How hard should staff enforce theme?


  • Pitcrew

    I think there are two issues here that are separate (but often overlapping).

    One is a player who doesn't understand or agree with the theme as related by the staff. This is an OOC issue, and should be addressed OOC - first, through having a strong STATEMENT of theme. And no, "this is a Vampire game" isn't a strong statement of theme, especially if we're talking Chronicles of Darkness. The nWoD books, in general, are written broadly enough to support a wide variety of themes and settings for any particular game. For example, the first Vampire book I ever read was Smoke and Mirrors. The theme and setting described in that book is nothing like any sphere of Vamp I've ever seen on a MU*, even the ones ostensibly using Smoke and Mirrors. Nothing I read ruled it out, either, of course, but it was pretty clear if you wanted to play a bunch of vampires who said fuck covenants and Princes, didn't mind teaming up with the local Mages and even informed humans against a horrible extra-worldly threat, and were just trying to get through the century without being complete monsters, that was totally a game that was supported by what was written in the book. So - if you want people to play the game you want to run, make sure it's explicit what that IS. Second, if someone seems to be willfully ignoring that, talk with them OOC, make it clear that's not the game you're running, and if that doesn't suit them, they can find another game that will hopefully meet their needs better.

    However, there's another problem that's brought into that, and that's - doing things IC which are not perfectly optimal for the IC environment. This may have absolutely nothing to do with the OOC understanding of theme - that guy who cannot have sex with someone without telling them his Super Sekret Supernatural Identity probably perfectly well understands that this is a dangerous and inadvisable IC action. /That's why it's fun./ Or meaningful for the character. "Here is information that could get me killed if it falls into the wrong hands. I will entrust it to you because that's how much I love you," is an /ancient/ trope of dramatic fiction. Likewise, "Person is entrusted with an important task/important information and fucks it up in a moment of weakness," and "character on the outside of his/her society is looked down upon and harassed until he or she proves their unique value and talents during a moment of crisis," and just about everything else.

    One of the problems I tend to see isn't necessarily the 'theme-breakers', but that other players get so damned overwrought and histrionic about (what they perceive as) theme-breaking actions. Where 'theme-breaking' often is just as likely to mean 'is something I find annoying'. And I have sympathy with that, because oh god, do I find some common character concepts and actions to be really annoying. But having people OOCly treat the IC tenets of a group as Holy Writ that is always taken with utmost seriousness and punished extensively whenever they are broken is, to me, just as annoying. Especially in the WoD, where the inevitable march of hypocrisy and the slow death of ideals in favor of survival is, arguably, part of the central theme of the setting.

    Not to mention the fact that the Chronicles of Darkness, at least, are pretty clear that the IC rules are MADE to be broken. They're designed so that there's lots of incentives to break them, and that Things Will Happen when they do. Because Things Happening is where the game happens.

    Which isn't to say there isn't a line. There's always a line, and usually that line is the point at which other players are being intentionally or repeatedly antagonized by someone's rulebreaking IC AND their failure OOC to treat other players and other players' fun with respect. It's the line between the party rogue who is caught stealing from the PCs one time and this creates fun IC drama from which the rogue learns that his friends' patience extends only so far (or the rogue who is played by someone who has approached other players and together created an IC rivalry that expresses itself in petty thievery and bellowing revenge)...and the party rogue who pickpockets other PCs constantly and says, "I'm just playing my character!" whenever people OOC tell him to cut it out, it's not fun anymore. But that moves back towards an OOC problem that needs to be dealt with on an OOC level.



  • @Ghost said:

    On one BSG-themed game, a player made a special snowflake character whose skills (aside from being the best fighter pilot ever) included Zorbing (Australian/New Zealand human ball bouncing) and LEGOing.

    A player tried to explain to her (SPOILERS) that Battlestar Galactica took place hundreds of thousands of years before Earth culture discovered/invented LEGO and/or ZORB. She promptly reported this person to staff for harassing her.

    Bwahahahaha, I think I remember who you're talking about.

    What specifically bugged me about this is the fact that staff approved these things at all, and didn't clarify canon stuff with the player before she was out of CG. There were other issues, too, that I recall, but I have no idea if she was ever nudged about it, and she was eventually ICly promoted, despite a lack of interest in the theme or interest in being in charge of other characters during missions. And, if we're thinking of the same place, this was a case where competent, clue-ful players willing to take charge in IC situations were often in short supply.

    I don't consider myself a Theme Nazi, but sigh.


  • Pitcrew

    Once upon a time, in a far-away mush that has now sunk itself into the deep waters of infamy, I was the Changeling staffer. I had a player that was rude and disruptive, ignoring theme left and right and generally making enough of a nuisance of herself that the rest of the sphere was pretty much going out of their way to ignore and avoid her, and had lodged several complaints about her. I pulled her aside two or three times to explain that she needed to get her act together.

    I may possibly finally have solved that situation by bribing a player to blow up a building on the grid while she was in it, and then had to have the discussion with her about why the Regeneration merit wasn't going to let her come back from 15 or 20 concurrent points of agg from the combination of explosive material and building falling on her head.

    Conversely, some of you may possibly remember Sandraudiga from City of Hope. (Yeah, yeah. CoH. Grain of salt. Salt block. Whatever.) For those who aren't familiar, she was Pure Breed 5 Get of Fenris kinfolk with gnosis and some other crap who apparently let herself into the Umbra for giggles to go kill banes. But she was simultaneously clueless about Garou culture; we (I had an all GoF pack going) found her wandering in the forest talking to herself, out loud, about where the caern might be. We spent a while trying to educate her, teach her the Litany, etc, etc, etc, but ultimately she was more concerned about being the ultimate bad ass than playing anything remotely approaching a canon character (she was in essence a walking Veil breech, given her behavior) and despite numerous complaints about this behavior, staff did absolutely nothing. (But again, CoH.)

    I still have days when I regret not drowning her in a bathtub filled with her own blood.

    TL;DR : unless it is a real sandbox game, staff needs to be willing to draw some lines in the sand. I'd suggest that first line lies where the breaking of theme is seriously damaging other people's playing experience. And sure, a conversation or two with the person of issue is certainly in order, but sometimes the only way to cure it is with a couple hundred tons of concrete and rebar.


  • Pitcrew

    People who don't understand the theme and just need a little help to 'get it', aren't really the problem.

    People who don't under understand theme and make it clear that they don't want to be bothered, generally have a difficulty with accepting consequences for their IC behavior whatever it may be.

    Worse yet, is the above happening and the staff running the game try in heavy handed, shark jumping stripes attempt to drop theme on the game like a tone deaf anvil while all their personal PCs are theme exempt.


  • Politics

    @Echx said:

    Conversely, some of you may possibly remember Sandraudiga from City of Hope. (Yeah, yeah. CoH. Grain of salt. Salt block. Whatever.) For those who aren't familiar, she was Pure Breed 5 Get of Fenris kinfolk with gnosis and some other crap who apparently let herself into the Umbra for giggles to go kill banes.

    I really miss that pack. Nothing says "I heart Fenrir" like having a seven-foot, 400 lb. theurge screaming at a Death Spirit: "JOIN ME OR DIE COULD YOU DO ANYTHING LESS."

    But, yeah, that chick was annoying as fuck.



  • @Ganymede I miss my bees.


  • Coder

    @Ghost said:

    The gotcha really is interpretation of theme. ... This is where the staff/player slapboxing starts every time.

    Totally agree. For instance, I ran a Western game. But what constitutes a "Western" theme? Deadwood? Hateful Eight? Little House on the Prairie? A Ken Burns documentary? The true answer is: All of the above.

    "Just pick one and be clear about what you expect," you might say. Great idea, but it's hard to pin down a theme with that specificity, especially when every player is coming to it with a different expectation.

    I had a similar problem with the Battlestar theme. Some folks came to it expecting Galactica, where Starbuck punches out the XO and gets a wrist slap. Others came expecting something more like Pegasus, where regulations are enforced with a iron fist. Both are part of the established Battlestar canon, so neither is really "right" or "wrong". It just gets messy when these worldviews collide.

    Once you get beyond the obvious "don't bring your vampire to a Battlestar game" silliness, setting appropriate theme expectations and then enforcing them gets really tricky.



  • @faraday I dig the WoD book approach. Maybe post a list of suggested reading or viewing material with a blurb about the game trying to capture the gritty feel of Battlestar Galactica: Razor and how the game seeks to be a military, gritty drama rather than the swashbuckling, "Top Gun" feel of the 80s Battlestar Galactica.

    Genre references never hurt and might even help spread our favorite nerdsauce to the uninitiated.


  • Coder

    @Ghost said:

    Genre references never hurt and might even help spread our favorite nerdsauce to the uninitiated.

    Definitely references can help establish the theme, but sometimes a single book/show is tonally inconsistent. Both of the BSG examples were from the same Battlestar show, just different episodes/ships :) I was shooting for a middle ground between those two extremes, which made it hard to pin down in a way people could relate to.


  • Coder

    @faraday

    If the problem is that we are describing genre and calling it theme, then someone needs to press them on the point.

    The slapfight continues because theme is not described well enough, and most of the games we play are pretty open-world. Without a solid foundation, the staff is seen as being pushy or bossy and not in control of the interpretation.

    I left an 1800s western game when the players were having a charity auction, one of the beloved prostitutes was up for bid, and people started throwing numbers in the thousands of dollars.

    As this game was not in New York City and those people were not rail or trade barons, I watched for a little longer, made an excuse to do homework, and never returned.

    Both the theme and setting were ignored. Sure they had fun, but I wanted theme and setting. Ah well.


  • Coder

    @Thenomain said:

    If the problem is that we are describing genre and calling it theme, then someone needs to press them on the point.

    Yes, I didn't describe that very well in my post but obviously there was more to the theme than "this is a western". Genre is a part of theme, but only a part.

    Still, I'm not sure I understand your point, other than to agree that yes - it's silly for folks in a wild west town to be bidding thousand of dollars... to say nothing of the head-scratcher that is a charity auction involving bidding on a prostitute.

    At any rate, I don't think it's practical to describe theme exhaustively. Even if you did try, nobody would read it.

    Side note: When I say "theme", I'm using the traditional MUSH definition of "setting", rather than the literary definition.


  • Coder

    @faraday

    At the time I missed that you asked how to better describe theme, and meant to agree with you that "western" is not a theme and therefore we needed to describe it better.

    Let me start here:

    "Just pick one and be clear about what you expect," you might say. Great idea, but it's *hard( to pin down a theme with that specificity, especially when every player is coming to it with a different expectation.

    How to do theme better: I agree with @Ghost. The World of Darkness core books (Vampire, Changeling, etc.) give a list of various themes you could be going for, in the literary sense. I feel that this is more critical than setting, because it informs setting more than setting informs theme. This game is for playing X.

    "Commander Adama runs a light ship but expects loyalty. His crew lets off steam, but anyone who goes too far can expect a few days in the brig out of the action they desperately crave. Everyone seems hungry to not just survive, but win, and win at any cost."

    But in the immortal words of whomever said them, no game survives first contact with the players. You have to keep tweaking expectations and presentation; it's one of the reasons I'm so hard on games which don't clarify what they want to new players.

    "In ThenoWestern, you are a European-American in the alien world of the newly explored, lightly settled West, where the natives are trying--and effectively--to stop your Manifest Destiny." You may not know much about the setting, but you know what's expected of you when you create a character, and what kinds of things you're probably going to be ending up RPing.

    I agree with @Ghost as well; setting the literary theme will also be important. For ThenoWestern, it's: High Adventure at High Tea, served with an Intrigue Biscotti.

    Am I describing Castle Falkenstin or Space: 1889? It doesn't matter, because you already have ideas for this game, don't you.

    Whether or not my idea of what should be run and yours mix is an entirely different issue, but that's why you talk to players, that's why you try to keep things simple, that's why you NPC higher-ups to tell the Captains that they have gone over the line whipping their pilots.

    And so forth.



  • @Thenomain @Ghost @faraday

    I like the examples. What I am noticing is, and I'll use BSG as a template; is that Packs, Cotories, Cabals and Houses are like their own ship. Each with a Captain. Each ship is run a certain way. A Theme. Now, outside of that ship is Genre, which is where the NPCs come in, and Staff can guide a whole came with soft-touches. Two Captains in a BSG, with two different perspectives, can be considered right, while within their own ships. Outside of them, you have to give over to the Genre/General Consensus.

    It is seeming to work relatively well in various places I play and sometimes lurk; like a horrid, slippery, fat catfish. Lurklurklurk. Anyways; I really think Staff only needs soft-touches and to be used as an OOC Peace Officer and even Intermediary between players. As for Captains? Well. Don't like one? Slit his throat and push him overboard - it worked for pirates pretty well.



  • Your analogy falls apart in practice when each playgroup affects the world in different ways. With PrPs, often you'll find Group A killing a million ninjas and buggering Hitler in the ass while Group B plays it more conservatively.

    Take Changeling for instance.

    Motley A opens a Winnie the Pooh themed hedgebar where things are happy and safe. They RP traipsing through the hedge like it's a candyland party.

    Motley B RPs that the Hedge is dangerous and you will die if you screw around in it.

    Everything Motley B does to reinforce how dangerous the Hedge is? It's shat upon by Motley A. They turn all the risk and struggle of the other group into a joke.

    Staff needs to keep shit clamped down tight. They need to approve PrPs. They need to make sure players know what to expect in the game world. They need to ensure that everything is clear to everyone involved and have a clear, understandable, and transparent goal for what sort of theme they want players to adhere to and they need to put effort into making sure that players who either through ignorance or carelessness ignore the stated themes are dealt with, be it through punishment or education.



  • @HorrorHound GREAT EXAMPLE.

    Take Commander Adama ( Edward James Olmos) and Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes). Both were the military figureheads of two different Battlestars, the Galactica and Pegasus, respectively. To Adama, Galactica was a family, a family that sometimes needed a father, a disciplinarian, and a friend, but ultimately their responsibility was to place their lives before the fleet and protect the last of humanity at all costs...even if that meant running and hiding. Cain's Pegasus was a warship in a time of war, and the Cylons were the enemy, and she turned a blind eye to the rape and beating of a Cylon captive as a means to fuel the fire to take the fight to the enemy. The needs of the fleet were to provide soldiers, and the mission was to fight or die. Cain wasn't above executing soldiers for refusing to follow her orders, because in wartime, cowardice/treason could be legally punished with death, and she was in charge. She wasn't evil, and she was matronly, but she was an iron fist.

    BOTH existed in a genre that was gritty and fatalistic. The theme's whimsical moments were vastly outweighed by themes of survival, mourning, heartbreak, and sacrifice.

    My favorite BSG character I ever encountered on any of the given mushes was a disabled engineer in a wheelchair. Like Vriess from Alien: Resurrection, she was rendered without the use of her legs and was bitter as hell about it, but she could still function. What else was she going to do? A disabled naval officer not working would just be sitting alone in some room, praying the ship didn't blow up.

    It's just a setting where happy characters, unaffected by the war and are pacifists simply don't make sense. In war, even a wrench turning technician could be called to fire an assault rifle, and characters don't get to choose what they do and don't do. THAT is the spice of the genre. No one wants to fight or die, for the most part, but swearing an oath and suffering the whims of commanders who may or may not be making the right call with your life makes for a kind of obligated terror roleplay.

    It was really hard roleplaying with characters who just simply didn't get why that slight film of depression and fear covered everything.



  • @Admiral That is why, as Staff, you give a soft-touch..

    ...The Hedge transforms PoohBear into Naughty Bear and starts hanging entrails around like Yule decorations.



  • @HorrorHound Changeling is World of Darkness, not Muppets of Darkness

    EDIT: I'm still kinda twitching from VASpiders beau's character: Reggie. The adorable WW2 era prop-plane fighter pilot who was an OTTER WEARING A LEATHER PILOT'S CAP. He had a magical bug biplane in the Hedge that carried everyone around like a magical school bus with wings. There was nothing of Darkness about that character. He only RPed in scenes with Spider anyway, or scenes where they were going to go his way, and it was a lot of "cheerio good chap. Let's give the Axis a good rogering, oy!" stuff.



  • I want to see a Pooh Bear running around the Hedge wearing Piglet's head as a hat and Tigger's pelt around his shoulders like a cloak... decorated with Owl's feathers and Eeyore's tail. Rabbit's Foot hanging around his neck like a grisly good luck charm. Kanga and Roo with him like a pair of vicious dogs, held back by chains and iron collars.

    Winnie the Pooh meets Lord of the Flies. That's the Hedge I've always wanted to see and never got to experience.


  • Banned

    @Ghost said:

    @HorrorHound Changeling is World of Darkness, not Muppets of Darkness

    EDIT: I'm still kinda twitching from VASpiders beau's character: Reggie. The adorable WW2 era prop-plane fighter pilot who was an OTTER WEARING A LEATHER PILOT'S CAP. He had a magical bug biplane in the Hedge that carried everyone around like a magical school bus with wings. There was nothing of Darkness about that character. He only RPed in scenes with Spider anyway, or scenes where they were going to go his way, and it was a lot of "cheerio good chap. Let's give the Axis a good rogering, oy!" stuff.

    He reminds me of the Hares from Brian Jacques's "Redwall", or my personal signature female Zebra OC, who has a British Broadcasting Company announcer's Received Pronunciation accent.

    This is a picture of her. The guy behind her is her BF.

    http://s14.postimg.org/4r4eenrxt/by_wolf_fang4_d8gef8r.jpg



  • @Cirno Holy shit, Cirno, it's a good thing I didn't open that WHILE IN LINE AT MY COFFEE HOUSE WITH A BUNCH OF CUTE GIRLS BEHIND ME!

    F.M.L.