Splitting the Party, Acting as an Individual

We all know it happens, that moment when one of the players at the table declares their character is going to split off and go on some solo task, be it a lengthy amble up the slopes of mount Doom or just a quick duck into the local pub for a swift pint or two.

Before you know it someone rolls their eyes and says those immortal words.

DON’T SPLIT THE PARTY!

Now, we all know this is generally good advice, for all players know deep in the fearful recesses of their hearts that every horizon, corridor or innocuous side table might conceal a straining tidal mass of kill weasels just waiting to fall upon the unwary in a raging torrent of teeth and fury.

But, that said, it’s also the sort of thing that leads to a boring, cowardly wagon-circling herd mentality.

There are great depths of story that can be developed by encouraging players to try separating their characters and allowing them to experience the game world with only their characters own skills and understanding, independently of that most obnoxious of roleplay conceits, the collective power of “group expertise.”

What’s that then?

Group expertise is the phenomena that occurs when all the characters in the whole group can and does instantly call on the skills, abilities and knowledge of the group’s most capable character(s) for a given task at any time, seemingly regardless of the situation or any other impracticalities.

It also breeds an atmosphere where only the “best” character matters to the progression of the group and if (as tends to happen) the group regularly runs into similar challenges then those whose skills aren’t called on can fade into the background..

INDIVIDUAL ABILITY VS. GROUP EXPERTISE

Now group expertise isn’t necessarily bad, it serves a purpose and it sometimes even makes sense, like when you have the whole group finds itself standing about impatiently while the thief pops a lock open. Or when the group need to talk to an NPC with whom most of them don’t share a common language.

But it can also obstruct a Puppet Master’s ability to paint a full and engaging picture of the scene through the information that individual players receive, for example when the party’s stonemason doesn’t bother to look at the crumbling walls because the scout said there was no danger while looking for goblins and other critters.

Splitting the party isn’t (and doesn’t have to be) just a reduction in total health and damage output. It can be an opportunity for a character to shine, (especially one of middling abilities that tends to get outshone or outperformed) a chance to act as a hero in their own right instead of a sidekick or a minor cog in the machine of the party.

So, what do you propose then?

Well, I have recently been fortunate enough to run a game with three fine players who have a particular tendency to split up and I have begun to employ subtle variations in the information I put into the narrative based on which character experiences it. Coloured by how their character experiences the world using each character’s biases, attitudes and unique abilities.

This is particularly stark as in the group we have:

Zeke, a reclusive northern outdoorsman on a delusional revenge quest to find the brother of his pet, Jerry (a mutant red squirrel with two heads.)

Anita, an experienced medic and chem trader with over a hundred years of half-forgotten life experiences and a network of dodgy acquaintances.

Timi, a borderline psychotic, lip reading, grease monkey and tech pervert with a nail gun and a side interest in gruesome torture.

WELL, THAT’S… DIFFERENT.

Indeed it is.

And those differences mean I can supply very different information to each of them depending on which of them is exploring an environment at the time.

The outdoorsman keeps an eye out for Vitals of survival, food, landmarks, animals and other physical dangers.

The chem trader looks for opportunities to make money, chem users and places or people she remembers from her long travels.

The mechanic/torturer tends to be in the look out for unattended tools, interesting components, places to remain unseen and more recently the guards, who are hunting her for a chain of mutilations.

With these things in mind I can have these three all look into the same room and pick out different details from it based on what information they look for and how they feel about it.

WAIT, DOESN’T THAT MEAN THEY MISS THINGS?

It sure does, just like real people do.

No major plot points or game changing info drops of course, but just adding little details that they alone notice can reward player engagement and make it worth having characters that act as individuals while working together to further the goals of the group.

Who knows, maybe particularly canny players could even potentially turn some of those innocuous little details against their PM imbuing them with importance and leveraging them to direct the plot if they are clever about it.

Actually, I think I’d love to see that in my games.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

New Campaign, New Puppetmaster NEW PUPPETS!!

Health issues, medication side effects, a gentle stabbing, the demands of work and family, new pets and Blood’s growing schedule of podcast appearances (added to my enormous ability for procrastination) have delayed us much too long.

Isn’t real life just a savage bitch sometimes?

But no more!

It’s been too quiet for too long now, so we’re swinging back into action with a new Monday night campaign run by the master of spotty notes and short term memory loss, me. Thirsty.

Monday Nights – Get NUKED! Rotten Under Ooze Town

And being that it’s run by me (if my form remains the same) it’ll probably devolve into a complete farce in about ten minutes. However, it should at least be an entertaining and interesting look at a previously unexplored part of the NUKED! setting.

In addition to Myself we have a crew of miscreants like none before it:

 

Spanners

As our only returning player we have the trusty madwoman-at-arms known as Spanners

She who ever sits at the ready to keep me on my toes with unexpected requests, troubles with auto-captioning and wildly wandering accents.

New Puppets on deck!

That’s right, we’ve roped in some shiny new Puppets to join the crew!

Lilth 

Lilth is the first of the shiny new players we have joining us, Another beer drinking, dice rolling nerd from the sunny south coast just like Blood and Thirsty.

 

Eivor

The second of our new players is a pleasant fellow who until a few weeks ago didn’t actually own a d12 (he bought one specially to play with us, what a great guy.)

Eivor dwells in the North, where apparently winter is always coming due to the cyclical nature of seasons.

Come and See how it goes horribly wrong

Join us as we descend in the filth and corruption of Ooze Town, Starting on May the seventh 2018 and (hopefully) every Monday night at 8pm GMT until I get lynched by my players or Blood busts me back down to player and takes control once more.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

2017: So Long and Thanks for All the Snoots

As I sit here in my lair only an hour of this new year has passed, and already the cogs are in motion for a barrage of new developments.

But my thoughts are drawn back to the past year, and the great games, excellent conventions and even more awesome people who made it the best year yet for Bloodthirsty Puppets including (but by no means limited to.)

The Great Ones

The glorious bearded one SkaGgeth, the eyebrows of enthusiasm The B and& B Tavern, the leather crafting wizards of The Cognitive Merchant, those awfully sporting chaps and chapesses in the TLD crew, our friends at The Spark Network (even if that game never saw the light of day,) the guys from The Formal Gamer (For putting up with me mostly,) our diehard allies in the B.U.R.P.S. and their guests at Reunicon, the organisers of Furnace, Convergence and Dragonmeet conventions and Kalum of the Rolistes the Lord of the #######P##odCastZone.

Notable mentions

Thanks to everyone who played one of our convention games this year, you guys ensured that even though we ran the same games every time, we never heard the same story twice.

…And as always

Thanks to Rose, Roseann and Andy for putting up with our shit.

So here we are. Thank you all for an amazing year.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

 

A Line in the Sand, The Values You Fight For.

Let me start by asking a question. Who has never been in a game where a fellow party member acted like a complete prick only to justify it by saying “I’m [insert alignment here.]”

Nobody?

Good.

Now, debates on in-game alignment and morality come up near constantly. Both in and out of character, sometimes these evolve into full-blown arguments and can even break up games which I think we can all agree is very sad indeed.

The problem in many games (including the fifth edition of that popular roleplaying game with those dice that have twenty sides) is that morality is all too often presented as an essentially static fact, leaving players trying desperately try to grapple with the fiction that the people and creatures they are playing and interacting with have inherent and immutable moral inclinations inborn, shaped by dint of their race or culture.

Now not only is that quite restrictive but it sounds a bit like the language of the racial pseudoscience of the eugenics movement (and all the frankly awful historical baggage that comes with it) and so it is understandable that very few people sit comfortably with this kind of inflexible reasoning nowadays.

So what?

In most of the games I’ve played recently, (regardless of system) we’ve chosen to simply ignore alignments and get on with the game. That said all my games are made up of all pretty experienced players and generally we don’t tend to waste much time before revealing our character’s moral/sexual/social boundaries in-game through their interactions with the world.

But as much as I vastly prefer this alignment-free gaming method over the cast-iron bounds of stated morality it does mean that it is harder to describe your character to someone else. Gone are the old days of saying “I play a Lawful Awful Dwarf Paladin. Damn, does the party’s Neutral Evil Elf Rogue hate me.”

Which is not a particularly common issue really, but what if you want to define a pick-up and play character? Or don’t play very often? Or maybe you play lots of different games and you need an easy way to remind you of your characters moral inclinations?

do you have a better suggestion?

Well yes, I think I might.

This really would be a terribly indulgent ego-stroke of an article if I didn’t.

… what is it then?

I propose that instead of alignments each player creates a profile of values to define the way their character tends to behave.

To build this profile, imagine how the character would describe what motivates them. remember, initially this will be just a snapshot of how they feel at the beginning of the campaign, and they may still be a little naive or even swept up in some romantic ideal.

For example: what formerly might have called a “Lawful Good” Knight or Paladin might have an extensive profile of values like this:

  1. Lawful: I strive to uphold the laws of man & gods alike
  2. Pious: I hold fast to my god, my prayers are my weapon & my armour
  3. Guardian: I endeavour to protect the innocent from harm
  4. Crusader: I aim to strike at injustice wherever I find it
  5. Chastity: I aspire to preserve my purity of body & mind, no intoxicants or unclean pursuits shall sully me
  6. Compassion: I try to grant aid to any who ask for it, even if they are my foes

Whereas a formerly “Chaotic Evil” Mage might have far simpler no-nonsense values like this:

  1. Ruthless: My search for arcane power comes first, I let nothing stop me.
  2. Vicious: I think nothing of harming those who stand in my way

what do we gain by this?

Well, by this method a group could have might might seem like two similar characters whicht can now be easily differentiated on paper for all to see, or conversely, two very different characters now might come to share some common values creating hints for their players and PM about how they might interact.

For example:

Thomas the Thief and Aeryn the Assassin, both are members of the guild of shadows and they share the following values:

  1. Faithful: My guild is my family, I won’t betray them
  2. Greed: Cash is King, and I want to be rich as a prince
  3. Coward: My hide is just too precious to risk putting holes in

But Thomas the Thief doesn’t kill.

4. Pacifist: I’ll defend myself but I’m no killer, after all, you can only rob a corpse once.

Whereas Aeryn the Assassin delights in killing her targets slowly and painfully.

4. Sadist: I love to watch my marks suffer as they die, it makes my day.

Two characters, likely with almost identical abilities, suddenly defined as vastly different by their values, and as you can see as long as Thomas and Aeryn don’t have to work together too often they’ll probably get on fine.

So How are these profiles of values different from alignments?

For a start a profile of values is less prescriptive, you control what mix of values your character has and you determine how those values apply to their wider worldview.

Also, a profile can be as simple or as complex as you want. A highly principled character could have dozens of specific values (like the ten commandments) or just a single overarching value (try to be a good person) either works just as well.

Of course profiles are by no means set in stone, they can (and really should) evolve over time, gaining, changing or losing values as a campaign unfolds, reflecting your character encountering new situations, making new friends and enemies or facing difficult challenges that force them to change their worldview or rationalise actions they previously wouldn’t have considered.

This modular approach to morality allows characters far greater freedom to react to their world, the scars of the things they have witnessed and the repercussions of their past actions can change them into very different people.

The ability or the player and PM to change a character’s profile on a value-by-value basis to reflect decisions or events in-game allows you to easily chart your characters progress as they either rise above their base drives or sink into the depths of depravity.

Is that it?

Yes it is, so there you are, that was my token stab at untangling the thorny issue of in-game alignments and even what I hope might be a thought-provoking alternative.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

Foibles and Flaws: Bringing Life to Characters

Let’s face it, it usually doesn’t require the brains of a genius to write up a character sheet and put on a silly voice.

Is that really a character?

Of course it’s bloody not. A character is a personality, a set of opinions, dreams and drives distinct from those of the player.

Now it’s easy to come up with virtues and noble ideals for characters, they are useful and sometimes (depending on the system) necessary but what about eccentricities, odd quirks and major flaws?

The failings that make a character)

Everyone no matter how disciplined possesses their own set of selfish and destructive urges that they live with every day.

It’s those negative aspects that make characters into people, and in doing so makes them interesting, without that shadow of fallible relatability they tend to fall flat, becoming cliched Mary Sues (I’m looking at a certain alien in a cape in particular, you know the one.)

Is your character forgetful? Maybe they’re insufferably arrogant? Are they an addict? Do they have no restraint with food and drink or do they constantly brag about their sexual conquests?

The best played flaws will sometimes lead you to make a trade-off, normally this comes in the form of suffering a mechanical disadvantage in return for opportunities to discover information, make contacts or be in the right place at the right time. Obviously this can be a handy way for the PM to deliver plot hooks.

Plot hooks you say?

Examples of this would be the opium addict overhearing shady cultists organising a gathering in the hideout under the drug den (would they remember it?) Maybe a drunkard or gambler stumbling upon the BBEGs former mentor in a infamously vile dive bar the other group members wouldn’t stoop to entering.

This kind of roleplay is far more interesting and immersive than random PM infodumps or constantly returning to a MMO style quest giver. Providing valuable information but getting it can cost the player/group in terrible withdrawal/hangovers/debts that need to be dealt with later.

But wait, my character isn’t a total dick

Well no, they probably aren’t (why not? it’s great fun,) but try to remember that unless something has gone seriously wrong in your game’s world your character is probably dealing with things outside of their usual day-to-day.

So their tendency to fall into self-destructive patterns is going to be more pronounced. They could pick up a new flaw as the game progresses or sink deeper into one, this could create a B-plot of the rest of your group trying to help them.

So, it’s okay to be a selfish, deeply flawed bag of dicks?

Pretty much, yeah. Just remember that RPGs are collaborative endeavours and you can always take another character with you.

Seizing too much of the spotlight for yourself is often just taking it from a less assertive member of your group, remember to share the limelight when your drunk wants to go on a binge.

So, be a vile arsehole if you want, but remember your group doesn’t have to put up with you going overboard.

So, what bought all this on?

Having just finished a seven month long campaign playing Cormac “Mac” Michels on Friday Night SPICED! I can honestly say that playing an arrogant, forgetful, lusty, self-centred, cowardly, hard-drinking, incompetent sniper promoted beyond his ability to operate was a real treat.

Every game gave me the opportunity to see Mac faced with opportunities to sink to a new low or struggle to overcome his crippling personal failings. It led to Mac gaining a drinking buddy in Lola, losing a shoe on an alien world and refusing to buy better gear due to it being non-vegan.

Hopefully this has given you some food for thought.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

 

Bloodthirsty Puppets: Where did they come from?

Long ago now, before Blood and Thirsty (but not Jim, he is much older) clawed their way out of our tortured braincases and splattered the filthy entrails of SPICED! all over our lives with vindictive glee: there was a sadly unsatisfying RPG system, eight friends and a Saturday night campaign.

The thing is, we soon found that we didn’t like the system we were playing in. It was very restrictive and walled off too many simple things we wanted to do behind levels, classes, abilities and races.

So we changed our game.

We abandoned everything from the system, only the storyline and our character names remained. After a few weeks and a couple of drunken brainstorming sessions we had built the basics of our own system from the ground up. All based around the majestic beauty of the mysterious d12.

We played that campaign for more than a year, limbs were lost, genetics warped, drug problems acquired, terrible fires set, innocents killed, children traumatised and foes conquered.

Over that year, and the ones that followed, our games have evolved into the SPICED! system. To this day our games continue to evolve, at the time of writing this it is only days since our last mechanical update to the system.

we’re not stopping now

We’re streaming, writing, playing, visiting conventions and rest assured we’re still slaving away on all manner of other tasks and projects of unfathomable villainy.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

 

Building worlds, what I wish I had known first time.

Before we get started, let me assure you I’ve had a hand in making a few worlds. Somewhere in the order of thirty of them in fact, not including the ones I’ve lent a hand on for others.

So, you’ve decided to make your own world…

Before you get tied up in geography or history ask yourself these questions:

Why should we Visit your world?

What is different about your world? Is some obvious difference immediately apparent like a civilisation ending cataclysm or is there some a more subtle difference?

I’m a big fan of “post event” worlds these are a blank cheque to write your own brand of strangeness all over but never rule out the good old “world – X” or “world + X” staples as regularly used as they are they have spawned a multitude of games, books, comics and countless other things for a reason, relatability.

Relatable worlds are good worlds, if your players feel at home already they’ll fill in small details you might have missed by themselves and save you a lot of work.

How big is your world?

The key to this question is how will your players be travelling through the world.

If they are sailing, driving or flying you’re going to need to make a much bigger more diverse world in order to occupy them and justify their travel time. Nobody wants to map, write and populate a vast empire only to have the players decide to stay at home because it’s all the same.

If the players are going to walking then the world should be far more focused and detailed, dotted with a multitude of locations within a day or so’s walk. Look at a map of Europe and you’ll soon see how towns and settlements clustered when walking was the main mode of transport. (my own neck of the woods the south coast of England is a prime example of this.)

Who else lives there?

Nothing kills a world faster than it being empty, sure a world that simply reacts to players is fun for a while but without anyone of note to aid or oppose the characters the adventure soon becomes a sightseeing tour.

Consider how life in your world affects it’s inhabitants for better or worse.

Who do they hate?

Do they have to bleed for every scrap of food?

Are they at war with the people over the hill/valley/sea?

What do these people spend their lives doing?

Answering these questions even if it is only in a very general way will help you round out your populace. It will also give you a handy starting point for making new NPCs when your players inevitably wander off the beaten path and stumble into something shady of the bad side of town.

Where can I Get a map?

Nothing helps players visualise the world they are adventuring in like a world map.

It doesn’t have to be amazing, it doesn’t even need to be complete. Our first map was made my adding towns we had already discovered to a screenshot of a coastline from a map website with the colours bleached out.

And let’s face it almost all fantasy maps look like Ireland with some mild manipulation.

That’s it!

So there, a few things I wish I’d had figured out back when I first set out to make worlds in the dark days before the dawn of the Bloodthirsty Puppets.

RIP, the poorly written worlds of Thontacles, Rahviin VI and Drelb. I didn’t know any better back then.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

The Accent Trap: how not to do an accent.

Accents are Fantastic!

Everyone agrees a good accent is a delicious aural treat, it brings a character to life and imbued them with personality, it also serves to remind us that PCs can be vastly different from their players and not every NPC is just the PM being willfully obstructive.

At the same time there exists the “accent trap” where a player, group or PM start to do all manner of unfortunate things like break immersion, continuity or stretch suspension of disbelief with poorly thought out use of accents for character voices.

Now let’s not dick about the issue any more, even a flawlessly executed accent takes gamers into potentially perilous for the following reasons:

1.) You may be difficult to understand

Even with the best of intentions the most commonly attempted accents in most English speaking RP groups are Scottish and Irish, and while Scottish Dwarves and Irish Halflings are almost as much a core part of the game as stats and dice to some people these accents can make you very hard to understand.

My own fiancee has trouble with both of my (fairly convincing) South African and Scottish accents and she’s had them inflicted on her for seven years.

So before deciding to play a peasant with a strong rural accent for example please make sure you can still speak clearly enough for your group can understand you.

2. You might be imposing lore onto the world you’re playing in that your PM may not be happy with

Not every world has a nation/tribe/city of Irish/Scottish/French/Dutch/Russian/German/hammer horror vampire people living in it and if you adopt that accent without prior discussion you are forcing your character choice to be reflected in your setting without prior consent.

Which quite aside from being presumptuous and rude could be a real pain in the arse if your group goes to your home and the PM is forced to imitate your accent poorly for a session or two.

3. You may not be able to keep it up

Now this is both the most common and most understandable of problems, your fake Scotsman/Kalahari tribesman/Spaniard today might be aided by a sore throat, recent experience or a sizable indulgence in top-shelf beverages that may not be so reliable as to be present next time you try it

So for your group’s sake practice your accent, make sure you can say important words that will pop up in game while using it (I discovered recently I cannot say “Evil” properly in my South African accent.)

Most importantly ensure you can maintain your adopted accent, it’s all very well and good playing Johann Vanderheuvel but if your accent drops off after a hour you might as well have played John of the Hill.

Just a little food for thought there.

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

What’s that Thirsty chap up to?

 

I am very busy

Big things in the works, much of my delicious Thirsty-brand writing is going on in the filthy darkness of my little corner of Southern England.

Many colourful characters born, worlds explored, new settlements detailed, old creatures revisited and old problems transposed into brave new (under)worlds.

The brave new underworlds of Emba and Britia in particular.

I hope you’ll enjoy them when I’m dragged kicking and screaming back out into the light of day.

I cannot say more

I really cannot overstate how much I want to shout these labours from the rooftops, but they (or possibly we) are not yet ready for the harsh light of day.

I really need to get back to work. Instead I am here procrastinating (for that is my other great skill.)

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.

 

Hide the booze, Thirsty’s back!

No seriously hide it, the booze is not safe.

So, I’ve finally made my way to this incarnation of bloodthirstypuppets.co.uk after a long time ranting madly into the Twitterverse from a sickbed. My own personal Phantom zone.

I’m basically General Zod, but with a better moustache, a streamlined small intestine and… oh, yeah incapable of flying, smashing buildings, shooting heat rays from my eyes, no frost breath and not invincible, but I’m immune to Kryptonite. So basically I’m slightly better right?

In the coming weeks I intend to expose you to the strange and twisted realms of my thoughts and while I’m at it maybe I’ll even let slip in the occasional update on what I’m working on (if it isn’t one of my top secret projects.)

For those of you who are still struggling to recall who I am:

  • I’m on the Puppets page, seriously people, come on.
  • I co-wrote and rules mastered the SPICED! system with Blood.
  • I invented most of the groan-worthy acronyms that litter our work.
  • I play the heroic vegan/yogi/sniper/coward/know-it-all/sleazebag Captain Cormac “Mac” Michels on Friday Night SPICED!
  • I even PMed a few early FNS! streams (I was young and needed the money?)

Everybody take a level of Suffering!

Thirsty.