I cant help but admit how arbitrary the game can be. You will have to exchange good faith with me to find out. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Gravity in everything the PCs do. Some mnemonic tools for your consideration

Things in a game goes along faster when we deal with what is important. We do this in summaries and bullet points, and in other matters. The thing is, what happens when we dwell in what is not important?

When there is something the Player finds important, but the GM doesnt or vice versa, we have a BIG problem. If we communicate and we cannot see what the other finds important we are in trouble and that is ineffective communication. Its so basic but

As a GURPS guy I would be crazy about details... but there would be so many details and some details didn't matter so much in the story as others. Still I found that the details I liked was not the same as the details my players liked. So I worked with the details they liked, sprinkling in the details I liked as the elements that threw them of balance (the "sh*t" people have to juggle).

Mnemonics: Mental Tools you condition yourself to ask or ponder

  • When the player puts for this course of action, remember what are his "buttons" and what he wants out of it. 
  • What I (the GM) want is what I want, its not what they may want. When in doubt ask again, I (the GM) should not need to be "hinted" more than twice. 
  • What they (the Players) want has a value in the story even if you have a hard time seeing it. When in doubt ask them to elaborate and narrate it with Internalization (with feeling), and go with those feelings. Muddy it up with all the other conflicting feeling you can empathize in the situation (practice your empathy when people are met with difficult or conflicting decisions, never make yourself an exception). 
  • Emotional Conflict can be read in both the Players hesitation and confusion, as in our own. For me when a decision is Hard, even when the facts are plain thats Gold. a game of easy decisions is not fun - its predictable, a game with hard decisions with compounding consequences is fun and mimics narratives of my favorite stories.  
note about the mnemonics. Our skills depend on how much we practice these and use them when the situation calls for it. Only practice and internalization/reflection can get them right. There is no quick fix - jut the humiliation/humilifying experience of starting out as crap and getting better. Honestly I havent mastered them, I've gotten practice but have a long way to go. 

As my interests grew: Work, Airsoft, Survival, Fitness, Self Doubts, etc... more details and altered preconceptions gave me more ideas and details to work into the games. My hobby getting into more "simulation" has recently increased my tactile experience about many things. Particularly using blow back rifles and playing games that encourage good habits over "Playability" lolz. Coupling this with my interest in Cognition and Empathy, and there are a mix of very unsettling details (like how easy it is to shoot friendly or get "killed" by hesitation or the consequences of shooting before thinking)

This, I realize, means one has to be willing to try out new things and explore new experiences. To take note of this experiences helps create a huge database for them and when the GM starts running the game all these experiences trigger the memories and conditioning of "How sh*t keeps never happening the way we planned it to be." A saturation of Details, and having so much material to use: using those that has not exhausted the patience or frustrated the players: so that they keep thinking of "New" problem solving methods. The more new experiences of problems I face in my life, the more the player's problem solving challenges in the game becomes Dynamic (and explains why I need a break of a 14 days between games lolz).

The funny thing about these "New experiences" is that it gives less time to Blog about them (because I select which is for public consumption) and which to keep in my private notes. So I have less time to blog about them: the trade offs of life lolz.

Anyway I hope this gets the players and GM into doing many other things or looking for more sources of enjoyment to compliment their GMing. Iin the end we exhaust what is close to us, and need to Range Farther for more experience and doing things Uncharacteristic of oneself.

I honestly open the invite to friends nearby to join me in crazy adventures and I'm open to joining them too (family, work, team, and player's obligations permitting)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sins of the Crusade: Episode 4, Season 2 - Byzantine Enemies

Thanks to +Willy So , +Milan Runic , +Il Pella , +Thunder Clonch , +Dan Mungham , and +Mike Dulay for joining the game.

When the lion cannot fight his own battles

An Improvised ambush. The party's warriors and lord walk into the crosshairs of what they later learn was an unintended ambush. Rjugot was invaluable "gunning down" one of the assailants who tried to take out Bohemmon. Tertius and Xeno advance and call out their men who are just around the block.

Tertius' battle voice causes them to hesitate, Xeno moves them forward in a guarded advance. Their assassins change their mind and retreat, only to be mowed down by their men and Rjugot. All the while Olek gets the drop on the mastermind but has a rash of bad luck. He was lucky  the soldier did not have the presence of mind nor the time to take out all the witnesses.

They captured 4 men, 2 badly injured. They were sent  to the ship to be watched and they had one witness who saw the leader. Bohemmon is not please to learn unsettling facts about Umberto, but Cato channeled his energies to please his lord and distracts him with the negotiation with the Emperor: Cato's usefulness means he and his assets are aiding Bohemmon in dealing with the empror. But before the day is over, Cato introduces the party to Vito a man who is very knowledgeable of the inner workings of byzantine politics.  

The Anarchy of Families

Vito proves helpful in a way, for a man with many connections he is very cooperative with the party. He joins them in return for some assurances regarding Bohemmons negotations, that the the Venetians Interests are not "Interrupted" by his ambitions and his help comes with such conditions. 
They talk about the families at length, but Xander Delasenos seems to be the focus of his inquiry second would be Nikopheros Milesenos. 

When they consult Konrad, a different story plays  out and more names are added to the possible people who may want them dead including Garbas, Tartiones, the Palagios, Angelos, etc.. The mysteries get more complicated and the matters muddier.

Berthold shows up and explains his absensce, telling the look of the Assassin who slit Umbertos throat in the shadow. He offers to go to his old contacts and watch Xander.

The burden of men who fight

Xeno and Tertius visit Marten and they talk about what happened and who could be behind them. They learn a lot about each other, their loyalties and ideals. In this, they discover the kind of men that govern the fate of the empire: Bohemmon, The Empreror, and the Generals they served and the battles they fought. They came away with not just a better understanding of themselves but who is behind this and why else...

Obsession and Finding Courage, 

Olek, Ivon the Doctor, Vito and Miroclones are on the ship. Ivon and Olek is administring to the prisoners and are caught up in their Faith and fervor. A prisoner loses his finger, one dies, and they are subjected to great suffering. Miroclones so conflicted draws a line at the actions of his allies, only to find more enemies: Dominic of Matera steps in looking for Olek and involves himself in
Bohemmons affairs. While Miroclones may be an educated an he is a man of the world and believes in men who are just and of righteous cause, he does believe these others have such.

The irony of Mirocloneses prison stay among the Turks is he would have never been exposed to the Hippocratic tradition perserved by the Islamic scholars, who instead of embracing suffering, wanted to ease suffering - if not for that exposure he would not have had such an alien belief which marks him as a heretic in a way.

Olek and Ivan leave, with Dominic. Olek observed Miroclone's method and wants to replicate it, Dominic is enchanted by the Fire and power Olek can give him and plots. Two men fill another's fantasies, and One man discovers a rare art.
When news of Dominic's actions reach Cato, he calls his allies together and sever action must be taken, even if all his resources are tied to wringing power from his Emperor.

Next Game is PST 4pm, EST 8pm Friday night January 23 and Jan 24 9am Australia and 7am Philippines (China, SG, HK, Taiwan  etc.). 4-4.5 hours. Currently Google and Roll20 is screwing up my Time zone even if I repeatedly change the time to correct it.  

GMing Update: The War Beneath Heaven

I'll be continuing The War Beneath Heaven, my Modern Fantasy Campaign set in the new Frontier of our era: Africa to scratch my Modern Setting Itch - Work, new skillsets, and many other experiences have made me more capable of running a Bleeding Edge Fantasy Game. 

Currently Looking for an Expert on Nigeria, Lagos. 

Planning to run the game but Change many things:
  • LAGOS instead of Haven, the Fictional Nation the PCs are now going to based in Nigeria with some a lot of fictional elements s as I learn more about the country. They will be based in Lagos. (If I can find a Local expert I would be happy to listen in)
    • There will be many Expats and Multinational Factions represented.  
  • FATE I'm shifting to Fate Accelerated (which is the Lighter Fate). Basically very system light, but concepts have to be very grounded - the GM will
  • Supernatural is more toned down. Still preserving much of the Doctrine. Fate rules regarding supernatural abilities is that they simply cost more. 
  • Schedule. Currently Irregular and will Temporarily Alternate with Sins of the Crusade as we reach the end of the Second Season. This will run for 8-10 episodes typically alternating week ends or succeeding (depending on my schedule). 

What to Expect: 

  • Disempowerment despite the Empowerment of Elite characters. Basically my rule is I will enforce consequences, No Good deed goes unpunished and Uunexpected consequences happen despite ones intentions as I am a fan of Game Theory. So SHIT happens, and the Story is your character dealing with a lot of SHIT. If you like that then you might like this game. Most of the Cast died last season, and I allow sociopathic characters PCs and some internal conflict. 
  • Disturbing and Offensive - Modern Day Slavery, Ideological Limits and Breaking Points, and Compromise. Goes without saying in Disempowerment game. 
  • Psychological Afflictions - (from +Christian Blouin) Characters can be inflicted with Psychological Afflictions and biases as they are with Physical Afflictions as consequences of actions and words. This means Players can try to Influence each other's characters and there are Psychological consequences and Biases that affect them (Fan of Dan Ariely's, Prof Stephen Hinshaw's, Prof. Patrick Grim, and Robert C. Solomon - a kind of disclaimer if you don't like such Ideas in your game). Role-Playing is highly encouraged because we roleplay how our character makes decisions and rationalizations with these biases. 
    • If someone Poisons the Well successful against this Character, those who are Psychologically Afflicted must act in such a way if their motives and mindset encourages the affliction.