Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Playing as a Parent: Karijn

In my series Playing as a Parent, I interviewed a very good friend of mine - Karijn. She is one of the busiest LARP people I know and an amazing role player. I met Karijn a few years ago when I joined and new role play group and we very quickly bonded over a deep love the both of us have... wine. Soon, Karijn was getting me into all types of shenanigans, namely introducing me to LARP and playing the level-headed cousin to my self-absorbed space-aristocrat.

Karijn has a beautiful baby boy and was willing to answer all my poking and prodding questions about what it was like playing when she was pregnant!

If you're interested in the entire series you can check out part 1 & part 2.

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Argh! I love this picture so much!
Liz: Karijnt! Tell everyone about yourself and also the dashing & lovely Kasper^^.  

Karijn: I live in Amsterdam with my husband, son, and two cats. Since I became a mother, I have more or less put the job search on hold. Though I am a museum conservation worker by trade, I am now more or less deliberately unemployed since there is no work anyway and I have a baby at home. 

I have been an avid gamer and roleplayer for about twelve years now, computer games, tabletop RPGs, and also larps. I am co-creator of about 30 larps and have played in more than a hundred, and am pretty active in the international larp community. For tabletop, I have a couple of gaming groups with regular games, mostly Pathfinder, and I am part of a group that plays short campaigns so we can try as many RPGs as possible. 

Apart from all the games I enjoy spending time with my friends, travelling, reading, wine, Citizen Science projects, and watching TV series.

Kasper is almost a year old now and very happy, lively and easy going. He is in his exploring stage. He likes bananas, cats, mischief and seemingly aimless screaming. He is a boatload of fun and a boatload of work. He is not gaming yet, unless you count his peekaboo prowess as such.

Liz: Now, we played together when you were pregnant. When you become pregnant there were a few topics you weren't comfortable with in play any more - namely pregnancy. Could you tell me about that and how you felt?

Karijn: I had not expected myself to react like that at all to be honest. I was not very hormonal up to my last trimester. But I think, like all mothers, I was really more afraid of something being wrong with the baby than I cared to admit. So, all of a sudden things that can come up in serious games - miscarriages, stillbirths, and even the very unrealistic Rosemary's baby-style weird pregnancy scenarios were just hitting a little close to home. It did not feel like something I wanted to play on anymore. 

It is still going on, more or less. Previously, when GMs in larp or tabletop asked whether there was any theme I would like to avoid I would gleefully go "No, none at all. Come at me!" 

Nowadays, I am more likely to want to avoid 'dead kids' as a theme. On the other hand, that is not exclusive to gaming. I can't watch it on tv or anywhere anymore. I saw a picture of a little drowned girl on Facebook a few weeks ago and I am still sad. Fascinating to me, since I am normally down to earth to a fault.

Liz: I think that is really interesting, because we really do take so much of ourselves into the characters we play and the games we participate in. Sometimes, when I am in a role I have to remind myself that I am not that person and it works in reverse too. Things in daily life come up in role play, I can imagine with a topic like the safety of your kids, or kids in general, that is even more so. So I wonder - does having a kid put a new perspective on any old characters you have played or even current ones?

Karijn: In retrospect I think I have not played on the impact of having children properly with several characters. That makes sense, because it is an emotion that is hard to grasp if you have not experienced it.
I have had a larp character who gave away a child and never really made a big deal out of it. I have had several characters with dead children in their background and it just never really came up. It didn't really define any aspect of their personalities, it was backdrop. And now that I am a parent I doubt that things like that can ever really be backdrop. Maybe for some people it can. 

But if I am ever ready to play on themes around birth and children again, and I guess I will be, I will not be so flippant about the repercussions of those events anymore.
Karijn and I looking super disgusted at the plebs while we play colonizing space aristocracy
Liz: Could you give some advice for GMs if they have expecting parents in the group? Are there things they should check, even if they've been playing together for a while?
Karijn: I think everybody is unprepared for what pregnancy does to you, I know I sure as hell was. I expecting to keep getting my game on pretty much up to delivery, I joked to one of my GMs about getting a Skype game going between contractions and I was only half joking. I had to make some accommodations, but I managed to play a lot, even in the last trimester, and I am grateful for that.

The only advice for GMs I can really think of is to be understanding if things just don't go exactly as planned: if somebody nods off only hours into your all night dungeon crawl, if somebody who is usually not all that emotional suddenly breaks down during that tragic scene, or if they are not in the zone as much as you would like. It is all part of it. Try to be accommodating, offer to move the game to their house, etc. My gaming groups played in my house in the last weeks and that allowed my weekly games to keep going, which was even more important than ever at that time since I was bored witless. 

Liz: Now, you are a wonderful, social butterfly made of magic and you basically know everyone in the LARP scene here. Have things changed now that you have had a kid and if so how? I have to admit this is one of my big fears.

Karijn: I am lucky enough to have a fantastic husband who loves spending time with his son and I am not breastfeeding, so both larping and gaming are still very much possible. And they have to be: as an unemployed mother it feels very important to stay creative, spend time with adults enjoying my favorite activities, and for me a lot of them involve gaming. 

I don't think much has changed for me, but I have seen that it definitely can. Especially when it comes to making appointments and doing unexpected stuff. I have a lot of friends who neither have nor want kids, so they are still available quite a lot, and as I have said - my husband is accommodating. But it is harder for a lot of my friends who have kids, since most of us also work, and as the kids get older they also have a timetable. 

I think the key here is prioritizing. I have to pick my games more carefully and really give the ones I play my 100%. I think that is a good idea for anyone. Life is too short for mediocre games. I can't just play anything that comes my way anymore, especially if I have to travel far for it. 

I also think it is important to understand that the gamers want to talk shop and not babies. When I am at a larp I will of course answer inquires about my child, but when we are drinking beer at the campfire I will say 'I heard in the last game you became the chosen one of the Crystal Spirit. Man you are so screwed, how did that happen?' and not talk about diaper brands. I have had a lot of people tell me they are glad I am still pretty much the same and I have to agree. 

A child can become your whole world and if you are willing and happy to let it, than that is fine. I wasn't. I think it is very much possible to keep telling the stories and seeing the people that you are passionate about. 

Liz: Do you have any advice on soon to be parents for managing their RP and baby schedules?

Karijn: If playing is important to you: make time. You are not a bad parent if your child is not the end all to everything in your world. If having a babysitter once a week so you can keep playing that game you love is what you want, do it. It will give you some oh-so-needed time with other adults and I firmly believe it will make you a happier and thus better parent.  

And don't be afraid to ask for help, a ride to a game, to start an hour earlier of later because of your schedule. People will have to look past some of your tiredness, not drinking their beer because of breastfeeding or a vomit stain on your best robe. And they will, because gamers are awesome. 

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I want to say a huge thank you to Karijn for putting up with my questions and giving some amazing advice. 
In my final interview I will be speaking to Filamena Young about tips for playing pregnant and her views as a parent who rps!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Five things to do with RPGs that have nothing to do with what you should be writing...

So, today has been a pretty quiet day, which normally means - yay let's write WITCH stuff. However, today I decided to do absolutely nothing productive WHATSOEVER aside from stare at an amazing drawing one of my artists, Alex, sent to me. I literally looked at it six times through the day and thought, "I should really start writing that stretch goal I still need to do." In quick succession the next thought came, "Oh, wait! Or you could do this!"

So, here is my definitive list for things you can waste the day doing... but still looking at RPG stuff so kind of working.

1) Do the ttrpg equivalent of adding to your Steam library and filter on your favoruite genre (sorting price lowest to highest) on and download a bunch of cool looking stuff you are more than likely never going to read. 

Only $12? Don't mind if I do, and this one I am going to actually play!

2) Learn how to make a cool wand for the It's-Not-A-Harry-Potter LARP you are going to in November. Then, realize you might not have the skill to craft that sucker :(... Then harass your crafty best friend *coughs +Floor Coert* to make you one.

3) Write nine pages (4 articles) for that voluntary job you have writing about RPGs. Make sure the topic of your articles is about "generating content for role play games you are developing" and let the irony wash over you and towel yourself off with the shame. Soon to be seen: HERE

4) Contact someone who was kind enough to run a game of WITCH for you at GenCon and ask her why you can't find the event. Convince yourself that at least this is doing some kind of work on the game you're writing.

5) Read the update of one of your favourite rpg blogs and laugh with the father who got pwned in Star Wars X-Wing by his two lower school daughters... Pretend in your mind you would do way better.

6) (entirely optional) If you haven't done enough none productive writing yet, write an entire blog post about procrastination.

Thank is all!
You are all amazing :D

Friday, May 15, 2015

Playing as a Parent: Misha B.

I am continuing my quest of trying to figure out what life is like being a parent and a role player with an interview with Misha B! She'll be ever so eloquently answering my probing questions into her role play life :D! You can find part one of the series HERE.

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I met +Misha B  while doing a panel about romances in RPGs for +Indie+ . And while I am convinced that she is a mind-reading vixen for always stealing my answers to 'what RPG would you recommend', she is wonderful and I knew when doing this topic I needed to have her on the blog!

Liz: Misha before we start could you please tell us a bit about yourself and also your kiddies^^.

Misha: I'm Misha. I'm a database analyst and mom of two, a seven year old daughter and a four years old son. I've been gaming for more than 20 years with a brief hiatus of about 7 years in the middle of that.  I've been back for about 4 years, and I'm enjoying it. My kids are avid video gamers. They especially love the Lego series of games. We've taken them to Camp Nerdly for the last couple of years, where they've participated in some kid friendly LARPs and my daughter is starting to get into the idea of tabletop stuff. 

Liz: Oh! Camp Nerdly? That sounds like something awesome that I wish I had when I was a kid! Could you tell us more about it?

Misha: Camp Nerdly is a family friendly gathering of old and new friends each year to play role-playing and board games and to experience nature. It's held in May, usually at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, VA. There's a separate kids' track that I spearheaded last year and this year where we keep a couple of parents and volunteers in charge of the younger ones so all the parents can get some gaming in too.  We run some kid friendly LARPs, board games, and activities for them.  The kids are encouraged to create and pitch their own games too.  We've had some budding young designers come up with some great stuff. It's cabin camping, communal cooking, shared chores, and all-in-all just a great weekend of fun.

Liz: Misha, logistics, logistics, logistics - every time we are on a Hangout together you tell me you have been banished to the basement (or what I like to think of as your Batcave)! I can imagine finding time to play in RPGs is difficult when you have kids. How has having kids changed your play scheduling?

Misha: The biggest difference is that I can no longer just spend every Sunday playing for 8 hours. I mostly play in the evenings after the kids go to bed, because my regular group is also mostly parents in addition to being strung across 3 states. Hangouts has been a blessing because it has allowed me to keep playing when I usually can't make it in person. I get to play in person a couple of times a year at cons or house cons but it's mostly Hangouts for me nowadays.

I joke about being shuffled into the basement, because I used to have an office on the second floor next to the kids' rooms.  I have a tendency to get into character a bit and something about mommy waking them up with obscenities being hurled at her screen wasn't a great idea. So then I moved to the dining room, but then no one could watch TV in the living room, so I've carved an area for myself in the basement.  I call it my 'Mom cave', it's also where I keep my crafting and sewing supplies. I've got 3 large desks, a couple of monitors, I hung curtains to help absorb the sound and have a heater and a rug and a comfy chair.  I even have makeup down there for when I'm going to be recording a Hangout.

I am seeing starling similarities between the batcave and what she has just described. Super suspicious!

Liz: Monsterhearts! We both love that game. Who wouldn't love a game about pubescent supernaturals falling in love with each other? How does it feel now that you have children to play through those emotions?

Misha: That's one I haven't thought a lot about.  I recently played in a campaign of Sagas of the Icelanders that ran for over a year.  I played the woman and in the second saga I was the mother to three of the characters and mother-in-law to a fourth. Talk about feels.

One of the characters was a child on the cusp of manhood so there was the struggle of allowing him to grow up, while still wanting to protect him. Another struggle was watching a different son start his married life and coming to grips with my character's changed status of no longer being the most important woman in his life. One character was my shield maiden daughter, so there was the struggle of raising a kid who doesn't conform to the norms of their gender. All these scenarios are heady stuff that I'm glad I got the chance to work through ahead of when I might actually have to deal with them.  Sure, I made some mistakes, but I think having games and friends that you trust to share some of that vulnerability with can be a transformative experience.

Liz: That is interesting! I must admit I always play something so different than myself when I role play, mostly because I want to escape my life and plunge into fantasy. However, it is also a really cool idea to make a character who is going through what you might go through in the future. From the sounds of it, that wasn't intentional for you, but a really cool outcome. I wonder, do you think the types of characters you play has changed since you had kids?

Misha: I'm not sure how much having kids has changed the type of characters I play versus just maturing has changed it.  I have a habit of playing cerebral, decisive characters, sometimes with a creative streak, but always with an understanding of their own agenda and a confidence about them.  Right now I'm playing a neighbor in Monsterhearts, which is about the furthest thing from that as you can get. She's smart, talented, etc, but is used to being found wanting in comparison to her older sisters so she's very insecure about it.  It's a bit of a stretch for me really, but in a fun way.

Liz: While I am fully acknowledging your kids are not teenage fey or undead - Does playing teens, with their crazy ranges of emotions, help empathize with your kids?

Misha: I'm not as sure as you about the fey part, my kids are pretty kooky in a fun way (most of the time). On the one hand, I'm work through some of my own teenage issues and on the other, I'm trying to prepare for teenagers.  Sometimes something will happen, like another character totally misreading a situation, that will get my character in trouble somehow, so I can kinda empathize with 'but he started it' and other things I hear from them.

Liz: And vice verse has having kids helped your role play?

Misha: Anyone who has ever had to lay out a new rule for a very literal 5 yo will have no problems negotiating a fae contract or dealing with a faery in darkest self. Kids, my daughter especially, are tiny little rules lawyers who can find a loophole or technicality in anything you say. On the other hand, it's helped me writing rules for things, because they make me think of stuff I probably wouldn't have on my own.

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I want to thank Misha so much for answering all my questions and being great to interview! Next week I will have my lovely friend Karijn on my blog talking about role playing while pregnant.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Playing as a Parent: James A. Walls

Wait... You're saying I am not your baby?!
So, I am not a parent. In fact, I was one of those people who shuddered each time I saw new parents struggling with their kid in a super market. I always thought 'oh god no! I still need to see X amount of countries and be this successful in my writing career' before I would even consider the possibility of the thought of having a kid.

However, as I grow older things have started to change. The tiny fingernails that terrified me now kind of seem cute. The snotty noses are something I want to wipe rather than run away from. Each time one of my friends who has kids brings them around I want to cuddle the kiddies and give them candy (worst auntie in the world) - rather than force a smile and ignore the children.

So, as my biological clock begins to tick down to some unforeseen d-day -  I need some answers! Namely, I need to know how being a parent changes (or not) my favourite hobby: role play. So, I've invited a really great host of people to talk to me about this topic in a series I am calling: Playing as a Parent!

The first in this series is +James August Walls and he spoke to me about running games for your kids!

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James A. Walls who runs one of my favourite RPG talk shows on YouTube called Living4Crits with his kids. He also has a great blog by the same name - Living4Crits. Finally, if that didn't make him busy enough I always seem to see him popping up with posts about running different and cool games for his family!

Liz: Now James, I have actually already hinted at my secret agenda for having you on the blog, but first off, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and also your kiddies^^.

James: We're a pretty crazy family!  I'm thirty-five, and originally from the Philadelphia area although I now live near Pittsburgh.  My parents were already incredibly supportive of my interests in gaming, and they were always bringing home new board games and card games for my brother and I to try.  RPG's ended up becoming my favorite kind of tabletop game.  I started playing roleplaying games when I was twelve years old, with the basic Dungeons & Dragons red box.  I had the edition with the Larry Elmore cover.  My daughters, Carrie and Evie, are eleven and eight respectively.  My son Cooper is four.  All three of my children have taken part in role-playing games.  Typically I've started them around five years old, but this past summer Cooper was feeling left out so we bought him some dice and let him join in. 

Liz: Now, on to my secret agenda - you play a lot of games with your kids and your family in general. Did you plan to be a 'gaming' dad or is it just something you fell into?

James: I always wanted to have a family full of gamers, from wife to children.  With everyone in my house interested in role-playing games every time we play we have a full adventuring party!  That said, I didn't intend on starting the Living 4 Crits blog and YouTube channel.  That happened by accident.  A little over a year ago I was trying to figure out a way to share post-game play summaries, and thought that would be quick and easy.  Soon I noticed that other people, outside my gaming group, were reading the blog and commenting.  I was already running games with my children, so I started posting summaries and pictures from those games as well.   The feedback was always incredibly uplifting, especially from my fellow gamer-parents.  Eventually I wanted to include more interaction from Carrie, Evie, and Cooper so we kicked off the Living 4 Crits YouTube show, which allows everyone in the house to participate. 

Liz: Could you give parents (or aspiring parents) some tips on getting their kids into role play games?

James: I get a lot of questions about "what system" or "what setting" to use when trying roleplaying games with your kids.  In the past I've made some suggestions, and have pointed to those that I use with my family (Numenera, Savage Worlds, Basic Fantasy RPG), but truthfully the answer should be "any".  Just play the games you are passionate about and your children will be excited to join in the fun.  So long as you have reasonable expectations for rules adherence, and a high tolerance for silliness, any game can work.  Heck, if your children are really young just do some interactive storytelling... it's pretty much the same thing! 

Carrie says that it's important to keep the games interesting, adding cool characters that kids can identify with, and acting the part when game-mastering.  

When we run Numenera and Savage Worlds - The Last Parsec, we put Disney twists on the games, allowing the kids to play familiar characters from their favorite movies.  During the holiday season we ran a trio of Santa Claus inspired games, incorporating the jolly elf into The Last Parsec, Accursed, and Numenera.

Finally, don't think that you have to run full, four hour sessions for your family.  You can get a lot of gaming done in an hour or less, so long as you are creative.  In a recent video we ran a game of Savage Worlds in thirty-minutes... about the time it would take to read four or five stories.  In thirty minutes you can run a great, quick encounter, have some witty dialogue, or deal with a single significant challenge.

Liz: Ooo! I remember your cosplay Disney post, it was super awesome and adorable. It also made me think that I want to run a Frozen/Vampire the Masquerade session for my players, but I really need to figure out how to do that without utterly ruining a movie (Frozen) and a game (VtM) that I really love :P. I just want to be Ice Queen for a day - is that so wrong? Speaking of - do your kids have any favourite characters that they've played (they don't have to be Disney :))?

James: Admittedly everyone in our family, from grandparent to four-year old, is a Disney fanatic.  The only times they've role-played as popular characters it has been Disney themed, otherwise they've created original characters on their own.  Since our very first "campaign" included my girls playing as Anna and Elsa from Disney's Frozen, albeit in the Ninth World of Numenera, these are still my daughters' favorites.  We even visit these characters on occasion for one-off adventures, even though we've moved on from that campaign. 

Liz: I am loving all the advice so far! I've tried running systems that I wasn't excited about for my players and even with adults it just doesn't work - so this is a great tip for any GM. However, I was wondering, even while GMing systems you really liked - were there things that just didn't work for you when GMing for your family? Something they weren't interested in or something that just doesn't translate to playing a game with your kids?

James: I've noticed that offering my children a "sandbox" experience, the opportunity to explore an open world, tends to throw them for a loop.  This is not to say that they don't enjoy going off the rails a bit during the game, but typically Carrie and Evie have a more enjoyable time taking part in clear, somewhat linear adventures.  Perhaps this is because I've tried to mimic a "bedtime story" format in the past, and it has just stuck.  Granted, it would be very difficult to try any kind of open world gaming in the short duration games we often play, but I hope to one day make another attempt at letting the kids create their own stories. 

Liz: This is probably my most evil and difficult question, because I can imagine so many answers - but what has been the most enriching and best thing that has come out of playing so many great games with your kids?

James: That is an evil and difficult question!  I want to make sure that my children learn that it's truly wonderful to be different and unique, even when they feel the pressure to act like everyone else around them.  Last summer we were taking part in a little experiment we called #GetOutAndGame, in which we would play RPG's in public places.  We played Numenera in a few public parks, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and a Panera Bread.  While this was pretty fun, we were trying to push the boundaries of where you could run an RPG, and there was an open invite from a local italian restaurant to host one of our club's events.  So we made a reservation, and five of us (including two club members and my two kiddos) set out to play.  We were assured that it was a pretty quiet night when making the reservation, but when we showed up the place was packed.  There in the middle of the room, in front of EVERYONE was the only open table.  We wouldn't just be playing an RPG in public, we'd be playing in front of an entire room of people.  My two daughters looked at me, and seemed very nervous about playing with everyone looking at them.  But I quietly told them to just focus on me, enjoy the game, and keep playing. We were given quite a few strange looks, and even I felt a bit weird, but we soldiered on and had a great time.  I thought it was a terrific lesson for both girls, that its okay to feel weird and out of place, but that doesn't mean that you should stop being yourself. 

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I want to say a HUGE thank you for James for being such a great sport and answering all my questions!

 Please check out his blog, it is a great read and so much fun for read about all the adventures he has. 

Next week, I'll have Misha B. on talking to me about how her personal play has changed since having kids!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Secret Spaces: Vampire the Masquerade: Madame Borsa's Pleasure Machine

I continue my series of Secret Spaces! They are tiny setting ideas for you and your campaigns. They can be horrifying, wondrous, epic, or lovely depending on how I am feeling :).This time with an entry for one of my favourite games: Vampire the Masquerade. Warning: this entry isn't PG-13. 

Madame Borsa's Pleasure Machine
For: Vampire the Masquerade

The Pleasure Machine was a thought experiment against hedonism in the 1970's, that is what I assumed till I visited Madame Borsa's parlor.

To avoid angering my most gracious host, Madame Borsa, I will only transcribe to these pages what this machine is and the words on the invitation that she had so masterly penned onto her invitation, "For all who visit, it is therefore agreed, that you'll take a trip through my Pleasure Machine."

The Pleasure Machine stood 10 ft tall and was about half as broad. The outside of the machine was an obsidian-black wood, the colour you would only ascribe to a coffin. The only hint of colour that grazed this obsidian behemoth was a gilded, golden handle used to open the machine.

By accepting Madame Borsa's invitation to visit her manse, I had agreed to enter the machine, and decided I would be the first to go in. Not one to sit idly by while others were having fun, and driven by the insatiable need to know what was inside the machine, I entered it with little hesitation.

Immediately, I was engulfed by a wall of warm flesh. For someone who is undead, the warm yielding flesh felt foreign yet pleasurable against my skin, while I am very sure this machine was designed to murder any living thing that set foot within it. The sensation of feeling warmth against me made me laugh, laugh in wonderment and as sound rose from my chest I felt the machine laughing with me. I attempted to take a few steps forward.

The flesh parted around me and allowed me to continue. I entered into the center of the machine, all around it was totally dark and I could no longer feel the fleshy walls. I called out, "Is this all?" My words were dampened and lost as quickly as they left my mouth, then something grabbed my hand. Instinctively, I pulled away, but before my hand was totally loose I allowed whatever it was a touch, a feel.

I realized that what had grabbed out for me was a hand. The hand was rough and coarse, the type of hand that has seen too much work in its life. As the hand grasped mine, I could feel a scar of knitted flesh on the inner palm. I knew this hand - it was Christophé.

"Christophé?" I questioned, but again my words were met with silence. I felt the hand pulling me closer and then another hand placed itself on my shoulder. Everything felt so familiar, so right. Finally, I felt the brush of his beard against my chin and his mouth pushing mine apart. For moments, horrible, nagging, gaping moments, I forgot where I was...

* * *

The Pleasure Machine was created by Madame Borsa, a Tzimisce, who sought to make something so 'beautiful' and utterly hedonistic that no one would ever want to leave it. What the machine actually is, is her flesh crafted sire and their lover, and the bodies they manage to acquire.

People who enter the Pleasure Machine are considered under constant effects of the Kiss:
"Indeed, the ecstasy caused by the vampire's bite is called the Kiss... While kindred consider the Kiss pleasurable, they can resist it more readily than mortals can. Any Kindred, regardless of Willpower, may may a Self-Control/Instinct roll (difficulty 8) to avoid succumbing to the Kiss." 20th Anniversary Edition: Vampire the Masquerade, pg. 269.

Additionally, breaking free from the kiss is not enough, but players must first succumb to the machine and then realize something is wrong. Only with a violent reaction to the machine will it succumb and allow the person to be free.