Building the Darkness: Future Role-Playing Game Thoughts

Hello to all of the g33ks, m33ks and RPG fans out there reading this.  The purpose of this article is to tell you about where I have been, and where I am going to be going with my current set of Table RPG Game Mastering.  Originally I was going to keep these aspirations and thoughts limited to myself and those people who will eventually end up playing in this future adventure.  Yet the more I thought about it, I felt like there might be some really good information that I could present to newer players or Game Masters that might be beneficial to them.  In addition to that though, it presents an opportunity for other people out there in the world to leave comments and ask me questions, hopefully giving me the ability to present a better story.

And hell, I may just be able to Skype in a few online friends while I’m at it.  =)

Anyway let me begin with where I am at with my current RPG game.

Let me tell you about the World of Darkness system developed by White Wolf.  It is often referred to as a Modern Gothic system.  The storylines generally take place in our modern time period, and the system is built around the idea that Vampires, Werewolves, Mages, Demons, and other mythological creatures are all living among us.  In the game world you play as one of these supernatural creatures, trying to deal with living as a monster, and hiding your nature to the mortal world.  After all, if mortals discover the truth, they could wipe out your way of life just by sheer numbers.  It’s a fantastic system filled with political intrigue, mystery, horror, sexiness, and fast paced, brutal action.

Currently there is the Old World of Darkness (oWoD) and the New World of Darkness (nWoD).  Essentially, oWoD was the first edition that White Wolf published, and then nWoD is the newer rule set.  Some of the rule mechanics have changed, and some of the abilities that specific supernatural groups can do are different, but a lot of the themes are similar.  White Wolf got to hit reset on the universe that they had created and were able to start off and make their mythology a little bit less convoluted for newer players and storytellers.

My love of the White Wolf system is very deep, as I have been playing and developing storylines for it since the original World of Darkness.  I ran 3-4 Vampire: The Masquerade campaigns about 8 years ago and even back then I was always trying to do something just a little bit differently.  While I focused on Vampire for my player characters, I was very interested in crossover storylines.  For those of you who may not know, the White Wolf World of Darkness system is pretty much a universal guideline.  At it’s core, Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc all work exactly the same.  While the specific abilities that each of these supernatural forces are different, the gameplay mechanics are all similar.  So therefore I liked to toy around with the idea of these group of Player Character Vampires making decisions and how that would affect the other supernatural beings that were in the world.

In addition to cross over storylines, I also kept track of what my different adventures were doing and how they affected each other directly.  As many people who play RPGs may know, just because you start an adventure doesn’t mean you will finish it.  Sometimes life gets in the way and you can fall in and out of playing.  For my 3 or 4 adventures in the Old World of Darkness, I kept building upon what had happened in the previous adventure, recycling NPCs, PCs and themes from one to the other.  Therefore it was never the same adventure, but I was able to build the story off of what previous groups and generations of players had done before.

Fast forward to 2008 when I started a New World of Darkness campaign with a group of friends.  I once again built off of the Old World of Darkness adventures I had run previously.  This time around I wanted to step my game up.  My adventures were always marked with large groups of players (8-10) and the theme that not everything was always as it seemed.  For this nWoD adventure, I decided to go for broke.  Knowing that all the systems were designed to work together, I did the biggest crossover that I am aware of.  I took all of the nWoD supernatural books (Mortal, Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Promethean, and Changeling at the time), laid them out in front of my players and said “Pick whichever one you want”.

This is a really bold plan.  For those of you who are new to RPGs, just know that I was essentially forcing myself to remember five different nuanced systems.  Sure the core rules of dice rolling, storytelling, and character progression are the same, but there are different rules for each supernatural and you do have to know them.  What I had to do was to trust my players.  They had to know the book inside and out and let me know about abilities that they could do.  I would then take my firm grasp on the system and factor that all in.  They taught me stuff about their groups and I taught them right back in some ways.  It was a rewarding experience for everyone because in the end, we all have a great knowledge of what all the supernatural groups can do.


That adventure has now been going on for 3+ years and has generally been considered a success by the group playing it. As we reach the end of it though, there are a few major issues that have come up that need to be addressed. Here are some of the issues that I ran into, and that you may run into if you end up running an adventure with a shit-ton of people and use multiple systems.

  • Beginning parts of the adventure really focused on character development and story, yet the ending was a lot of fighting

This is something that I deem as my worst mistake.  At the beginning of the adventure I had a core group of 4 people.  It was a solid group and during our gaming sessions, I had plenty of time to have them really delve into what made their characters tick and to investigate many different mysteries, and at the same time get some fun combat in there.  As the adventure went on though, and as people would gush about what was taking place and the cool storyline, more players wanted to be added.  I also have a very difficult time saying no to those requests.  They are my friends after all, I want them to play!  Quickly though that started to spiral out of control and there was just too many people in the game.  As we got deeper into the storyline, we started moving more towards final confrontations with villains and enemies, and between those combats and the sheer amount of people, it often times proved difficult to give time to everyone.  Factor in difficult times to schedule sessions, and tangential conversations during gameplay, and it has gotten out of hand from time to time.

  • Storyteller / Game Master would sometimes give a cool storyline to one supernatural group, and other groups might feel left out or unappreciated

When you have 5-6 different groups of supernaturals and they all have their different themes, it can be difficult to incorporate all of them all the time.  I obviously love all of the different groups in one way or another.  I wouldn’t have played the system if I didn’t.  Yet my players got really into their specific system and found out all sorts of cool ideas, themes and abilities that they would like to take center stage.  Sometimes though my storyline wouldn’t necessarily coincide with a player’s idea of what should happen, or felt like I had given too much attention to a particular group or theme.  It did happen from time to time, and it was never intentional on my part.  Simply where the story took me as I was letting it all flow.

  • Storyteller / Game Master doesn’t know all of the rules for <insert supernatural group here>

This is a common complaint and one that was bound to happen.  As I stated before, there were some specific rules that I knew but my players didn’t, and vice versa.  During some points it would lead to points where my players and I might butt heads on a rule or an interpretation of a rule.  There was also some times that decisions / story hooks that I had would limit one supernatural group and buff another.  It didn’t happen often, but it would happen and cause some issues and stress on all accounts.


http://nurkhular.deviantart.com/

As you can see, it wasn’t all lollipops and rainbows.  Yet the storyline was solid and everyone had crafted such wonderful characters that we always found a way to compromise and continue forward.  As I reach the end of this adventure though (possibly 3-4 more sessions), my mind naturally wanders on to the next RPG adventure that I will run.  There is a desire to not do exactly the same thing as before, yet I don’t want to limit myself.  I want to give the players even more choice, but I don’t want to run into the same issues that I did previously.

It was with all of that in mind that I have come up with some ideas and some suggestions that hopefully some other Game Masters out there can take advantage of, or comment on.

  • Open the game up to everyone

This is more of a personal thing.  As I said before I just don’t like to say no to anyone, and I feel like an invitation only game can only lead to hurt feelings.  “Why does this person get to play and not me?  You must hate me in real life!”  I realize that most gaming groups just have issues trying to get enough people to play, but what can I say the g33kWatch crew isn’t most gaming groups.  I don’t want to deal with the guilt of leaving someone out, and to be honest all of the people I have ever RP’d with have brought something fantastic to an adventure.  They are all great in their own ways and I want to embrace that, not shun it.

Opening the game up to everyone is dangerous though.  Not everyone is going to want to play the same supernatural group, there is going to be diversity.  Yet didn’t we complain that when all the groups were involved there was a feeling that some players were getting more “screen time” than others?  How do we solve that?

  • Have multiple gaming groups or “mini-adventures” that can be interconnected

Ambitious don’t you think?  Allow me to explain.  As I looked back on my current adventure, the strongest sessions I had were ones that involved small amounts of people that were focused on the task at hand.  It gave people the chance to shine, to participate more, and put the focus on the storyline.  So how do we get back to that part, when we have already said we are opening the gaming to upwards of 10-12 people?

As the Storyteller, I will craft the world in such a way that there are multiple storylines happening concurrently.  Those storylines will be appropriate and involve different supernaturals and groupings.  Yet in the back of my mind, all of these events are interconnected to one larger storyline and thread.  As these individuals storylines progress, they may find that they need more information, info that the other gaming group has access to.  The players could either choose to find another way around the issue, or could combine efforts with that other group.  Yet that group has a different set of supernaturals associated with it, so it may cause conflict.  That conflict can help move the story along, whether they work their issues out or not.

  • Keep all players involved in the world with sending out an E-mail newsletter / other forms of social media

This came to me as I was becoming interested in Alternative Reality Games or ARGs and thanks to the effort of our good friend Josh.  Basically each of these groups are going to be doing something different.  Well how does the world perceive what they are doing?  You use the Newsletter not to tell your players “oh X player did X thing and then we ate pizza”.  No, instead this newsletter takes on the guise of a newspaper article or a video update, whatever makes sense.  You do this in character and as the storyteller you can drop hints as to strange occurrences happening in another part of town or a nearby state.  When the players read this, something talked about might look like it would be beneficial to their current situation.  They could investigate that thread further, and if need be go meet up with that other group as stated above.

Basically the players are better aware of the world around them, and have a vague idea about what the other groups are doing.  They can then choose to be their own stand alone adventure, or combine efforts.  This method also opens up the possibility of special guests via Skype.  Doing an entire gaming session on Skype can be difficult and not as fulfilling.  Doing a small cameo when needed though via Online Video Chat can give this interesting dynamic that wouldn’t be possible any other way.

  • The players are in smaller groups, so be sure to hold sessions on a regular basis, but to keep them on target and on time.

You don’t want a specific adventure or gaming group to get too far ahead.  If they get too far ahead, it eliminates or severely limits the possibility of working together and being connected with a group that hasn’t gone as far.  I’m not saying that each group gets a one hour RPG session, but you don’t want to make it feel  like one group is getting all the glory and more attention.  Because the groups are smaller in size, it should be easier to setup times and to not have them dove tail into 10 hour marathons.  It’s possible to have one group get in on a Saturday at 12 PM, play for 5 hours, and then at 6 PM a second group comes in.  It is beneficial to me because I have the events fresh in my mind so I can adjust as needed, and it also just gets more done.

Plus it also allows group that may be geographical far from me, that I only see maybe once a month, to pool together and when I see them that once a month, I can get down to business and have their own separate mini adventure.   Then when they hopefully get invested and if they need to connect with a different group, then we can make time for that rather than trying to force people to drive two hours every week or every other week.


Well there you have it.  There’s my ambitious plan to try and be everything to everyone.  It is obviously a huge undertaking, but the rewards can be very beneficial on both sides.

For Me, it gives me a rare chance to tell multiple stories.  I have always joked in my head that I love so many different systems and have so many story ideas, that it can be sometimes limiting to only act on one storyline.  Now though, since we are dealing in different groups, the themes and ideas that are being played out can be vastly different.  Sure they might be connected in a larger sense, but on a local level it means I get to mix things up and never get tired of any one thing.

For Players, it gives them that individual attention that they have wanted.  Now I’m not running around on the gaming table, trying to answer 15 different questions.  Being in smaller groups, it also means that the players’ specific styles and preferences can be accommodated.  Those power gamers that love combat and love to fight for eternal glory can band together and have that experience.  Those players who are more into character development, mystery, and intrigue can work that angle.  Obviously all the groups are going to get a bit of everything, but the focus can be better on what they want.

For Both, it means that it will be easier to schedule.  When trying to get 7-10 people together it can be difficult and frustrating.  If you don’t hold a session because 1-2 people can’t make it, the larger group gets annoyed because we don’t play enough.  If you hold a few sessions anyway and explain out the 1-2 people, those people can get frustrated and feel alienated and too far behind.  Having small groups of 2-4 players, means that it’s easier to schedule, less likely to go a long time without playing, and keep everyone happy.

I hope you enjoyed reading the wall of text I just typed out.  Please leave comments down below on what you think about this style of adventure, questions about the World of Darkness system, or concerns that you might have with something like this.  I am really intrigued as to what people will think about my next great project that I’m hoping to launch in the spring / summer.  If you live locally to me, please let me know if you want in.  If you live far away and only contact me through the Internet, please let me know if you want in I may be able to cameo you in or use you as a story aid / fact checker.  If you are new to the site and came in here via a link or Reddit or whatever, please stick around and keep reading up!  As the months go on I will use the g33kWatch site to update everyone on how the story is progressing, some of the highlights, and if the experiment is working.

Next Time – Whenever I do my next post, assuming that people care, I will talk about the current state of the World of Darkness as laid out through my adventures.  I’ll introduce you to some of the themes, some of the past history, and some of the zanny characters that inhabit my world.

To Be Continued …

– Joey V
Malkavian Storyteller

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Joseph Valenti

Founder of g33kWatch, Joe is the guy who makes sure nobody hurts themselves. Connect with me on Google+

5 Comments:

  1. Augggh, dont have time to read it now, just skimmed it and REALLY WANNA read it.

    Gotta shoot, but yo guys, i’m still nosying around!

    Love and peace

    Joby.

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  2. Still glad to have you around Joby, can’t wait to hear what you think about the article =)

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  3. Interesting insight into international gaming.

    There is no synonym for gaming that starts with “i”. I am perplexed, but then I guess there is not “i” in roleplaying.

    I like the idea of mailshotting members with an in-character overview, it is something that could work as you mention to keep the story flowing between games and it gives players something to look back on “Oh yeah, this happened” before the next session.

    A news outlet format works very well as the game is set in modern times and would be one of the most obvious ways for that groups would know what the other is or has done.

    Group A have a battle which causes a factory explosion in downtown Manhattan. Group B read the article and maybe something there (the area, the name of the factory) piques their interest and their adventure begins (in game time) the next day investigating the aftermath and learn someone Supernatural is involved, but they don’t know the full details.

    Maybe the two groups are after the same item and there is evidence that is found in the rubble that sends them in another direction from Group A, maybe it means Group B’s work is longer route at first, but obtains a more direct line toward the end.

    Maybe Group A and B are not just different Supernaturals, but are in fact members of opposing factions and Group A is after something and Group B is sent after Group A, but are following the instruction to do away with interlopers and enemy agents, so they do not truly know who was to blame for the explosion and Group B’s inital objective is supposed to be finding Group A and eliminating them? I’m just firing into the air at the moment.

    It is something I have mentioned to you before and would be more than interested in joining or helping with or no-really-joining.

    It would be an interesting take of using real-time social media for the in-between session stuff. Perhaps a twitter account dedicated to flash points of things that happened or in-character reactions to events, like a big brother eye recording them. I may be going too far now, it could be just as well enough including fake media blurbs in with the e-shots in-keeping with the world.

    Anyway, if you want to poke me about ideas, you know where to find me (at US Immigration Offices everywhere).

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  4. This challenge you set yourself seems fantastic!

    Due to stumbling across your community, i’ve recently found myself in a RPG and just watching the DM try to intertwine 4 characters in his own storyline seems hard, let alone 4/5 groups of 4/5 players!

    I love the idea of bringing different groups together in many ways in one world. It must have a hugely positive impact on your imagination as a DM and finding ways to connect them through ARG style play is wonderful.
    One problem that I guess is down to honestly, is how the groups talk to each other outside of the game IRL. I’d find it so hard, as a player, not to talk about what happened in my last session! haha

    As Drakmarth a put it, I’d love to somehow get involved. If you ever need a british voice or two to create audio files (radio news feeds) or dark gritty video feeds. I’d like to put my hand up.

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  5. First off I want to thank both Joby and Drak for replying to the post! Really appreciating you reading the wall of text =)

    Drak – Yeah you got a firm hold on what I’m trying to do. Part of me is semi-worried about the idea of one group coming in and trying to kill another gaming group. Yet at the same time because this is set in a supernatural world, you can really do interesting things with that. You can make players into new supernaturals, or it could be a great way for a character to experience a really epic and cinematic death. It is definitely not something that I would set out to do, but could be interesting to see how that turns out.

    I also do like your idea for a fake Twitter account and add a sense of an ARG to it.

    Joby – Yeah I mean all RPG’s present problems and challenges. Obviously the idea that players will discuss things outside of the game is bound to happen, it just will. It’s really up to me personally to ensure that a player stays in character and doesn’t jump to conclusions. I am usually pretty good with opening a dialogue with my players and saying “Your character wouldn’t know anything about this, you’ll need to find a different way to approach this”. It is a difficult task, but it’s my job to remind people to stay in character and not to “meta-game”

    I would love to involve our fans into this more and more. Whether that be a cameo appearance for a full session, or to have our community record radio briefs or video or what not. It would be a lot of fun and be a great way to get our fans and readers more involved in our games. =)

    If you have ideas please let me know here and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

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