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!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Trolls 2, or why sometimes you should judge a movie by its cover

Hey there, everyone, and welcome again to my blog. Today I will write about a movie that I watched yesterday: Trolls 2.
Trolls 2 is a low buget, B class horror movie, about a group of vegetarian goblins who turn people into plants and eat them. It's called Trolls 2 in spite of being about goblins, because its creators tried to market it as the sequel to an unrelated movie.
Since the very beginning, the movie strikes you with bad acting, bad special effects, and crazy '90s stuff. The director said she was worried because many of her friends were becoming vegetarians, so she made a movie in which eating vegetables was a bad thing. I can only assume she successfully scared her friends from eating vegetables again, lest they became bad quality plastic dolls roughly ressembling goblins, carrying ewok weapons.
are they wearing bags?
The main character is a boy who can talk to his recently departed grandfather, as we are shown in the first minute of the movie, whose family goes on a vacation trip to 'I can't believe it took me an hour to realize it's Goblin spelled backwards' Nilbog, a town with about 20 residents. Throughout the whole film, he is advised by his dead grandpa, which makes him look crazy to his non-death-people-seer parents and sister, to prevent his family from eating any of thew vegetarian food they are offered by the disguised goblins, since eating it will turn them into plants --delicious, edible, healthy plants.

Just so you see how bad this film is, here are some famous scenes, like the 'let's make popcorn' one:

or the 'oh my god' one, showing how well-prepared and trained this actors were:

If you think that's not crazy enough, then let me tell you about thew scene in which grandpa comes back from the dead, carrying AN AXE and cutting a goblin's hand off:

Of course, in the end the boy uses the best weapon against vegetarian goblins... A meat sandwich! as he eats it, he becomes poisonous to the goblins, and thus immune to their powers... for now.

Lastly, I'll leave you with this compilation of the many times the main character calls his grandpa in the movie... actually, is he the real main character?

If you want to watch this piece of art, get it on TPB, it's free!
I hope you've liked this post, and if you do please share it with your friends and comment it... I'm trying to get this blog growing!

As usual, I'd like to use this space to remind you that esperanto is still a living language which can be easily learnt in less than a year, starting with this short tutorial and then using Of course I can give you feedback if you ask for it in the comments!