Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How to use (and abuse) politics in gaming, GuestPost by MurkyMaster

Hey everyone! I'd like you to read this post from Murky-Murky, a friendly blog, on the subject of politics in RPGs. As my most loyal readers may notice, this ties in nicely with my post about the politic-full game Houses of the Blooded

I'll admit one of my more naive thoughts from yesteryear: "Politics has no place in D&D"

For me, politics was impossible in D&D, because
when the Noble starts to yak, the warriors attack.
Still from the movie "Rob Roy" courtesy of IMDb 
For the most part, adventurers in that august game, no matter the edition, are too busy struggling through dungeons and hacking up enemies for that boring jowl-exercising. Even in game where higher, less dice-driven role-play is king, politics is still treated like bacon at Miss Daisy's breakfast table (i.e. Driving Miss Daisy). Often I have heard, and said, "What is the point of putting skill points into diplomacy?"

Yet DM's, and GM's of every stripe, may benefit from the use of politics. If you aren't using politics, there is a big facet to any world your playing in that your missing, and missing an aspect of your setting means you miss all the plot hooks, devices, and twists you could be using.

Maybe one of your PC's is an assassin doesn't care for diplomacy (or talking in general, because he's just that cool), but another one is a bard who, yes, did put major skill points in diplomacy, sense motive, bluff, etc. Your bard will feel like a moron throughout most of your game, and will be down right p'od if you don't let him trade these skill points, which he never demonstrated in game, for something more slashy. And not to mention, assasins are HEAVILY used by the politically powerful, especially in the middle ages.

And what if your playing Vampire the Masquerade or Vampire the Requiem? Those game books practically demand that you run clandestine intrigue and courtly caterwauling or the Gods Against Billy Badasses will come in the middle the night and bludgeon you with hardcovers. Nobody wants that.

Don't worry, I was in the same place. I was blind, but now I hear. I hear the cries of " I want it my way!"

What is Politics (in gaming)?

Poli-Sci majors and current office holders, plug thy ears.

For a gamer's purposes, all politics is the powerful using their power to get what they want (or what they think is good for their nation, organization, company, etc.), all while reacting to other powerful people trying getting what they want at the same time.

Put yourself in a real-world game setting. Politics could be as dry and boring as a senate meeting in which Republicans and Democrats are arguing over the budget or can be as emotionally charged as the President arguing with his highest general to quarantine and sterilize a town struck with Ebola, while the general says they should give $1 billion dollars to a terrorist group in exchange for the cure they stole an allied nation's labs.

Both examples, however, can mean hundreds of plot implications that can hook the characters into the story. In the first, the government may be so desperate that they have a "garage sale" of old weapons (including nukes) to a trusted ally. Unfortunately, the other nation has budget problems too and sells them to a not-trustworthy enemy of the first nation. Now, you have a stop-the-nuke plot for a spy game. How about the second example; if it were a superhero game, wouldn't practically every hero that could fly or go really fast be trying to steal the stolen cure from the terrorists?

As I said in my last article about using NPCs in your game, that the plot is often forwarded through PC's and NPC's reacting to each other. Politics is often nothing more than powerful NPCs flexing their muscles to manipulate what they can influence. Every good and bad guy with power can use it to forward the story.

The following is an example of how politics can roll in D&D, the game where death usually comes before debate. Little may you know, though, that middle-ages politics can be downright heroic.

Rule by the sword - A D&D political story idea

Castlesin the middle ages were designed for many reasons, here are two important ones. One, castles we a place to run to when the nearby village was attacks. Two, grand castles like this one are symbols of wealth and power (like a giant "Don't mess with us" sign). "Castle Wyvern" by Ona Loots, Elfwood
Imagine if you will, that you and your family and 9 other families are living in a little village by the sea. Its mostly a human village, and your a spunky 18 year old growing awesome beets in the valley. Everyone loves your big, swollen, red beets, especially the buxom daughter of ye olde farrier.

Guess what. Sea-faring, teeth-gnashing Orc barbarians love your beets too. In fact they want to mash your big swollen beets with rusty spiked war hammers to make their pie filling and they aren't interested in paying for them. So they sail across the ocean and sack your tiny village, burn your house, steal your beets and girlfriend.

You. Are. Pissed. No beets, no babe, no house. But remember, I said you were spunky. You're also an attractive guy, a decent fighter and an excellent tactician. You rally the people together. You tell them your plan, to build a castle on top of the hill, to make a place where everyone can run when the barbarians attack again. While they build the castle, you recruit your best buddies and train them in the ways of sword-fighting. Your friends think swords are cool, and this castle thing might work, and they don't want to lose their lives to barbarians: from thus comes your knights.

The barbarians come next year, and chase all the people into the castle. Your villagers whoop their green butts with arrows, tar, rocks, speaks and lots of screaming. The barbarians lose so many people that they never come back again; afterall, your neighbors to the north are much more vulnerable...

You, being smart though, know that they may come back anyway. So you promise your people "If you raise me up as King, and feed me and my knights (who I will call Nobles) your produce, then I and my Nobles will protect you and your families." They agree: you become king, and your buddies become nobles.

Then those neighbors to the north that I mentioned hear of your infrangible castle. When the barbarians attack them, your northern neighbors flee to your castle, beaten, bruised and bludgeoned. You let them in, and promise their ninny-pants, limp-wristed leader that his people can hide in the castle whenever they want to, if he swears allegiance to you. Ninny-pants does, and thus lends you his people.

You get real ambitious. Maybe you can raise an army to go across the ocean to beat some barbarian asses and destroy the threat once and for all. You travel the land with your knights, leaving the syncophant in charge. You talk with other great kings: some agree, and say that they will make arrangements with you when you get back to your kingdom. Others would rather have your land, and try to kill you instead. Your knights protect you, but one-by-one they die at the hands of assaisns, wizards, monsters, and warriors in your long journey back home.

You come back to your kingdom without any knights, and find it taken over by the syncophant. He convinced your people that he had a better idea: instead of fighting the barbarians, Ninny-Pants told them that he would give those Orcs every third girl that turned 18 in his lands, along with a third of the food grown, in exchange for their loyalty as warriors. Why? Cause Ninny-pants want to conquer the other kings to the north and west.

Your castle is overrun by Orc mercenaries, who are not stupid, and would rather have the syncophant's throne for themselves (and they would be even harder to beat than the syncophant, whom is surrounded by big strong Orc guards ready to betray him). Your people are oppressed, their daughters raped daily and weird Orc blood cults are cropping up everywhere. Things suck, and its all your fault, and their nothing you can do about it, for you are alone. Even the allies you made aren't going to come to your rescue until you prove you can get your throne back.

You stumble into a bar, for a very, very stiff drink. Off to the side, you see 4 weird folks, all fit and trim. One carries a huge sword and talks a bunch of smack to a priest of your people's religion, the mace of his office hanging on his side. A dark woman sits in the corner quiet, wrapped tight in leathers and daggers and is giving dagger eyes to the Orcs that are admiring her lovely shadow. And a pointy-eared elf, in a thick cloak, with a staff eteched in symbols, with a Black Cat on his shoulder and an elecrtic look in his eyes, is looking straight at you, wondering why your staring at his friends. The staff-bearing guy's cat leans over and says in his ear "Boss, is that dude checking you out?"

You decide to talk to these people. Maybe they can help you….

As Emerril says, "BAM!" There's your D&D plot. Brought to you by mere, limp-wristed, yak yak politics.

Manipulating the Manipulators: Integrating Politics into your game

So now, how do you use politics to your advantage in D&D or any other game system. Try these simple suggestions.

Know your power structures

Note I say power structures not governments. You don’t need to be in government to be in politics, you just need to be able to make policies (policies = rules, regulations, laws, and command that people must follow). Anybody who can command or influence someone can participate in politics. Its important, therefore, to know who has power in your game.


An important thing to remember: what you 
cannot enforce, you can't command. Thus, 
vampire princes must makes sure 
everyone knows that they are the most 
powerful vampire in the room. "Vampiric Throne" 
In Vampire :the Masquerade, the power structures are laid out quite nicely. Camarillia Princes and their Primogen make policies on their vampires concerning keeping up the masquerade, enforcing these edicts through fear and bribes. Elder vampires use their influence to tell other vampires what to do, make moves against their fellow elders in their great game. Elder vampires can influence other vampires for several reasons:

  • They can whoop almost any other vampires ass. If a younger vampire refuses to do something, an elder can simply threaten to rip his guts out.
  • Elders usually have more money, and money makes people do things they otherwise would never do.
  • Elders have been collecting allies and minions over the years, and these allies and minions can beat up insolent vampires or make things difficult in their lives. For example, Venture elder tells a Toreador in his court to kill one of his favorite patrons at an art show because he's in the way. Toreador raises his middle finger. Venture has ghouled the editor of the local paper, who gladly publishes an article about how some reliable sources say he's a pedophile. The Toreador has police banging down his door at 11:00 am the next day.

Who are the "politicians" in D&D?

Story Idea: Here, a powerful wizard is about to get jacked
up by his apprentice. Not really knowing the books value,
the apprentice goes to sell that book he is
flipping through to your PC's. The drow wizard's mother
wants that book back, and find out from beating
the apprentice that your PC's stole the book. "At Study"
 by Chris Malidorewww.epilouge.net 
Here are the people I usually think have power in D&D and other fantasy-genre type settings, listed along with what kinds of people they can effect. They are not in any paticular order, but they do have typical spheres of influence, or kinds of people or things they can manipluate. Knowing what a NPC can command can tell you what kind of plot they can bring about.

Note: what I mean by "influence" doesn't mean the powerful people can tell the other groups what to do. It merely means they have the power to make those groups react. A cult can hardly tell the High Priest(ess) what to do (unless they kidnap him…) but its existence can inspire him(her) to hire an adventuring party to destroy them.

This list of groups of people who have power in a typical fantasy game is also not exhaustive; doesn't even have pirates on it.

Powerful groups of people in Fantasy Settings - type of people they can influence

  • Kings and Nobility - peasants, nobles, kings
  • Organized religion - worshipers, outsiders associated with their god
  • Barbarian chieftains - their tribe, their tribal allies, their tribal enemies
  • Powerful spellcasters - their apprentice(s), their magely organizations, outsiders, local villages
  • Epic level characters - practically any individual they meet (due to high charisma, high skill checks, and general butt-kicking abilities)
  • Thieves guilds - any individual in town who can make them a profit, nobility, law enforcement
  • Dragons - other dragons, local populations, outsiders
  • Liches- undead armies, their apprentices, outsiders, local populations
  • Vampires - undead armies, their vampire children, other vampires, mortals under their bondage
  • Fae - other fae, people within their forest, forest animals, forest plants, druids, rangers
  • Cult leaders - their followers, outsiders, law enforcement, Organized religion
  • Drow Priestess- eachother, other underdark creatures, visitors to the underdark 

Exert that power (and create story hooks in the process)

Now that you know who has power, have them exert it.

Say your playing Vampire The Masquerade. You give your vampire prince a problem: a Brujah elder (who actually has a brain) challenges a Venture prince to a non-lethal duel, in order to contradict the Venture vampire's implication that he was the greatest swordsman in the Ural Mountainsin 1640. The Prince gets his frill laced butt handed to him, in front of the prince's court.

Why does this matter? Think about this: If you’re a vampire, you know your powerful. You can rip most people in half. Why would you listen to anyone's commands, much less someone who thinks he's prince? There are only two real reasons a vampire would listen to a Prince: because they have something to gain for him, and because the Prince them is way more powerful than them. Same is true with all government. The Camarilla provides stability, resources, and elegant vampire chic to the vampires that join in. Camarilla princes also whoop anyone's ass who doesn't comply.

So now, the vampire prince has been proven to be weak by this Brujah. One of his two reasons he is listened to, i.e. half his power, is gone. The vampire prince is desperate, because all his former allies are thinking about jumping on the Brujah's boat, especially if he can offer the same stability, or even something better, than the Venture.

The Brujah needs to be brought down a notch or two, so the prince can regain his power. Here's where your story hooks come in...

  1. The Venture could find the most billy badass fighter in the city and pay him lots of money to challenge the Brujah to a duel and win. (good for a solo game)
  2. The Venture could cripple the Brujah's power by killing his mortal minions (great for a ghoul game or Assasin troupe game)
  3. The Venture could have the Brujah seduced and destroyed by his harpies (harpies are like product reviewers, except for people. Whoever they don’t like, nobody else likes)
  4. The Venture could frame Brujah for a crime that will make the other vampires not like him, like demon worship or Sabbat alliances. (good for a socialite game)
  5. The Venture could have the Brujah's rave bombed, killing most of his vampires, and putting the blame for the attack squarely on his shoulders (not the smartest idea on the prince's part, but a really exciting one)

Now they're in trouble- Have your political NPC React to your PCs

Now that your vampire prince has acted through the PC's, have your NPC's react to the PC's actions. Say you pick number 4, linking the Brujah to a cult of Baali by doctoring some photos, which the prince shows off at the next Elysium. The Brujah elder is pissed, and sends his Lasombra ally (Double Take here: Lasombra only like antitribu Brujah…) to try to find who took those photos. In the meantime, the Baali cult hears about this, and think to themselves that someone violated the privacy of their skin-peeling sermon, which doesnot make them happy. The PC's get found by the Lasombra ally, who promptly tries to capture them and bring them to his master, even while the Baali send one of their spies to Elysium to find out who took the photos.

Making that backstabbing feeling last...

How do you fill your game to the brim with politics? Continue to have your political powers duke it out. Its best for your political powers to have a big goal in mind: for vampire elders, it may be as simple as bringing a Sabbat town into Camarilla control, or as epic as bringing a Methusla into power over a whole state. In D&D, it may be that a nation seeks to oppress a race of people, a cult seeks to become a state religion, a wizard wants to settle a fertile Mountain Valley with half-demons from another plane, or a dragon wants to double his annual crop of virgin sacrifices. Your NPC's having a goal means your PCs can build their goal around it.

Don't get mad, GET EVEN!

If you need more political ideas, just turn on the news and pay attention. Politicians are everywhere, in every country. Steal ideas from real life. Pick a thing you like about life, like clean water, and think about someone could destroy it, protect it, make money off of it, or celebrate it. You think up things for your politicians to work on.

Make sure though that whatever issue it is that it’s an issue your PC's would care about. Billy badass cares about nothing but his guns? Try Gun control regulations. Got a pacifist PC? Draft her. Cloistered librarian? Defund his library. Aesthetic monk lives in the middle of no where? Cut a highway around his monastary and throw grant money towards building another version of Las Vegas. The ways government can annoy or infurate your PC's are endless, and you will know you hit the jackpot when your players nostrils flare and they start telling you OOC "He/She cant do that!".

In response, merely say "What's your character gonna do about it…" and let the adventure (in politics) begin.

Gaming bloggers of the world! Have you got any political story ideas? Drop them in the comments along with links back to your blog!

Well, that's enough of Murky. Check his blog, it's full of cool RPG things like this! See you on my next post!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Improvisation in Storytelling: Keeping Track of your Players

One of the questions that usually comes up when discussing the subtle art of narrating RPGs, is where on the spectrum of improvisation and planning your games fall. Some people write down their whole campaign or session, whereas some prefer to go along with the flow, and create a story on the fly depending on what the characters decide.
While I've written about my love for games that approve some amount of improvisation before, I tend to use a mixture when running longer campaigns.
They say the more experienced players are, the less you have to plan and the more you can 'let them be', while newbie players are better handled when controled. That's why my first campaign was a Vampire: The Masquerade one, in which the prince had his Sheriff follow the players closely for the first games, so that they wouldn't start messing with the world and losing humanity, or my HOTB campaign takes place in a highly senate-influenced environment.
When you play with more seasoned people, they already know how to follow the hints of the narrator, and how to create an interesting background, which can be exploited for sake the story.
Lately I've been playing many oneshots, and what I've found is that you can base the entire campaign on the backgrounds of the players and their connections, without much need of actually planning your plot, as long as your improvisation is good enough (or encouraged by the system with Style points, FATE points and whatnot, which allow the players theirselves to add details to the plot and setting) and the players are well-defined.
So maybe it's not so much about planning the plot itself, as about planning the characters, the environment, and then let the players roam in a Sandbox way.
Another good tip I've gotten from many narrators is, always keep a surprise under your sleeve: for each character, have a plot twist ready, that can be adjusted as the story moves in the direction they choose. You can always use the soap-opera-ish 'all the players were related all along!' or maybe 'the bad guy was actually good and you killed him!', but having more personalized plot-twists, based on the character-backgrounds, makes for better surprises.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have people who carefully plan their plots, write scripts, or maybe just write down important speeches for some characters (the bad guy's 'evil speech' on the end? some politician's stand on a subject? a transcript of an old book?). On this kind of planning, I've found that the most fun stories come when you take the time to design many different endings, which the players will 'choose' among.

So, what about you? Do you prefer to plan your campaigns a lot, or you'd rather let your players take on and improvise along? Tell me in the comments!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bleff, Word Porn and Roleplaying

As a part of my tabletop roleplaying section, I will start adding tips for storytelling and character designing, which I hope someone will find useful.
Last year I started playing a game with some friends, called Bleff. In this game, for about 2-6 people, players take turns to draw a card which contains many weird, little known words, such as xantocianopsy (the ability to see colors blue and yellow), or adoxography (writing that doesn't really give you important data, but is interesting nonetheless -kinda like this blog?-). They then choose one, and read it outloud, after which each player must write a definition for it, without actually knowing it. So for instance, adoxography may be 'writing using an adoxous system' (which still doesn't mean anything but sounds about right) or 'unintelligible handwriting'. After each player has written down their fake definitions, and the reading player has written down both the real and a fake one, he proceeds to read them all out loud. Finally, each player says which definition he thinks is the right one. Each player who makes the correct guess gets 2 points, whereas each player whose definition got chosen, gets one point for each player who chose him.
For instance, I may not have guessed that ailurophilia is the excessive fondness for cats, but if my definition 'someone who likes sticking lures on people' is chosen as right by 3 people, I still get three points (usually you use a board and your token moves forward X squares, where each square is a point, and the first one who reaches the goal wins).

How does this game relate to roleplaying, you may ask? well, I think crazy words can be a good inspiration for character design. Take a word like Schadenfreude, which is german for 'the joy that comes from watching others suffer', or 'alexithymia', the inability to express emotions verbally. Both are great places from which to start brainstorming a character. Say alexithymia to me, and I will think about Alex, a shy boy who has trouble expressing himself verbally and because of that prefers to do it through art, maybe painting. Or maybe a Bard who only speaks through singing? Or a mute warrior, blocked by childhood traumas?
And xantocianopsis, you could even start a whole campaign around it: 'only some, can see the colours yellow and blue. That's why the green emeralds can only be found by those who...' blah, blah, blah, you get the idea.

Another good source for inspiration words, if you don't already use it, is subscribing to a Word of the Day service (even lernu, the esperanto learning site, has one!), or following the Word Porn facebook page (and suddenly my site got a lot of traffic from people who thought they'd find NSFW content).

So, what is your favourite English word? or maybe one in another language? I personally like Cellardoor a lot, because it sounds really well when my tongue rolls around it... Tell me in the comments, and then you can create a character or story based around it! and tell me, too, if you found this advice useful! I'd love to hear about campaigns based around japanese words like komorebi, the light that filters through tree leaves, or even esperanto ones!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Roleplayers Answer!

I've written about tabletop roleplaying, a hobby to which I devote unhealthy amounts of time, a couple of times before, and I plan on doing it more often now.
To begin this new era of roleplay-related posts, I 'interviewed' some roleplayers, who told me some things about them. Feel free to comment telling me if you have anything in common with them!

Lesley, narrator.
What games do you usually play or narrate?
Mostly World  of Darkness, spanning Vampire, Mage, Demon, and then some indie games like Mouseguard, Cat, Barbarians of Lemuria, FATE, etc.
How long have you been playing?I've been playing since 8 years ago, and narrating for 5 years.
What motivates you to write a story?
What motivates me to write a story is, redundantly, telling the story itself. Not only a mere fiction, but also one that lets players be closer to a microcosm of sensation, social paradigms; let them be closer to heroism, but also to sacrifice.
Do you tend to improvise or base your story on a prewritten, fixed script?
I half improvise, half use scripts. I respect the original structure I lay out, but slightly alter it without destroying the equilibrium between it and the improving.
What do you think is the most important part of a story?As to the most important part of a story, I'd say it's, as in poetry, making narrative impressions.
It's only logical to start writing from the end, since that impression must be the most intense.
The start serves as a pointer, aiming at it, whereas the core part is the hardest to 'control' and build.
Do you have any 'quirks' as a narrator?
A quirk I have is, I try to 'control' the space: I never stay sitting long, but instead walk, move, interact with objects, while I tell a story. I also never let other players touch my dice, which I always carry with me during games.

Damián, Player.
What do you like the most about roleplaying?

The way you can add details and personality traits to your characters. I mean, you could play as a skullsmashing, no-brain barbarian,  screaming like a madman and with a story that goes no deeper than 'this guy took a gun, now he's out to kill stuff', and even being such a simple (and quite boring) story, the player can make the character be the most charismatic of the group, through sheer attitude and small details he develops throughout the game. I simply love that.
What sort of players do you usually play as?
Well, I usually play as wise men or noblemen, but then again I like a change from time to time: I once played a mage (from Mage: The Ascension, obviously) whose fighting style was to release a horde of zombies loaded with guns and explosives against his enemies, while he stayed behing, enjoying the show.
What 'quirks' would you say you have as a player?
Well, as I said in my first answer, I like breathing life and personality into my characters, be it by giving a maniac or fetishist touch to an already insane mage, or acting in a way that is coherent with my character's background. Those are the kind of things that I do as I play.
What games do you usually play? Is there a character you remember with special fondness?
The Games I play the most are Exalted and Mage (nWOD). I remember my first character with great fondness: do you remember that barbarian I mentioned earlier? He was that barbarian. He accomplished so much in so little time, and so many ways, he won a place in my heart.

Sainto, narrator and player
What aspect of roleplaying do you like the most? 
Collective imagination comes first: creating something and developing combining the efforts of many people, in a dynamic and entertaining way, having randomness as a referee, is what makes roleplaying great, and irreplaceable.
What motivates you to narrate a campaign?
 Campaigns are made so that characters come to life, experience growth and have an ending that corersponds to what the players do with them. Telling a storry that evolves from sesion to sesion, like an epic tale or a horror story, or a misterious one full of conspirancies… that, too, motivates me.
What kind of characters do you usually play as? 
Well, that depends on the game, though I try to vary, from an old, pacifist buddhist monk to a sadist noble looking for vengeance, from an adventurous boy to a Polish warlord Vampire… my only patterns are maybe revenge, a topic that always allured me; and Gnomes, if we’re playing D&D.
What do you do before narrating a campaign? Do you take any special preparations?
Before narrating, I set down a very basic scheme with all the key scenes for the correct development of the plot, and many impressions, data and secondary characters, in case they’re needed. The rest is improvisation, and I in fact use to reconfigúrate the laido ut schemes in function of the good development of the game, and what feels most appropriate for the moment.
Do you tend to improvise, or do you prefer to follow a rigidly laid out plan instead?
Improvising, always. And constantly read my player’s emotions, facial expressions, attitudes… to know if I’m taking the right approach, what things they’re enjoying and which ones they don’t.
What ‘quirks’ do you think you have as a player or narrator?
Quirks? Well, it depends on the game. I usually run my own systems, or alter the originals a lot. Most times I design my character sheets myself. I tend to obsess over small aesthetic details, like adding colored tokens, pictures, drawings, atmosphere elements or acting ones. I like to surround myself, visually and auditively.
What games do you usually narrate? How long have you been playing?
The first game I ever played is Call of Cthulhu, and I've been doing it for 10 years (I started narrating almost as soon as I started playing). I usually run Call of Cthulhu campaigns, but also Kult, World of Darknness, swashbuckling games like 7th sea, and some fantasy settings, always mixed with some mistery...

To further expand the 'interview' I'd like my readers to answer some (or all!) of these questions in the comment section below... or tell me what they think about the interviewed people!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Comics!

I've talked time and time again about comics, since it's a topic I'm both familiar with, and interested in. What I never mentioned is, I have many friends who work as freelance comic writers. One of them, Nicolas Villordo asked me to show you, my dear readers, some of his comics. So, after some translations (he's from Argentina, like me) here's a small sample of his work. If you speak spanish, feel free to see his page. If you don't, you could still like it, he appreciates the traffic.
He posts a new comic page every friday, so you might be seeing more of him if I start translating his stuff to english and posting it here.
Did you like it? Hate it? Think it was offensive? Tell me in the comments!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cold Readings and Forer's Effect

Let me guess some things about you: you like some expressions of art, but you don't consider yourself good enough at them, though you do have 'good taste'. You're young, born from white-collar workers, and consider yourself an underachiever. You've tried learning a second language mostly because you like foreign cultures or think it will be an important experience. Sometimes you feel like just being alone for a while, whereas some you prefer the company of people with whom you can talk or have fun.

how much of what I just said is true? 50%? 40%? 70%? let me know in the comments which parts were more accurate.
What I just tried to do on you is called a cold reading, a common thing for mentalists or, before them, fortune tellers. But why should I tell you about it if I can let an expert do the job for me:

There, go try this on random people when you meet them at a party, you'll certainly impress some, or spook others. It's especially good if you combine it with kinesics, a topic which I'll discuss on a future article if my readers are interested.
Why does this technique work, you may ask? Well, in part, because of Forer's effect.

Forer's effect, first described bypsychologist Bertram R. Forer, says if we make random (but vague enough) statements about someone, and justify them somehow (voodoo, the way they look at you, how they laugh, astrology, their social security number), they're going to say most of it is true about them, especially if related to their personalities.
For instance, it's likely that in my description of RandomReader#34 at the beginning of the article, the last sentence seemed to you the most accurate, or one of them.
To prove this effect, Forer made a made a group of subjects take a test and gave to all of them this same result that described them:

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

Then he asked them to qualify how accurate each sentence was in describing them. out of five points, how many do you think this got? How much would you give it? Well, on average, this whole got 4.26 points. Not bad, huh? If random sentences describe 80% of your personality, then either there's something tricky here, or we humans are really predictable.
Why is this effect so relevant? Because it's what horoscopes, astrology, akashic whatchamacallem and even some shady psychology tests are based on!
Yes, I just gave you the weapon to use against that girl that thinks you're oh, so aquarian! 

Back to the cold readings skill, and this is where the effect becomes really useful, suppose you're at a party. A person coughs covering their mouth with a clenched fist, barely loudly.
You look at them and say 'you cover your mouth with a fist, indicating some sort of repressed emotion, plus you try not to be loud because you're either not confident in most social situations, or you don't know this environment well enough.' Now, you just said absolutely nothing to them: everyone has some repressed emotion, and is uncomfortable around other people in a small quantity (only in the alertness with which comes any social situation, not in a bad sense. The same alertness that prevents you from farting among other people or pissing your pants), but that person will probably think you read their minds, and you might as well go with it!

If you find any fun use for this, please tell me in the comments!

I'd like to use this space to remind you that esperanto is a living, useful language which can easily be learnt here. Join the crusade!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Duolingo: Learn a second language!

Have you ever felt the need to learn a second language, but didn't know where to begin? Or rather, have you already learnt your second language, and now you know what a wonderful experience it could be and would like to learn your third?
Well, if you want to learn some of the most spoken (european rooted, so far) languages, this is your site:

I first came across this site in an Esperanto facebook group. As I've said  time and time again, Esperanto is a living language (the perfect second language, but just see for yourself here), and within the community a great number of people are polyglots. From that part of the 'Esperantujo', many people have contributed to the creation and development of this great site.

To use it, you must first say which language/s you speak, and then which language/s you want to learn. This will give you access to an organized, step by step course on learning the language, through images, sounds, reading and writing, thus acquiring vocabulary and practising grammar.
Besides that, it also serves the purpose of a 'linguistic social network' in which you can chat with native speakers of the language you're learning, check out the progress of your friends and even remind them to get back to the site if they're being too lazy.

I myself have started using it to learn Italian, which is a fairly easy language for a native Spanish speaker, and even more if you speak Esperanto.

If you try this site out, post your username here so that I, and other readers, can add you and track your progress! Plus I could help you with your learning if you happen to choose Spanish!