Thursday 29 March 2012

The Magic Character Sheet

That’s a title of a ten-volume epic fantasy book series right there.

Now I need to think of another alias for this player… I’ll call him Mike. Mike was a keen gamer with a pretty good eye for detail but Mike had one game-breaking flaw – he didn’t like to lose.

Mike’s cheating would take two forms – either he’d secretly write equipment onto his character sheet (hence the term ‘Magic Character Sheet’, as things would magically appear in his equipment list that would be just the right thing to get him or the party out of a jam), or he’d try to cheat at his dice rolls.

The Magic Character Sheet was his frequent trick; between games he’d no doubt think about what he might need to get him through the next game, based on what had happened in the last adventure, and enter it onto his character sheet. It was a large group and it was sometimes difficult to keep track, and I’d allow the use of items to keep the game running without fully realising that he was making it up. He’d even manage to scribble items onto the sheet during play… God knows how I never noticed that. In the heat of a game these things can be missed. This was in the days before I started keeping the character sheets myself – it was Mike’s fault I started doing that. I didn’t want to just take his sheet off him and risk an accusation of singling him out – even though it was only him, as far as I could tell, who was doing it – so I had to make a general request. This was a shame as some of the players felt like I didn’t trust them. Still, what else could I do?

The dice rolling was easier to deal with. He’d roll the dice and then scoop them up, declaring success. Or, and this was the usual trick, I’d turn to him and ask for a roll and he’d point at the already successful dice in front of him and declare he’d already rolled. This was especially during combat. To stop this I made a simple declaration before the game started – all rolls must wait until I ask for them and be rolled while I’m watching. I also banned ‘bombadier’ rolling – players who would roll multiple dice one at a time, and drop their next dice on a previous bad roll in the hope of knocking the die over onto a better result. All dice had to be rolled at once or I’d declare an automatic failure.

All these ‘regulations’ actually ruined Mike’s enjoyment of the game. Now that he couldn’t succeed on a regular basis, basically have some form of control over the game and direct it the way he wanted to go, his fun died away and he ended up not attending the games – he basically stopped gaming because he was having no fun without cheating.

I think I handled it well enough. I didn’t get angry or cause a massive argument/fallout, and I made sure that my rulings encompassed the group, even though it was obvious I was implementing the rulings because of one player. I made sure that they all knew what was expected before play began and I also made sure I never, ever, forgot their character sheets. They could still tinker with backgrounds and character ideas but the stats and equipment lists couldn’t be surreptitiously adjusted.

I simply don’t understand gamers who feel it necessary to cheat, especially if the cheating defines the game for them. I was guilty of it in my early gaming days when my natural aim was to ‘win the game’, but when I realised that failed rolls are just as dramatic as successful ones - that, in fact, failed rolls can drive a much more interesting story – I got past it.

But to pretty much quit gaming because you can’t cheat… I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around that.

Monday 26 March 2012

A ‘6 for 20’ game

This phrase is kind of personal to me as I use it to refer to games that, as far as I’m concerned, completely waste my time. If I feel that I’ve wasted my effort in preparation or playing I’ll call the event a ‘6 for 20’. The phrase came about after being asked to take part in a Rolemaster game. I’d had some experience with MERP so I was interested, but the GM running the game went over every single tiny detail of character creation. In the end, my PC took 6 hours to create. Yes, you read that right - 6 hours. Once the game started, two weeks later, my PC was killed in the first 20 minutes of the game by being backstabbed by the GMs NPC assassin, the very first roll of the game. One lucky critical roll later and I’m dead. 6 hours of work for 20 minutes of gameplay. As it turned out I had a lucky escape as the rest of the game turned out to be a railroad nightmare, so when asked to create another PC for the next game I politely declined.

When I design and run a game I like to think that everyone is catered for and at no point anyone’s time is being wasted. I hate it when I attend a game as a player and spend most of it staring blankly at my character sheet for lack of anything else to do. Most of the time these situations arise because:

1 – The GM has favourites at the gaming table and spends the majority of his time attending to them.

2 – The GM has put no thought into the game and is running a series of encounters. I’ve been through an ‘alphabet of monsters’ game and I hated every minute of it.

3 – The GM is railroading the players, using the game to show off his acting, narration and creative skills. If I wanted to watch a show I’d go to the theatre.

4 – The GM simply does not have any creativity when it comes to designing games and one feels much like the other.

5 – The GM is running a published scenario and is spending time reading the text and going over every detail before involving the players. Plenty of times I’ve been part of a group who has sat back for ten minutes whilst the GM prepares the next part of the adventure and reads the scenario book.

6 – The GM simply isn’t in the mood but thinks he’ll be letting down the players if he doesn’t run a game, no matter how half-hearted the game is. Trust me on this as I’m horribly guilty of this myself – if you don’t feel like it, don’t do it. You’ll be doing everyone a favour. Running a game with no passion communicates that lack of heart to the players and you’ll be in real danger of derailing the ongoing campaign completely by quelling player enthusiasm.

7 – It’s the players that have no heart for the game. No matter what the GM puts into the games the players don’t respond, and their decisions are communicated with disinterested tones and bored faces.

The first thing the GM does, of course, is try to figure out why it is they’re bored by looking at himself and how he’s running the game, but sometimes the players may just feel that way about the game. This lack of interest rubs off on the GM who feels his work has been wasted and then he, too, becomes depressed about the whole game. It only really takes one person to make a game a ‘6 for 20’ experience. A GMs lack of interest steals the game by the very nature of the GMs involvement but even a single player, even in a large group, can affect the dynamic and reduce a gamer’s enthusiasm to pretty much nothing. While everyone, especially the GM, is trying to figure out why you don’t want to get involved with the game they’ll forget that they’re supposed to be playing the game in the first place.

The answer is quite simple. You either get yourself in the mood for the game and try really hard not to disrupt it – after all, most groups have a regular ‘game night’ so you should be in the mood when that night comes around – or you simply don’t go. If you’re not in the mood, or if you’re really not enjoying the game for some reason, then don’t make it worse for yourself or the group by attending. Make your excuses beforehand, or just be honest and say ‘This game isn’t really for me’ and let the GM know why and also what it is you’d like to play. It’s a game at the end of the day, a hobby, a pastime – turning up is not a legally binding contractual obligation.

Friday 23 March 2012

Shout, shout… let it all out

These really are the things I could do without.

This guy I’ll call Bob. Bob liked to roleplay. He liked to get right into character. The thing is, no matter what kind of character he played he also liked to argue. And when I say argue I mean shout, loudly, and also let the in-game argument spill into the real world and then beyond the game.

Let me give you an example. After a particularly long and boring session of Shadowrun (I wasn’t running it!) he decided his character was going to take umbrage at the fact that another PC was spending quite a long time deciding on what equipment he wanted to take on a job. He started by calling him out, in character, and when the PC answered him back he took it personally – that’s when the shouting started. ‘What the hell is wrong with you? We’ve been here for ages! We’ve got a damn job to do and you’re just pussyfooting around buying junk! What the hell’s the matter with you?’

At first you think, ‘Good roleplaying, Bob!’ But when Bob then starts to refer to the player by name and not the character, making comments about laziness, tardiness and general personal observations you begin to realise that there’s no roleplaying going on here. Upon being challenged on the fact that he was taking the argument outside the game his volume went up. And up, And then up a little bit more. It got so bad that anyone trying to say anything at all, even if it had nothing to do with the initial argument, was shouted down. After the game he declared that he was just playing ‘in-character’, but in my experience whenever anyone says ‘it’s what my PC would have done’ they’re usually just trying to justify why it was they were acting like a moron.

But it had nothing to do with character though, did it? Bob had gone off on one because he was bored and frustrated and, whether he realised it or not, decided to take his frustrations out on another player. When that player tried to answer him back – in character, I might add – he took actual offence that his demands had been questioned and let the fact that he wasn’t enjoying the game get the better of him, and the result was his personal comments and remarks aimed at the player and not the player character. He let real-world emotions influence his in-game emotions. The rising volume was simply a defence mechanism, as far as I could tell, in an attempt to ‘win’ the situation with decibels rather than reasoning. It was obvious that he knew what he had done wrong and, instead of admitting to it or letting it go, exacerbated the situation by winding himself up and raising his voice.

As a GM I’d have called a time-out straight away and asked Bob to calm down. Any attempts at using the ‘I was just roleplaying’ defence will still be met with a five minute break and a request that the voices are lowered. Rising volume in response to that request will then result in an immediate stop to the game. This is simply one of the things I don’t put up with in my games. Any arguments that I feel are spilling out of character – and it is glaringly obvious when that happens – are halted with a curt warning and a reminder that we’re playing a game and any continuation of the climbing volume and attitude stops the game completely. And that’s it. I don’t have any words of wisdom about emotional states and handling people with kid gloves. This is simple bloody-minded rudeness and it’s not something that I, my players or my neighbours should have to put up with.

Roleplaying isn’t a spectator sport and players don’t attend to sit back and watch other players have slanging matches.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Get back to your corner!

Sometimes, you simply can’t cater for everyone - there’s bound to be the odd player who simply feels left out of the game - and sadly that’s happened to me more than once.

West End Games Star Wars D6. 1995. It was a large group that had been gaming regularly for several years and they’d come a long way with both the characters and the setting. With open arms we welcomed a guy I’ll call Dave as he had been part of our gaming circle years ago and we were bringing him back in to the fold after a lengthy absence. We hoped for a great firework display of a game but Dave seemed quiet and subdued, pretty much from the very first game. The cause of the problems weren’t apparent straight away but Dave pointed them out – he had no idea what was going on or where he was. He was in a Star Wars game but what we were playing didn’t feel like Star Wars to him. At first I couldn’t understand it but, blinkered as I was being so involved with the game, I gradually realised what the problem was.

We as a group had been playing the game for a very, very long time and had moulded a slice of the Star Wars galaxy to suit our gaming needs, and we were playing characters mixed up with the underworld. Dave had come in expecting Rebels vs Imperials, or something like it, and didn’t understand our modus operandi, what NPCs we were referring to or why we were jumping between systems and planets he had never heard of. He was completely left out with no idea what was going on, and as a result sat there quietly and feeling a bit ignored. He was completely justified in feeling that way as we were wrapped up in the ongoing campaign, and we tried to get him involved but he’d simply slip away again as we came to conclusions and made decisions based on events and occurrences he wasn’t present to know about.

As this particular phase of the campaign came to an end, Dave offered to run a game of his own and we were more than happy for him to. The very next session he started his own Star Wars campaign. It was fun, but… well, we’d been playing in a certain style for more than a year and there’d been some PC-vs-PC conflict and subterfuge. Our mistake was using those PCs in Dave’s campaign because we expected a similar sort of game, and when the conflict flared up again Dave was unprepared for it, expecting a high-adventure pulp action game with heroes and villains. Our gaming style clashed with his perception of the game world and, once again, he felt left out as we started bickering in-character about things he had no knowledge of, or talking about things in our old campaign that had no bearing on his game. We were at fault, and I admit to that now, because we just wanted to carry on as we were. Dave’s downturned face and bored expression we put down to him not trying hard enough, but in truth we didn’t do enough to get him involved fully, or make allowances for his lack of knowledge.

What we should have done, when he started his own Star Wars campaign, was start a whole new game from scratch, with new PCs in his setting. Start afresh, with a new approach, and shake ourselves free of the scheming and underhanded gaming we had been doing so that the entire group could benefit from 100% involvement and enjoyment. Or, we should have taken the existing game in a different direction and done something new for the existing PCs to allow him a chance to get involved properly. But, no, we put his quietness down to ‘not trying hard enough’. Maybe he could have tried harder, I don’t know, but I do know it was unfair of us to expect him to slot into an already lengthy campaign and play second fiddle to our already well-developed characters.

Saturday 17 March 2012

And the winner is…

This guy I’ll call Bob. Bob was a good gamer, he liked to play and he liked to adventure. The problem was, he also liked to win.

I never felt that Bob ever got away from the games of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Dark Future we used to play, games with a sense of winning and achievement through defeating your enemy. Bob was an old school wargamer and got into roleplaying for lack of any other wargamers in the area. He was a good roleplayer, don’t get me wrong, and we had fun, but he never shook that ‘me against you’ attitude.

Bob was a good wargamer and beat me every time, but in a roleplaying game he’d get a little lost, especially outside of combat. We never used to use miniatures that much but while Bob was in the game we had to so that he knew what was going on, and he would decide actions to the smallest detail. The problem was, if anything went against him outside of combat he would argue that he had been defeated at the whim of the GM and didn’t have any control over the fate of his PC. In short, he would accuse the GM of ‘cheating’ every time he was unsuccessful with anything that didn’t involve hitting anything with a sword.

This came to a head, and effectively ended Bob’s involvement in roleplaying (with me, at any rate), with a single roll he was asked to make. He rolled, not knowing the difficulty number, and the GM declared he had failed. It wasn’t a game-breaking failure, but Bob didn’t like the fact that he had made a roll and the GM had seemingly ruled a failure regardless. He demanded to know what the difficulty number was. The GM gave him a number higher than what he had rolled. And, quite simply, Bob didn’t believe him. The game played out, Bob left, and he never attended again.

Now, you may think that Bob had a point and that the GM should have declared the difficulty number before he asked for the roll, and I’d agree with you to a certain extent, but the fact is that I don’t think it had anything to do with that. Bob, in his mind, had ‘lost’ the game. And Bob hated to lose, especially to what he saw as GM fiat. He had no direct control over every aspect of the game the way he had with boardgames and wargames, and so hated not being able to make judgements based on the rules as they were set out, clear and concise and covering just about every combat angle as in a wargaming manual. He enjoyed the games, I enjoyed playing with him, but he couldn’t get past the competitive angle. It really was Players-vs-GM to him. No matter how many times we told him this wasn’t the case, that was always at the forefront of his mind.

I remember feeling this way about the game in the 1980s when I first started but this was mainly due to the fact that we were new to tabletop roleplaying games and didn’t really know any better. By the time we got to the games with Bob we were all experienced in the hobby and knew the no-such-thing-as-winners mantra and that the enjoyment came from a cooperative experience but couldn’t convince Bob that this was how the game was played. He saw it as a detailed wargame; if it had dice, rules and miniatures then it was a wargame. That was it. And that was a massive shame.

I think the only thing I learned from this, as an observing player in the group, that all you can do is try, and keep explaining the game. You can’t change the nature of the game to suit one player, unless that’s what the group wants to try, and you can’t change a person’s unwavering perception of how the game should be played.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

That awkward moment when…

…you realise that the new guy you invited to the game isn’t a nice bloke at all. In fact, he’s a nasty piece of work.

I’m going back to the late 1990s, here, and I was at the height of a huge Warhammer FRP campaign. It had begun with a single player, then another player who was a friend of mine had joined and he suggested I allow a gamer he knew from university to join as he was looking for an epic game. Without asking any more about this person I said yes, he came along, we quickly talked him through the game and helped him with a PC, and we got stuck in.

The games started to go downhill very, very quickly. This new player – I’ll call him Roger – didn’t seem to care about what other people thought of him. This first became apparent with his foul mouth, eating habits and uncomfortable sense of humour. I’ve talked before about how certain jokes at the table make me feel uncomfortable, and this guy had an entire plethora of bad, inappropriate jokes to share, primarily of a sexual nature. In the game he was even worse. First and foremost he was rude. A comment he made that sticks in my head was, ‘If you do that then you’re a fucking idiot’, in response to another player’s idea. ‘Is your PC saying that?’ I asked. ‘No’, he said, ‘I’m saying that.’ And it was pretty much downhill from there.

If things didn’t go his way he would get angry – I mean, spitting angry. More than once Roger launched his dice across the room or snapped a pencil. In one instance he jumped up and kicked over a chair as he stormed out to the bathroom. He’d let other players explain their actions before snorting through his nose or berating them, and if anyone, and I mean anyone, disagreed with a plan of his, his first words were, ‘What’s your problem?’ as if the player was insulting his parentage. I never thought for an instant it would ever become physical – I’ll save that story for another blog entry – as he was all piss and wind, but he was highly offensive and spent all his time complaining or getting upset. He had no interest in roleplaying and took great delight in killing NPCs in a variety of ways, whether they deserved it or not.

I noticed, after this single session, that the guy who introduced him to my game suddenly couldn’t make it anymore. I found out he was playing in another game on another night, and I knew that Roger had been in that group, so I got the impression that he’d been dumped on us to rid the other group of his presence, like they’d found him another game to play in so that they could get rid of him. He was bloody obnoxious and I can fully understand why they wanted shot of him. I hoped things would improve in the second session but they didn’t. After the second session I declared I was taking a break and that I’d be in touch when the games began again, and he was fine with that. Of course, I never got in touch and I never heard from Roger again.

What amazed me the most was the fact that he acted this way in front of complete strangers from the very first minute he met them and thought it was okay. That’s some serious social dysfunction, I have no qualms in saying that, and I can only assume that he had very few interpersonal skills. What am I saying, there’s nothing to assume; he had no social skills at all. I guess he was in his early twenties, and to throw such tantrums and talk in such a way, well… it’s simply not acceptable. I have no idea what he thought he was getting out of the game acting this way.

These days I screen potential new gamers for two reasons; One, to avoid this kind of thing ever again and two, it’s nice to meet people outside the game first so that you can get to know them as non-gamers. It’s a simple meetup at the pub or cafe, a few drinks and a chat and we can get to know each other as a gaming group before we get into the game proper. I’m not being rude meeting up with people like this, I think it’s only fair, to them and to me. What if they don’t like the way I or my group do things? It’s an opportunity to find out if you all click without going through the trauma of being involved with a disastrous game and is the best thing for everyone.

That’s what I should have done with Roger. It would have certainly saved me the pain of having to go through those games, that for sure.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Food, glorious food

Do you know what I hate at the gaming table? Chewy sweets. In fact, lots and lots of food can be an absolute pain the backside. But surely, the bringing of snacks is an integral part of the gaming experience? Yes, snacks are important, but I like to weigh up the necessity of snacks with the number of times I’ve had crumbs sprayed in my face or over my table by people trying to talk and eat at the same time.

Recently I’ve been completely thrown out of an intense combat situation in a Pathfinder game because the GM has been trying to explain the situation while trying to jam as many biscuits into his mouth as possible, and declaring my action while trying to decipher the words, ‘Ee hags ad oo wim umind o berd, ats oor amoass?’ kind of ruins the moment. As did the carbonated drinks; entire bottles consumed in minutes and then sentences are interrupted by belches. Funny the first time, maybe, not so much during the more intense parts of the game.

It’s quite simple; don’t do it. Eat as much as you like during downtime or slower, more thoughtful parts of the game, but when the action kicks off it can be frustrating waiting for someone to bite, chew and swallow. Just move it out the way, or take a bite while you’re waiting for your turn. Don’t fill your mouth with toffee and then wonder why everyone is staring at you expectantly, or asking you to repeat yourself, especially if you’re the GM. It’s only a little thing, easily addressed, but it can be just as annoying as any other interruption.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Who the hell do you think you are?

Players sometimes go to a lot of trouble to design a PC that they can really delve into. This can take the form of a detailed history on multiple sheets of paper, a drawing, a short story; any and all of these things can give the player character depth and a player can take great pleasure in playing the PC and exploring their character further.

With small groups, I tend to create games based around what the players have created, on the characterisations and personalities that the players have spent considerable time designing in and out of the game. So it gets somewhat frustrating, then, when the personality of the character changes suddenly, or the player turns up with a completely different character to the one you catered for in your adventure design.

I was setting up a game of mystery and suspense in a Call of Cthulhu game set in the 1930s and the two player characters taking part were both university professors. They were learned men, in their forties and very well educated and both had been designed with the idea that they had travelled the world and experienced all kinds of things that drove them to learn more. The game was set in the jungles of middle Africa and was going to be a game of travel, exploration and mystery. I designed the NPCs around that, with low combat skills and high knowledge skills. It was going to be a fun, investigative game. I was pretty shocked, then, when the game became an Indiana Jones-style escapade and instead of communicating with the NPCs the players simply beat their way through them, got into fistfights to obtain information and hacked their way through the jungle with machetes and Thompson machine guns. In the intervening time between creating the characters and turning up for the game the players had completely changed their minds about what kind of characters, even what kind of game, they wanted to play. The only problem with their change of mind was that they had neglected to inform me of their decision and I was totally unprepared for it. To be fair, I managed to run a fun action-orientated game but my heart wasn’t in it as I was in the mood for mystery and suspense, and this came across in the session. We never continued that campaign after that one game, so that was a lot wasted work for everyone.

These days, I tend to create games with two different versions of the same NPC – the combat and non-combat versions. If the playing style of the game swings towards either action or mystery then I’m mostly ready for it but there’s nothing I can do about what mood I’m in. It’s easy to have NPCs prepped for different kinds of games but being in the correct frame of mind, that’s a whole different thing entirely. If a game’s atmosphere is disrupted by the GM being on a separate level of expectation, or even a couple of players out of the whole group, then the session will suffer.

When players create PCs, when they detail the characters in both history and personality, and they hand them over for the GM to agree on then they have to realise that the chances are that GM will design a game based around what kind of PC they have designed. Players have the right to change their minds, of course – they may have a better idea of what they want to do with the PC the very next day - but it helps to give the GM notice of this change so that he can plan accordingly. The same sort of thing applies to the GM; if the players create investigative PCs and the GM throws them into high-adventure battles that the players are unprepared for then the game will collapse due to either expectations not being met or PCs biting the bullet.

Decide on a style of game and try to stick to it. If anyone has a change of mind about their game or their PC then make sure that everyone knows what it is they want to do. The whole game doesn’t have to change but at least these changes will be expected and catered for.

Monday 5 March 2012

He Who Must Not Be Named

In other words, the Gamemaster.

Look, I’m a GM and I was guilty of this twenty years ago: being a condescending dick because the players can’t figure out your puzzles or get past your bad guys doesn’t do much for the group. There isn’t a player in the world, not even one desperate for a game and has nowhere else to go, who will sit at a gaming table and be basically laughed at for not figuring out what the GM has put up against them. GMs create the adventure and the dangers but that doesn’t mean that he’s against the players. It doesn’t mean that the players are in the game to beat what he has created, and therefore ‘win’ the game. And what’s worse is a GM that not only ‘wins’ but makes sure that the players know that he’s beaten them.

And it’s not just ‘I beat you with my dungeon!’ GMs, it’s GMs who use the game to bolster their egos, playing Mary/Gary Sue GMPCs that are the definition of what the GM thinks a perfect PC should be. The GMPC holds their hands, babysits, and is untouchable due to GM fiat. These GMPCs are the most annoying, crass and downright unlikeable types of character because they not only make you feel inferior, they’re basically communicating to you how the GM feels about your progress in the game; ie, you’re all rubbish at what you do and they can do it much better.

If you’re a GM and even slightly glancing down this route, I implore you – don’t do it. You will do irreversible damage to the gaming group and lose any trust the players may have had in you. This way of gaming leads to a false sense of achievement for the GM and miserable, downbeat players who will drift away. If you run a fun, fair session, you’ll have more chance of having the players shake your hand and commend you on your game.

I don’t know of any evenings that have ended with, ‘Hey! Your GMPC certainly showed us that we’re idiots! And we all died trying to get through your awesome killer dungeon! See you next week!’

Ralph McQuarrie

When I was a kid, there were three people who bought me Star Wars: George Lucas, Ralph McQuarrie and John Williams. In the historic days before the internet us Star Wars fans had access to very little in the way of media, or at least we could only afford so much as children, and for me it was always the music and the art books. I had the albums on vinyl and cassette and I had the novelisation and, most importantly, I had books with lots and lots of pictures in them.

Invariably, the illustrations were by the amazing Ralph McQuarrie, an artist who was most likely the very reason George Lucas got the original film made, illustrating his vision the way he did. My favourite possessions will always be the portfolios of the original trilogy I bought, with large widescreen-style prints of his greatest work. I’m no art critic, and no doubt my view of the work is slightly skewed by my youthful exuberance and joy for the original movies, but there was always a lot of energy in the illustrations, and there was always a sense that Ralph was illustrating the things that you didn’t see in the films, such as a tauntaun being chased by Imperial walkers or Rebel troops freezing in the trenches of Hoth. The original concepts were just as amazing as what appeared on screen and more often than not I’d find myself wondering what it would have been like if this had looked like that, or how much better it would have been if it had looked like it’s original design.

Ralph McQuarrie inspired people of all kinds; his work inspired artists, his designs inspired writers such as myself, his imagination inspired filmmakers. He has a lasting legacy that will be felt for decades to come and his ideas and talent will be the benchmark for the following generations of artists and filmmakers.

Ralph McQuarrie passed away on March 3rd and his passing has left a huge hole where that part of my childhood was, but it’s not a problem. You see, Ralph left such a huge body of work for so many different movies and shows – Star Trek, E.T., Coccoon, Battlestar Galactica – that there’s plenty of material to soak up and marvel at, and in turn allow my creative mind to flourish. The more I look at his pieces the more the hole will be filled.

So rest in peace, Mr McQuarrie. I never met you, but I will mourn for you as if I had.

Friday 2 March 2012



Players shouldn’t take in-character events so personally. I think, however, that this can’t be avoided, especially when it’s player-versus-player. If a random GM NPC gets the better of a player character then the player generally accepts that as failure against an element of the game (unless of course, the GM is playing a Mary/Gary Sue GMPC, but that’s a different matter entirely). But if another player gets the better of them then things can get pretty colourful.

I was running a Star Wars game many moons ago in which a player created a character working against the other players, an Imperial spy feeding information back to his superiors. He had to make rolls to make sure he sent this information out without being discovered but I did not tell him if he failed or not. In fact, I was rolling secretly for the other players and once they beat his roll I let them know, secretly, what he was up to. It was up to them to decide whether to confront him or feed him false information. In short order they set him up, confronted him and then, after a failed escape attempt on his part, they dealt with him. One dead traitor PC and two very satisfied PCs.

The player in question wasn’t happy about being found out and killed so quickly – even though it was him that wanted to create a PC to work against the players and make himself an enemy – and it made it even worse in the fact that he had been found out and stopped not by an NPC but the other players. He quickly created a new character. In the very next game, the first chance he got, he dropped the other players into trouble and tried to kill them. For no reason. At all. There was nothing about the character that would justify such an action, and he put all his dice into combat skills to make him incredibly tough to beat. He simply created a combat-heavy PC so that he could kill the other PCs for stopping his previous character from doing his nefarious deeds.

I can understand players being upset with other players if they obstruct, kill, loot and otherwise annoy their PC simply to be annoying. God knows I’ve seen enough of that at the gaming table. But some people take it too far, take it very personally even if the events and actions in the game are justified based on decisions and actions, and they let it colour their perception of the game for a long time. In fact, the games with this player broke down very quickly after his assassination attempt because no matter what characters they played or what game they played in they simply couldn’t trust him not to make an attempt on their lives at some point. Their in-game decisions weren’t based on the characters they were playing but on what kind of mood this particular player was in. That’s not a game, that’s a joke.

Keeping the feelings of the player separate from the player character is a definite in my book. You can get emotionally involved with the PC, that’s for sure, but when the game is over then the game is over, and harbouring resentment against other players isn’t the way to go. If the player is being a total dick and is simply out to get you then that’s a justified complaint but it should still be dealt with outside the game. ‘Hey, mate, I’m not really enjoying that and it’s kind of ruining the game for me. Can you not?’ It’s as simple as that. But getting revenge for some imagined slight by plotting and scheming and trying to kill a PC that another player may have spent months investing their time in, and in turn derailing the game to pursue personal vendettas – that’s not great.

Just remember, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it’s not personal, it’s roleplaying. And if you set yourself up as the bad guy, working against the rest of the group, don’t be surprised if they stick a targeting signal transmitter in your backpack and then bomb you from orbit.