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And just like that, it's suddenly the tail end of January. I came back from Japan on the first week of January and hit the year running, both with games (hosting a session of Titanfall the morning after I landed), and at work. This Sunday is already the first Gamers and GMs event of the year, so the committee is up to our eyeballs in work.

Today, though, in between doing an inventory of the G&G office supplies and packing things for Sunday, I also fixed my tabletop notes, archived some sheets, and swapped filefolders of my character sheets around. I thought I'd show my filing system for my notes and stuff.


This is what I do. Some people eat chocolate, I take copious amounts of game notes and archive them when games retire. Some of these notes are from as far back as 2011 or 2012, I believe.



This is my current notebook. It's nice because the pages are swappable and just move when I need them to.



My character sheets are in anime file folders like these. Easy merch to purchase and used a lot!
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There isn't really much to say about the last month, except that it's been crazy busy and exhausting but fun all around. I updated the last entry to reflect a one-shot I played this week and a game discontinuation, but otherwise I think that list won't move anymore for the rest of the year.

Next week, Erich, Stacey and I travel to Japan for the holidays. We are likely to visit the tabletop store there, where I can hopefully find some interesting dice or books. More importantly, I want to see how their logistics works for the event space that they have, and maybe take some photographs in the hopes of being able to emulate their set up here for the event space we use for G&G.

We only have one game this month left, a Christmas party for the Scion game, and a Christmas party with my main circle of friends before we leave. I hope to finish more of the logistics requirements of the January G&G event before we go, so there won't be so much work to come home to. The year draws to a close at a satisfying if hectic note, but all in all I think it's been fantastic gaming-wise.
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In general, my gaming group knows me as someone who tends to avoid the lore or fluff part in a game system book -- I go straight to character creation, or just flip through the mechanics to have a general idea of how they work. I don't actively dislike fluff in general, but it's not something I typically have interest in, and in certain situations even feel harangued by. There's something unfair, I find, in a system that encourages what I call the lore trap, where a character's competence depends significantly on how much the player knows of the setting's fluff and gritty politics, and how successful a character is depends largely on how much of the meta the player knows. There's nothing revolutionary or fun about getting trapped into situations that you normally would not get into if you had all the information about the world the GM or even other players do.

I won't deny that I've been salty about Legends of the Five Rings in particular, for example -- while Mahar is a considerate GM who takes great pains not to fall into the GM trap, reading L5R gives me the impression that this is a thing that would be really easy to do with the system. I've talked to a few other L5R GMs/players in recent months, and their in-game anecdotes both involved situations that led to seppuku (or almost seppuku) that could have been avoided if the player -- and by extension the character -- knew the lore of the setting more. In L5R, the smallest action can have really high stakes. It's a game where the setting is backed by a system that will numerically punish you for player ignorance. "Knowledge of the world is power," is practically baked into it.

But I realize in recent weeks that this thinking of mine isn't entirely fair. My own game of L5R isn't like that, though sometimes I get nervous about what I do purely because my character is a challenging one, going against almost all my typical tropes. Clearly, how the lore works for or against the players is something that both the GM and the players can manage with clear communication and table dynamics. But the first session, while manageable, was rather stressful in terms of keeping up with everyone's knowledge of the setting's fluff (and my own confusion at how Japanese but not Japanese it is, and how so many things fly in the face of cultural common sense).

Eventually, after a little bit of experimenting, I realized that a way to cope with the sheer breadth of lore was to ask the GM a lot of questions rather than assuming things and, more importantly, to take a step back from the character like what Erich had been doing with his courtier. I didn't need to say verbatim what my character wanted to say, where my phrasing can be minced -- and rightfully so -- because I can just say it in action. For example, Erich threw an NPC at my character as someone who flirted with the NPC's boyfriend in the past, in his character's effort to get the NPC to move on from this man. Now, I can't do courtier stuff to save my life, and while my character is a social beast, I had not yet been able to encounter that in her adventures. Rather than struggle with what Kyouya would say, I opted to go by the route of: "Kyouya is going to act her way through this. She acts like she is confused but trying to hide her confusion, to make Hiname feel like she caught her offguard and unprepared for once. What she wants to convey with her body language is that in that encounter Hiname is speaking of, the attention she gained from Hiname's lover was entirely unsolicited. Kyouya wants Hiname to think that her lover was at fault for having a roving eye, and that they are comrades in being victims of his bad behaviour."

This is a bit of a step away from what I had been trying to practice as a roleplayer -- which is to refer to myself in first person, as the character, rather than considering the character as a separate individual entirely. But at the same time, it's a healthy way to get things done without inflicting my own ignorance on a character who is supposed to be competent. There's a lot of reliance on the GM here, because it does give the GM a lot of work when it comes to embellishing the scene, so I still try to contribute to the visuals as much as I can with body language. Curiously enough, I find that it is a satisfyingly collaborative way of coming up with the scene, if only because of the negotiations that go around the table.

On the other hand, I knew that being fluff-averse is also not a productive habit to keep. As a player, it's also my responsibility to pull my weight at the table, to not entirely rely on the GM to give me the details of the world. What I realized with some reflection is that if I only focus on a character's fluff, it's actually quite easy for me to incorporate it into my character's background and story, and it becomes easier to digest the rest of the setting by extension.

As an example, I've had to create characters in two games recently that I consider to be fairly fluff-heavy. First is in the new Vampire: The Mage Masquerade game that Erich is newly running, Northern Nights, where I play Malcolm Summer. Malcolm is a 9th generation Lasombra with a lot of baggage with humanity and Kindred in general, but is still in many ways a true blue Lasombra in his mannerisms and mindset. I knew nothing of the setting, but I began by reading the clan summaries Erich gave our table, and choosing one clan that interested me. Knowing their quirks like being snooty and not having reflections allowed me to form a character in my mind, and I had a visual idea of how he would use his powers. I asked about how feeding happens and the mechanics of feeding, and decided that the best way to gain a rotating base of food is by being in the hospitality business, so he became a hotel owner. I created Malcolm as a mortal -- someone who was vengeful, why not? -- and then reading the rest of their creed, attitudes, and opinions on humans and Kindred let me flesh him out a bit more.

The party convened and we created our domain, and I slotted in Malcolm and filled in the rest of his personality: business-minded, intense when spiteful, and good at leading but satisfied to leave carefully-picked subordinates to their job. I made him a little obsessed with contingencies because I realized in further reading of the fluff and some clarification, that I would be a Camarilla Lasombra -- a traitor to the clan, and that his clan would probably kill him on sight. His personality was reflected into his character sheet -- a humanity of 6! -- while other parts of the sheet were reflected into his personality. For example, by necessity, I made him an older generation because Lasombra disciplines are very blood-heavy, and this added to his fluff as a paranoid Kindred due to being a prime target for diablerie, and his role in the party. Erich started throwing facts about the world at us, and further character quirks emerged as I incorporated the setting into the last six decades of my character's existence and had a focus on what I wanted to read in the books, including the fluff of my party's respective clans. In this way, I found myself quite integrated in the lore without noticing it.

A second example is a Warforged Barbarian that I created for Nosfecatu's Eberron game. Chalcedony is a self-proclaimed scholar who works in the Cogs district of Sharn, sorting wands for the Cannith factory there. I entered the game reading up only and only on Warforged, which led to a base understanding of the war they were allegedly created for and the sentient rights Warforged acquired recently. This gave me a mindset of a Warforged who is interested in freedom and fair wages, and I decided that Chalcedony is a Warforged who would be enamored with fairness. Interest in scholarly pursuits gave him the desire for knowledge (that his intelligence score of -1 could not actually support well). He's guileless and dedicated to his job, but selective in his dedication. His view of right and wrong is a bit black and white, but he understands concepts in terms that are laid out in bullet points.

The GM gave us some readings to acquaint ourselves with the city we would start out in, which gave me an idea of my Warforged's status in society and what can be expected of the population's treatment of him. A few rounds of casual RP with fellow Warforged NPCs and some goblins settled him into my head so easily, even I'm surprised at the ease with which I slid into his head. In his first session, the party decided to rob a university in the higher class district of Sharn, and Chalcedony instead decided to walk in and enroll as a student. He wishes to participate in economics, and has asked of the party that hired him as a fighter, that he wants to experiment with a compensation concept he ran across recently called commissions. His fellow Warforged was robbed, so Chalcedony started showing him the modification in his chest cavity that allowed him to keep gold in there, completely made up on the spot, and which the GM rolled with and incorporated into later scenes in a Warforged-centric tavern. It was quite fun, and a great example of how lore worked for me.

So, in effect, I suppose like most of my conclusions: table dynamic is very important in tackling issues at the table, regardless of if it's the group's or an individual's, and how one learns of the lore is a great contributor to how well a person integrates into it (learning style).

On the other hand, in my examples above, I created Malcolm with great involvement of the party, while I created Chalcedony pretty much on my own and just brought him to the session as a character sheet. Character creation dynamics is probably something I am going to reflect on next, in a future blogpost.
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"What makes a successful campaign?"

My answer to this upon first seeing the question was a very kneejerk, "A successful campaign is one in which all participants have fun," which is well and good, but that's also very vague though a worthy ideal to strive for.

A successful campaign for me means that the players and the GM must be satisfied with it. But what is satisfaction? How does one have a game that is satisfying for everyone? Satisfaction for me is something of a buzzword, something I associate with work and work-related motivation. Excuse me, then, as I ponder on this question the only way I know how: by applying management theories to it. Let us look first at the Two-factor Theory, aka Herzberg's Motivator and Hygiene theory.

"[H]e found that job characteristics related to what an individual does — that is, to the nature of the work one performs — apparently have the capacity to gratify such needs as achievement, competency, status, personal worth, and self-realization, thus making him happy and satisfied. However, the absence of such gratifying job characteristics does not appear to lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Instead, dissatisfaction results from unfavorable assessments of such job-related factors as company policies, supervision, technical problems, salary, interpersonal relations on the job, and working conditions. Thus, if management wishes to increase satisfaction on the job, it should be concerned with the nature of the work itself — the opportunities it presents for gaining status, assuming responsibility, and for achieving self-realization. If, on the other hand, management wishes to reduce dissatisfaction, then it must focus on the job environment — policies, procedures, supervision, and working conditions."


To translate, there are two factors to satisfaction: Motivators and hygiene factors. Motivators revolve around a worker's sense of achievement and of self, of being challenged and contributing to the organization, of status improvement, and of personal growth. Hygiene factors deal with the work environment, including interpersonal relations, compensation, supervision, and other material matters.

The interesting part about this theory is that motivators lead to satisfaction, but the lack of motivators typically does not lead to dissatisfaction, while the presence of hygiene factors does not lead to satisfaction, but the lack thereof leads to dissatisfaction.

So, let's now translate things in game terms. To analyze that first part (motivators), it would mean that when a game contributes to a person's concept of personal growth and sense of achievement, of feeling valued and doing valuable things, it leads to satisfaction. Personally, for me it's things like character development, story collaboration, and personal growth, so these are what we call my motivators. I include things like experimenting with character concepts and undertaking personal challenges as part of personal growth, but your mileage may vary.

"[H]e found that game characteristics related to what the player or GM does apparently have the capacity to gratify such needs such as a sense of achievement, character development, story collaboration, and personal growth, thus making him happy and satisfied. However, the absence of such gratifying game characteristics does not appear to lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction."


The second half (hygiene) are what I believe are basic aspects to a game that must be there as the minimum. If these were not in place, it would mean that I would become dissatisfied with the game -- a little bit or a lot, it depends. For me, it would be like so:

"Instead, dissatisfaction results from unfavorable assessments of such game-related factors like interpersonal relations with fellow participants, respect at the table, equal spotlighting on players, an effort to have a decent venue and space for play, and considerate player interaction."


I think these could use some work, but you get the gist. I'm actually a little bit picky with my minimums, and have others unlisted, but again, your mileage may vary. I think it's important to know what one's motivators and minimums are, because it's only fair to those at your table to know what your expectations and desires are coming into the table and we should be able to articulate them to an extent. At the same time, it's also helpful to know what others at your table want, so you can contribute to their fun. This blog topic then can surprisingly be a strong piece for self-reflection, if people were to identify the factors that they prioritize in games and communicate them with others.

Anyway, to close that quote off:

"Thus, if GMs wish to increase satisfaction of the game, it should be concerned with the nature of the game itself. If, on the other hand, GMs wish to reduce dissatisfaction, then they must focus on the game environment."


I think that's pretty fair, assuming that GMs are there to take on the facilitator role traditionally identified as management in organizations. Of course, the management of this may actually be the job of other players -- I fully believe that everyone at the table is responsible for the fun of everyone else -- but most things would still apply.
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"What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?"

I really love the social aspect of RPGs. It's an activity that you plan for, do together, and talk extensively about. It fosters a connection that can evolve into real and tight friendship. Many of the people I play with are people I know very well now, to the extent that we do many things outside of playing -- like productivity days, hanging out for coffee or tea, watching movies as a large group, eating out, and planning travel outside the metro. I've gotten to know their likes and dislikes, their families, their spouses and children, their situations at work, and generally what they are like outside of the hobby. This is a connection initiated by the hobby, but by far has not been limited to it.

Most of all, and I always tell those who ask me what RPGs are about, tabletop gaming is a collaborative activity that leads to creation and growth -- growth of story, growth of characters, and most of all, growth of storytellers. RPGs, both online and face to face, is part of what allowed me to become more confident in myself both as a writer and a storyteller (I do credit some of it to fic writing), and now as someone who can contribute ideas and action at the table.

At the risk of becoming entirely too mushy, RPGs to me is not just a thing one does, but really a part of my lifestyle that I have invested a lot of time and emotion into as a person.

I mean, look at my tabletop calendar.



Of course, this sort of schedule only became possible when I moved out in late 2014 to the center of the metropolis, since before it was too difficult to commute home to the south to manage a schedule like this. In all truth, this apartment I am staying at now has opened to me more opportunities than just tabletop, because it has also become a center for hanging out for friends.
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"Real dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to roll?"

Regardless of dice or card systems, I prefer to have the physical thing to roll or draw from, because the tactile sensation for me adds to the experience and enjoyment of the game. I like to separate my dice into their proper piles while I'm thinking, or see the visual representation of how well I might do in my action.

More than the question of "dice or diceless," what I actually prefer are systems where you can hedge your chances of success without relying solely on the dice/draw + modifier combination. In this sense, I like systems like Cypher/Numenera, where you can reduce the difficulty of the target to raise odds of success, or Malifaux, where you can "cheat" your fate a select number of times with the cards in your hand. Fate Core is something that is also ideal for me, where you can build up on additional 'modifiers' to help rolls, either for yourself or your friends. Having some control over how well I do makes more sense to me in the narrative... and also, I can have really bad luck with rolls.

I'm also something of a picky person with my own things, so I initially started hoarding only green dice of a particular shade for uniformity.

Behold!


I used to refuse to buy dice unless they were green. It kept me from spending a lot for many years.



At some point I needed a few differently colored d10s in preparation for Qin (which we never played), so I got these from Fantasy Flight.



But eventually, I added these wooden dice when Erich and I saw Artisan Dice's first Kickstarter a long time ago. I had Erich paint the pips, because I wanted them to be more readable.



My next purchase when I needed more polyhedrals for my increasing number of D&D games.



Random dice I acquired through friends and other means, wreaking havoc on my careful color coordination but hugely expanding my collection.



My first actual set of dice from 2005-ish when I played a short-lived but very fun World of Darkness game, lost for a long time until my mother recently found them.



All of them! I put the dice I use for a game in a cup now, so they are easy to keep track of.


And that's me and my relationship with my dice. I'm considering giving away some of them to less-equipped players in our Gamers&GMs events (from which I just came home tonight), but I guess I'll first have to take careful stock of what I actually want to use or not.
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This blog will discuss random thoughts on my tabletop activities in particular, and life in general.

In the last year (well, less, more like eight months), I've met more new people than I expected to do so at my age, and became extremely engrossed in tabletop as a hobby. So much so that discussions of it have become a constant in my day to day interactions with friends -- discussions lead to ideas that need to be articulated, and so here we are.

Social media websites like Facebook lack a certain archival ability to them because they're largely meant as a memory dump with not many features to enable reflection, which is why I'm always reluctant to put anything there that I would like to read back on later. And, well, I was lazy to make my own website, so here I am, returning to Dreamwidth.

The question, I suppose, is why the new account? There's nothing wrong with [personal profile] yukitsu, and in fact it has nothing in it to even clean up, but compartmentalizing my fandom life from the rest of my existence seems appropriate and, also, just easier for everyone involved.

A recent discussion on Nosfecatu's blog reminded me of the days I had as a moderator for a rather large LJ/DW roleplaying game. In his article, Nosfecatu talks about the GM's role to facilitate communication in the table to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This is a great thing to remember, and applicable to all settings.

For example! I actually spent many years in both Livejournal and Dreamwidth roleplaying characters in various games. Text-based journal games do not necessarily have anything in place to systematically facilitate conflict, challenges, and obstacles, so playing in them required a constant stream of communication for the narrative to work for everyone involved in the scene. A game could have anywhere from four to a couple of hundred players, each armed with a multitude of characters using multiple accounts (akin to individuals who own their own spaces, really). There were no gamemasters, only fellow players who handled the administrative side of the game, and in some cases, to come up with the setting, events, and the highest level of overarching plot for the rest of the players to play in.

Interaction could be random: I often made "setting" posts to explain the time and overarching plot for the event and let everyone break off into threads that were planned between players or entirely spontaneous. Characters painstakingly interacted with each other, had romance and conflict, and fought monsters that the players themselves often controlled. Players inflicted puzzles and problems on their characters with the fervor of writers who liked to make their favorites suffer. In all of this, most beginnings and outcomes were simply determined by talking to and collaborating with fellow players.

It could get messy, but it could also work like a disciplined machine depending on the culture cultivated from group to group. And in all of them, the rules were typical: keep OOC drama out of IC interactions, communicate with your fellow players, and don't be a dick. Somehow, this all just worked. Some games are more successful than others, of course, and there will always be drama when you put more than a few people into the same space, but in my experience it is entirely possible to wrangle a community of sixty players into being mostly nice and considerate to each other.

An interesting dynamic to journal-based RPGs is how everyone goes at a thread at their own pace, and can participate in multiple threads regardless of completion of their current ongoing ones. I have had threads that took months and months to complete owing to timezones and simply a disparity in writing speed. This means that in order for me to keep "up to date" with the constant stream of new events and happenings in the game and still reflect that scene in my character's narrative in more current activity, I had to actually discuss and agree on scene outcomes without yet roleplaying them.

I find it a fascinating mechanism of collaboration and very different to other RPGs, now that I've spent the past few years heavily invested in pen and paper games -- hours upon hours of sitting at the table with a group of friends, having fun exploring the world as it is presented and created. It may be the modicum of anonymity and comfort provided by the Internet that may not be present when you have to actually meet a person face to face in order to even play games, but upon comparing my experience of facilitating communication between journal players and tabletop players, I find that it's actually just a little easier to handle the former. There are less factors involved in trying to get your thoughts across, I suppose. Less of a personality to watch out for and constantly assess. People are actually really awkward in real life!

At the end of the day, I suppose what I am saying is that both are collaborative activities that benefit from open and considerate communication between the parties involved. They have their ups and downs, and I have taken from either experiences different things, but I can't say I would have had fun without being able to create something with someone else, as an involved and invested party.