Running a modern game, the stuggle for modern storytellers

#1
I love fantasy themed roleplaying and am part of many groups were we run DnD, Pathfinder, GURPs in high fantasy, but for me I am mainly a GM for Vampires: the Masquerade which takes part in our modern nights, which has many things I was not prepared for when I first took the dive into the modern world, I want to use this post for me and others who play modern games to give insight into a couple of differences and what is expected from a GM who is playing a modern setting.


1. While you can have a fictional modern city, there is some expectation from players that to be more grounded in reality that these cities exist in some way with the real world. Meaning you will have alot more legwork ahead of you if you want to make it fictional, questions like "who is in charge of the public works department or other councils" would not normally come up in a fantasy world but many times my players are asking me questions about infrastructure, who is in charge, who is doing the work, and where those departments are located.. sure I can make them up on the fly but picking a real city and having a decent city website to reference saves you a ton of time and energy...oh and its real which makes the question "is this believable" obsolete.


2. Density in cities, this is a big one as while you could have a huge kingdom in a fantasy world your only dealing with three tropes (are they a peasant, a merchant, or a noble) which at the same time gives them a background, as their status also dictates their living and lifestyle, meaning that you could have 10 peasants walking around and the if the party is interested they talk to one and they have the whole story and they dont need to talk to others. In a modern setting this gets thrown out the window, if you have 10 people in an area that is 10 identities all with different backgrounds, all with a different story to tell about their jobs, family, hobbies, and every player is going to expect them to have a personality that would normally only be true for Key NPCs in fantasy worlds. One of the ways I address this is with this generator: http://chaoticshiny.com/modernchargen.php which gives me a good baseline to start with and allows me to not worry about creation as much as flushing the character out to fit the scene.


3. The lack of "bigger on the inside", in a fantasy world if your party comes across a castle, cave, or city, distance and size are storyteller tools to make things more grand, to streamline players to a given location, or just put more there then what would realistically be able to fit in that space, in a modern setting these no longer become tools and are restraints one has to work with, you dont have a neverending forest or park, players can exit and generally pretty quickly if they dont want to be there and you can only fit so much into one area, and a secret room in a house cant be an expansive alchemist lab behind a bookshelf in a 3 bedroom house, and will more then likely be a small room with a desk and chair and thats about it.


4. Resources, in a fantasy world if a player says "I want to buy a healing potion or create one" the storyteller is in complete control if someone exist in that given city or if there is the ingredients around to make it, to say "oh there is no one nearby that sells that" in a modern setting will only get you an odd look, specially if your dealing with a world were amazon and most of the larger cities import anything you want with you only having to travel a couple mins to get to it, transportation and online ordering has made it a thing that unless the government has a ban on it a player can get their hands on it quickly and generally in the same scene without having to wait.. which means fetch quests are not normally something that you can involve a player in unless they are on a grand scale (supernatural object, one of a kind, etc)


5. six degrees of separation, while this can hold true in a fantasy world, its much more relevant in a modern one just due to 2. and one of the major hooks I rely on in most of my stories, any time a character interacts with someone, that is going to effect a handful of other people both positively and negatively. Relationships are specially important in vampires: the masquerade as its all about who you know and who has favors from who, if a player slights someone, more then likely that is going to make some people happy, some people mad, and in the end that interaction will come back to the forefront down the line. This honestly is one of my favorite reasons for doing a modern setting as its very easy to create a rich interactive world were I can create family, friends, foes, allies, and contacts that are all in the same place and can quickly become a factor in the story, and I dont have to wait on word to reach someone, and then making a journey to come face the party, one day you killed a man and the next day his brother took a flight and is now looking for answers.

(suggested by ELF)6. Internet used for solving problems, whether its a riddle, a image puzzle, or looking for someones password, the internet can be one critical issue for GMs just like players look up guides for their favorite games, so too can the characters seek help from the web or even their friends with a cellphone, sure you can put it to a roll but that sometimes feels cheap when the info is ready and available in real life with a couple search words. How I address this is account for the web and calling, if they call a friend for help I make note of who now can request a favor from them, if they use the web my puzzles sometimes include free websites I made to direct them in the direction I want and on rare events I have even have had discord servers made with friends in them that would give them hints if they got there.

What about everyone else? does any of this play into your stories? what are some of the things that really stand out to you for the modern setting?
 
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ELF

Generator Sage
Staff member
CL Add-on Dev
#2
It's a bit strange, but for me this depends on the medium.

For table-top roleplaying, low fantasy with recognizable ties to ancient history resonates with me most powerfully - something like Robert E. Howard's antediluvian worlds or those stygian centuries in Dark Ages Europe, after the classical civilizations have fallen before the barbaric tribes. This allows me to utilize powerful symbology and to hint at some forgotten past, as well as employ historical references to some potential futures.

For live action gaming I prefer modern settings, and it's not just about props or locations. That medium feels more intense and the interactions between the characters are direct, without everything being processed via a GM. Modern settings allow the themes to feel more relevant and the characters more real. This can produce really powerful emotions - I remember uncontrollably shaking for a long time after I had to resort to actually shooting a civilian in one of our LARPs, taking place in the Finnish civil war of 1918.

For me the greatest problem with modern settings is the easy access to information. Especially if mobile devices are in play, it's so easy to check facts, reach out to someone, inform the authorities, etc that it has a profound effect on story elements such as mysteries and puzzles.

Also the limits of suspension of disbelief are closer when the world is familiar, so every plot device that would work in a more fantastic world would not fly when converted into a modern setting.
 
#3
Please pardon the "point at a time" approach, but I'm not much of a walk-and-chew-gum kinda guy.

re: "... is this believable..."

It may be real, but that doesn't mean it's believable. I'm trying to help and not snipe, but the distinction does matter.

There are many things that really happen, that few who weren't witness would not believe.

For example; would you believe a white donkey, with beautiful eyes, giving your position away during a firefight?

TL;DR - Real existence isn't "suspension of disbelief" insurance.

Feel free to tell me to take a hike; I don't recall being issued feelings.

Good thread, either way; thank you.
 
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#4
Please pardon the "point at a time" approach, but I'm not much of a walk-and-chew-gum kinda guy.

re: "... is this believable..."

It may be real, but that doesn't mean it's believable. I'm trying to help and not snipe, but the distinction does matter.

There are many things that really happen, that few who weren't witness would not believe.

For example; would you believe a white donkey, with beautiful eyes, giving your position away during a firefight?

TL;DR - Real existence isn't "suspension of disbelief" insurance.

Feel free to tell me to take a hike; I don't recall being issued feelings.

Good thread, either way; thank you.
Your totally right! I could of worded that better.

Ultimately when you have real sources it gives you the information to make things believable as they are founded in fact and they aren't going to contradict one another without some sort of reason. The last two presidents for the United States for example, politics aside, both were not expected to be the front runners and someone coming into a story were they see these two figures would question it, hence what you brought up, but it does give you a pool of information to bring the player back on board if they start questioning it.

Also that white donkey is a jerk!
 
#6
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Thoreau, via "Walden"

The following is an example of people wanting to have their cake, because it's neither believable, real, or rational: (this isn't a jab at you man, but at players who have insane notions about sane worlds)

"In a modern setting this gets thrown out the window, if you have 10 people in an area that is 10 identities all with different backgrounds, all with a different story..."

Is that true, effectively or actually? How "special" or "different" are people anyway? Ever been to, for example, a Vamplarp? I've never met a bigger group of people that are special, just like everyone else.

Also, for example if you're downtown, just how many different types and jobs are likely to be there really, even after hours? Given the WoD, and the nature of the IRL world, the fact is that part of the "personal and political horror" is the "quiet desperation factor". People get more drone and clone by the day.

TL;DR - an arguement can be made that the shit shovelling peasant of the past, as "oppressed" as they were by crown and court, had stories, more free time, and more individuality than the "enlightened", post-modern, misnomered man.

to tell about their jobs, family, hobbies, and every player is going to expect them to have a personality

Ditto prior

that would normally only be true for Key NPCs in fantasy worlds.

Summary: I find the 10 people in an area that is 10 identities all with different backgrounds, all with a different story both unreal and unbelievable.

BTW: just how do they get these allegedly different people's stories and identities anyway? If some snaggle toothed weirdo dressed like they caught a fashion grenade full in the face kept pumping me for personal information, (with absolutely what justification?), I'd exfil double-time, call a cop, something.

Add to this the WoD factor: Mages in any iteration I recall have a weird vibe usually, with a spec. background to mitigate this.

Vampires are limitied by many things, like their humanity v. social pools, their humanity period, the law of large numbers etc.

I think that you need to take another, careful look at what they are, word for word.

E5 makes these things even more pronounced.

TL;DR - they're monsters, they have enemies, and not everyone you meet is special, and you'd better watch out for the exceptions, because they might be the ones who notice that your breath never fogs.

Hope that helps, at least as a perspective check.

Oh, and another thing more rp related; All WoD PC critters have to fight to not be alienated from humanity; this is uphill, and over time.

The reason that I mention that is that this means a tendency to not particularly even notice, let alone care about, the run-of-the-mill kine.

"They're our food." - Deacon Frost in "Blade"

Substitute the word "cattle" for "people" in your entry, and see how it reads, and what you then think.

It's a "storytelling game of personal horror"

Personal, i.e. not something readily accessible to strangers, esp. really strange, sera sucking, snaggle-toothed psychos or the like.

You'll find the individuality there.

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina
 
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#7
re: prior - practicalities and realities.

You're not God; anyone believing, even tacitly, that you are, or who expects you to be has an IRL, i.e. game/story distinct, problem; that includes you.

I'll break it down; what's the next powerball number?

GM's are outnumbered; they're doing players a favor, even when they're doing a "bad" job.

On the practical level, the word "story" is abused in the RPG realm; RPGs, with possible theoretic-to-rare exception, don't do stories; they do tales.

These aren't the same sorts of critter.

That said, you can at least emulate stories, and use some of the tools of stories; why are these "ten people" being pestered to start with? What's the objective.

Unless you're playing "Sim's of Darkness", then have your narrator (hopefully you have one, to cut down on 'Gamese'/Metalk) voice the cut, and drive past the "story" irrelevant nitty-gritty.

The game is to "tell a story", and not to endure interrogations via characters; is what they're doing something done in stories, or even tales?

If it isn't, then why do it?

In any event, fiction is about "could"; things have strings, and actions have consequences.

What are the possible interesting consequences of a particular act? Can I use these things to make engaging problems for the character?

Esp. in horror, make them "pay" and suffer when you can, in measure. "No free chicken" for chatting up the passerby.

Pressure, risk; they should be "reminded", when they forget, that they're a monster.

Tension and suspense. They aren't normal. The law of large numbers. Maybe the kine you snack on has friends and relatives, that knows what it means when your breath doesn't steam.

In short, if they choose to run with scissors, then someone is getting stabbed; that includes things like even the normally simple thing of interacting with "kine".

Never let them take you, the world, or their circumstances for granted; when they do, it's time for a wakeup; perhaps a nice stake breakfast?

Esp. in E5, they're being hunted; perhaps not as a PoI, but as a kind; humanity caps social pools with humans. BEing a vampire caps pools with Garou; being a vampire makes you a subject for lab rolls in mage...

Walk on the edge long enough, either way, and you cut your feet.

Law of large numbers; it's only a matter of time, and there are more things than humans after kindred.

Anyway, I've nailed that board to splinters; they can't take the same things for granted that "mortals/kine" do.
 
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#8
While I did say I enjoy VtM, all of my suggestions are generalized for any modern setting so some suggestions I made wont line up with WoD completely. But in my case I generally run campaigns of fledglings of thin blood, or in the 13th generation, as I like to tell the story of what its like to have humanity ripped away from you, how to grasp with you lifestyle changing, how do you explain your new lifestyle to your old friends, and how do you deal with seeing elders so disconnected from humanity and that if you survive the night that is what awaits you. So the characters are generally still very much engage with humanity at that point in my games.
just how do they get these allegedly different people's stories and identities anyway? If some snaggle toothed weirdo dressed like they caught a fashion grenade full in the face kept pumping me for personal information, (with absolutely what justification?), I'd exfil double-time, call a cop, something.
In the end, players aren't going to be able to get everyone in the room to open up to them, many times the best they do on a first time greeting is a name, then over sessions they slowly start seeing that character again and if they have interest they can try talking, getting a little more, and so my npc's will ether slowly open up to the players or give them the cold shoulder. There is a level of encouragement I give to the players about stalking their prey, whether that prey is for information or food, so if they are doing it successfully I will drop cues in how to approach them.

I have a system in place that list what "Annoys, Enjoys, Sin, & Virtue" each npc has, and if a player is able to match up to those ideals (ether by chance or investigation) the npc, barring any personality quirks, will be inclined to open up to them, likewise a misstep hitting on one of those ideals in a negative way will generally close the player off from engaging that npc further. I use a table that started based on this page: http://chaoticshiny.com/modernchargen.php which is where the idea also came from.
 
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