Thursday, February 21, 2008

A session that killed a LARP

I recommend extreme caution when LARPing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There's cheaters there. Lots of 'em. I played an NPC Elder for a few sessions of a LARP that a friend was running in NM. There was a session that ended the game - it was the second consecutive session that had been eclipsed and strangled by mass combat lasting multiple hours. The previous session had ended with someone crashing an airplane into Elysium following a major breach of the masquerade that involved a PC unleashing 100 newly embraced NPC kindred onto the city.

I feel really sorry for Kevin, it must have been a nightmare dealing with all that crap. At the end of the second session, things were so tense, the GM had to stay elsewhere for a few nights because of threats of violence from one of the players. The whole situation pissed me off so bad, I wrote the following letter. That was 2 to 3 years ago now, i think. I'm about to delete the letter from my hard-drive, but I thought I'd post it here first.

Record of Mistakes and Cheating at the Sunday game

Items in red are things I would clearly classify as cheating. In each of these cases, the person involved:
a) knew the rules and intentionally disregarded or misrepresented them, or
b) did not know the rules, but should have because they were an experienced player and had built a character around the disciplines, abilities, or rule system they did not understand, or
c) they were an experienced player who intentionally abused a grey area, logic flaw or oversight in the published rules, using such a loophole to remain technically within the letter of the rulebook while violating the spirit of the game or setting for their own advancement, and at the expense of other players.

Items in black are things I believe to be honest mistakes, possibly even house rules / GM calls, or differing interpretations of grey areas in the main rulebook. They were annoying and frustrating to deal with, but not really cheating, per se.

Things in this weird blue-green-grey color are NOT rules violations. They’re just bits of narrative to link the story and put things in perspective.

1. Obfuscate Violation 1: Interaction with Environment: Chris (pg 161)
Chris entered Elysium while only two other PCs where there. There was no one passing through the doors, therefore he couldn’t slip in while someone else entered. He would have had to open the door himself, which would have decloaked him.

2. Signal Violation 1 / Obfuscate Violation 2: Umbra Signal: Chris (pg 161)
Chris was using the “I’m in the Umbra” sign from Laws of the Wyld instead of the Obfuscate sign. I’ve seen this used as the out-of-character sign by folks from Sanctioned games before, so I misinterpreted that to be what he was doing. Really minor nitpick, until you see the next violation.

3. Signal Violation 2 / Obfuscate Violation 3: Signal Trickiness: Chris
I made some comment to which Chris spat on the ground. It seemed timed to be mocking what I’d said, so I asked him: “Is your character actually here?” His response was “My character doesn’t salivate, so even if he was here, it wouldn’t matter”.
Having Awareness & Auspex, my question was really whether I was entitled to try to spot him – which I would be if indeed his character was there. His response included the statement “even if I was” which implies he wasn’t there. Later, I learned he was there, so effectively Chris lied to me, though he may not see it that way.

4. Procedural Error 1: Non-Representation of Retainers: Chris (& probably Kevin)
Chris had 5 childer with him, but none were represented by players. I understand that sometimes NPCs just can’t be represented by actual people, especially when in large numbers. However, his 5 guys had very large guns, and all were Obfuscated. The first 20 minutes of Elysium involved very close quarters conversation – a mob of people in short proximity. Had 5 people been playing these NPCs, they almost certainly would have bumped into someone, interacted with their environment, or just been a noticeable O-O-C presence that would have drawn the attention of everyone with Auspex. Instead, they were able to weave amongst us and decloak with guns to our heads. It never would have been successful if players or narrators portrayed those NPCs.

5. Obfuscate Violation 4: Decloaking to deny the Auspex test: Chris (pg 137)
Chris sits down next to me, and switches to the Obfuscate symbol. At this point I realize Obfuscate Violations 1-3 have occurred. I announce I’m expending an awareness and initiating a mental challenge. As I pull out my character sheet to mark my expenditures, Chris drops his obfuscate gesture and starts talking. Technically, this shouldn’t end my mental challenge, which probably would have revealed his Childer to me. But since there was no one playing the NPCs, and I didn’t know out-of-character that they were there, I didn’t pursue it. As a result, the 5 henchmen remain hidden despite my announcement of searching for obfuscated individuals.

6. Out-Of-Character Knowledge 1 & 2: Who Invited The Bad Guy? Chris & Jody (& Kevin)
My character called for Elysium, and picked the location. I sent word out to the other PCs of when & where to gather. I’d said publicly at the previous 2 sessions that I thought Chris’s character was a traitor and that he’d threatened my life (and was probably the villain that tried to blow up the castle). So, technically, I didn’t specify to Kevin that I wasn’t leaving him off the contact list. But he was no longer Acknowledged, so I didn’t think I had to make that specification.
I found out later that no PC told Spaz where Elysium was. Chris just took the initiative to walk into the play area. I believe this was an honest mistake or misunderstanding, but it was rather critical.
A few minutes later, Jody exits as her current character, and re-enters as her previous character, the Russian Tremere. That Tremere had been ordered to flee the city in the previous session – she now suddenly resurfaces because Chris needs her to testify on Spaz’s behalf. Since I was the one who carried out her banishment (at the bequest of both the acting Prince and the acting Tremere Regent), I can be damn sure I never told her character where Elysium was going to be held.
What’s more, she’d told the GMs she was retiring the banished character on that session, and so was allowed to make a new character. Now, she’s bringing the retired character back into Elysium without asking GM permission first.
I’m not sure if Chris was involved in Jody’s actions or not, but he certainly benefited from them and acted along the same lines (but to a less illegal extent) himself 20 minutes earlier.

7. Procedural Error 2: Lack of description of important detail. Chris
We set about questioning his character. After several minutes, after I have requested a blood-hunt and been talked down by the other PCs, he then points out that his character is covered by a thick black grease. I’m fairly certain the scene would have played differently if we’d have been given this description when he first decloaked. It’s a suspicious detail about his character, which would have resulted in others being as concerned as I was. I was just concerned because of threats against my paranoid elder character.
Of course, while this would justify suspicion, it would be wrong for anyone to just shout out “Is that fire-proof grease?”, but guess what happens next…

8. Out-Of-Character Knowledge 3: It’s fire-proof grease! Anthony
Once the grease is pointed out (see procedural error #2), Anthony’s character instantly figures out and announces that it’s fire-proof grease. Now, maybe he’s got something in his character background that would justify his knowing such a thing by sight, but the more likely answer is that he, like the rest of us, saw the story-time in which Spaz asked his retainers to coat him head-to-toe in fireproof grease. The rest of us, however, had stayed quiet because that was out-of-character information.
The way this should have been handled was “Hey, GM, can I make a Mental Challenge to identify this grease?”

9. Courage Violation 1: Self-Inflicted Burns & Pretending to be a Ghoul Anthony (pg 110)
Anthony’s PC is pretending to be a Ghoul. He’s got us all fooled, because his PC was a ghoul the previous session. At this point, to prove that the grease is fire-proof, he touches Spaz, then tries to light his hand on fire.
Now, admittedly, the rules on page 110 say you “generally do not need to make a courage test” vs fire under your control. However, the examples it lists are lighting your own cigarette, or magically controlling a fire. Since someone threatening you with a lighter does require a courage test, I’d argue that testing a hunch about your own flamability requires one as well, especially since he had no in-character reason to know it was fireproof grease.
It’s sort of a grey area, probably not a big deal, but his total lack of rotshreck test dispelled any doubts about him being a vampire. Considering Anthony’s other, more obvious cheating later, I have to wonder if this wasn’t intentional.

10. Procedural Error 3 / Obfuscate Violation 5: Mass Decloak & Telepathic Nos Chris (pg 161)
A few minutes later, all the Nos suddenly decloak at once. They are each standing next to a different PC, with a gun to our heads. It all happens at once – Chris just announces “suddenly you’ve all got Nos pressing ak-47s to your heads”.
This includes 1 standing next to Dave’s character, Domingo. Domingo had been reported dead in the previous session, so there’s no way the Nos could have coordinated before entering Elysium that 1 should be covering Domingo.
And talking would have decloaked them, so they can’t have changed plans or targets after arriving at Elysium. Since they are cloaked and can’t see each other, there should be some chance they’d goof up and double-cover someone (thus leaving some other Elder uncovered).
Flat out, unless Chris’s character has Level 4 Auspex (i.e.: Telepathy), this could not happen. Even then it’s iffy.

11. Majesty Violation 1: Use him as a Shield: Dave (pg 168)
Dave does a very clever thing to turn the tables on the Nos: he moves to the center of the room and invokes Majesty. Suddenly, everyone in 10 feet can’t harm or insult him as long as he doesn’t take any “hostile actions”. Of course, after a short monolog of megalomania, Dave proceeds to take one of the Nos captive and uses him as a human shield. I’d call that “hostile”.
What’s more, he does this as a free action, no test to accomplish it.

12. Turn Sequence Violation 1: Can’t I take 15 steps a turn? Dave
Immediately, combat breaks out. No one can attack Dave, so he starts walking out of the room. While everyone else is on pause waiting for their action, he just keeps walking. At about 15-16 steps (while we’re still in Celerity PreEmpts of the first round) he announces Fair Escape. I called him on it, and he admits a screw-up and steps back in to the battle.

13. Turn Sequence Violation 2 / Celerity Violation 1: PreEmpts Damn Near Everybody (pg 141)
All the guys with Celerity take their Pre-Empts. They do this by just declaring actions, not responding to actions against them. This is a minor problem, but not terrible (and a common mistake even in HOD days) so I let it go.
Then normal actions occur. Suddenly all the guys who just pre-empted start trying to act again. As practically the only character in the battle without Celerity, I cry foul. Your PreEmpt is not an extra action, it just moves your normal action slightly ahead in turn sequence. Danny and all the Oklahoma guys tell me I’m wrong, but Kevin and Dave back me up. Suddenly Danny changes sides about how the rule works and we get to normal actions.

14. Turn Sequence Violation 3 / Ability Violation 1: Two-Gun Specialization Anthony (pg 86, pg 201, pg 207)
For determining what order actions happen in, Anthony announces he has 15 physical traits. “15?” I ask “Your ghoul has 15 traits?” He says no, it’s that the bonus traits from two-gun mojo, his pistols specialization, and his weapons bring his natural 11 traits up to 15. This sounds goofy, but I let it go.
For the record, two-gun mojo gives no benefits to initiative / turn order. Specializations give a bonus trait, but only when resolving ties on tests. Weapons give bonus traits only when resolving ties on tests. So nothing he had could account for his initiative number being 4 higher than normal. I had to look all this up after the game to be sure. He should have acted on “11”, not “15”.
Yes, this is an oddball, hard-to-remember part of the rules, but since it seems to be the crux of his character, he should be expected to know how it works. His character concept is basically “Brujah gunfighter”. He’s chosen the oddball Abilities and Weapons, it’s his responsibility to know how they work.

15. WillPower Violation 1: Willpower Does Everything The Entire Playgroup (pg 108)
Someone gets shot. They retest with Willpower. I interject that you can’t do that. I’m told by nearly everyone that Willpower can retest anything. I call Kevin over. He confirms it, “Willpower can retest anything” he tells me. I let it go, ‘cause a GM told me I was wrong.
Looking it up after the fact, I see that spending a Willpower can: a) refresh a trait, b) retest when defending against a social or mental challenge, c) enter a challenge for which you lack the appropriate Ability, d) mitigate a frenzy, e) ignore wound penalties for a turn, f) suppress a derangement, or g) fuel certain disciplines.
This is not highlighted in red, since it seems to be a playgroup-wide misunderstanding or weird house rule contradicting the book.

I hate that I was getting so damn rules-lawyery at this point, but I was getting very angry that several people were obviously cheating, and so I was challenging anything that sounded suspicious. Like the following...

16. Moving Violations 1 & 2: You only get half an action Anthony & Chris (pg 141)
Chris takes his action to move away from Danny and give orders to his guys. Danny then takes his action to follow Chris and attack him. Chris claims Danny can’t do this. He says Celerity PreEmpt Actions can only be a move or an attack, not both. But the examples in the PreEmpt section of the rulebook involve both moving and fighting in one action.
Later during this combat when people take actions against Anthony, he tries to claim they can only choose to either move 3 steps OR attack, not both. On his actions, though, he does both.
In both cases these players seem to be making up arbitrary restrictions on their opponents actions. I’ve hunted the rulebook, and can’t find anything that even implies this is correct.

17. Turn Sequence Violation 4: You mistakenly Relent Damn Near Everyone (pg 196, pg 88)
People repeatedly claim that if you’ve taken your action for the turn, you now must relent against every attack directed at you for the rest of the game. I argue against this one furiously.
All the rules say is that you can’t take any more aggressive actions. The players back down from “you must relent” to “you can’t use dodge to retest”. I give in at that point, it’s not worth fighting further. But even at that they’re still running the rule horribly wrong.

18. Weapons Violation 1: ak-47 Chris (pg 200, 202, 203)
I get shot by a Nos with an ak-47. I’m told it’s a high-caliber incendiary shot, and so does 2 agg, plus 1 agg if he ties or wins a simple test.
So assuming an ak-47 qualifies as higher-than-average-caliber rifle, it would by the rules do 2 agg, plus 1 more damage if he wins (NOT TIES) a simple test. The rules are vague and could be interpreted that the extra damage is either Lethal or Agg, depending on how you read it. I’ve always ruled Lethal, but that’s totally up to the GM.
This isn’t as big a violation as Anthony’s not knowing how his guns work (See #’s 14, 24, & 31), because these are weapons carried by Retainers, not a PC, so there’s less responsibility for the PC to have memorized it.

19. Courage Violation 2: ak-47 flames Kevin (pg 200)
Despite 3 ak-47s opening up with incendiary rounds, not one Courage test is taken this turn. It’s probably not fair to blame Kevin for this though. Not only is he be yelled at by cheaters at this point, but it’s not his NPCs toting these guns, it’s somebodies retainers he’d not expected to be present before the session began, so he probably didn’t refresh himself on the rules for incendiary rounds before the game. It’s a shame, cause everyone in fear frenzies sure would have sped up the scene.

20. Dementation Violation 1: Deny Rolfe (That's me!)
At this point, I’m getting a little pissy, and really could have used a break.
So when I get shot up a second time, I invoke Deny to ignore the bullet that hit me. I’m playing an NPC with Deny, and I don’t have a write-up for how it works. I’ve had to use it in every session thus far, and I keep asking for what exactly it costs to use it: blood, mental traits, temp willpower, perm willpower, I don’t know. The GM never got me a LARP write-up for it. Which means I don’t know if I can afford to use it just now.
I also don’t know if I have to activate it as my action, or if I can use it defensively.
But at this point, I’ve seen so much cheating, I don’t care. I say “I spend a blood and a mental trait to deny your bullet.”

21. Dementation Violation 2: Deny again Rolfe
Hell, it worked when I was defending myself. I’ll try it again. When it finally comes around to my action, I activate deny again and flee through a wall.
Not my finest hour, but since everyone else is cheating and deceiving tonight, it seems the best way to get out of a stupid broken combat session.
This is less of a big deal because I’ve used the power this way in two previous sessions, and was told it was okay by the GM. But I’d still never let a player in my game get away with multiple uses of a power that no one knew what you had to spend to activate it.

I sit off at the side and wait for the scene to end.
By the most generous account, 6 combat rounds have taken place. Some players say they’ve only gotten 2 actions, so it’s likely less time than that has occurred in-character.
Lots more willpower gets spent, no one ever bids a trait, and the combat drags forever.

22. Thaumaturgy Violation 1: Teleporting Ritual Thingy Jody
In the midst of all this, Jody tries to use a teleportation ritual. I’m not sure which one. She kept calling it Rite of the Open Passage.
There is a ritual in the main book called The Open Passage. It takes an hour to cast, and lets a group pass through a single barrier such a wall.
But that’s apparently not the one she’s using. She claims it lets her teleport to her haven, taking a group with her. She’s told by multiple players (including Phil, one of the Players she’d invited to escape with her) that this ritual takes 10 minutes to cast and it only transports her, no one else.
Yet Jody tries declaring her free escape numerous times over the next several rounds.

23. Turn Sequence Violation 5: Too many gunshots Anthony & possibly Phil
Amy (playing a Miliner NPC) uses necromancy to summon up some Zombies to attack Spaz. Kevin asks me to play 3 of them, and Jody to play 3 of them, since I’d escaped earlier and Jody is now engaged in a big ritual that requires concentration. He says we have 5 physical traits, hit for 1 lethal, have 4 health levels of our own, and are immune to Mind Powers. He tells us “We’re at 5. Go ahead and take your 3 steps and standard action now.”
Phil and Anthony turn around and blast us with their celerity & off-hand actions. It takes 2 hits to kill a zombie, they kill two by each hitting twice. They’d already taken their main action.
I’m not sure how much Celerity Phil has, so it’s possible his character could have level 4 or level 2 + an off-hand weapon. That’s all it would take for him to hit twice after normal actions were done.
But I found out later that Anthony had no Celerity at all. He only gets two attacks per turn, total. So he couldn’t hit twice after “everyman” actions were complete.

24. Weapons Violation 2: Heavy Pistol Anthony & Phil (pg 202, 205)
The zombies get hit by Phil & Anthony’s Heavy Pistols. The rules state that a Heavy Pistol does 2 Lethal plus 1 extra Lethal if the Shooter wins (not ties) a simple test.
They of course both represent it as they do the extra damage if they tie or win.
I see this happen, but don’t correct it. They’re just killing temporary NPCs who were given orders NOT to attack them. And, a zombie has four health levels, so it takes two hits to kill them, regardless of the outcome of the simple test. In retrospect, I should have corrected them at this point, but it didn’t feel this part of the situation warranted a rules lawyer - I was already feeling guilty enough.
This ranks as red (cheating) because they are experienced players who chose this oddball weapon as the main armament for their newly created characters. They should have known the rules better.

25. Weapons Violation 3: Where’d they get that? Anthony & Phil
When I mentioned Weapon Violation 2 to Kevin the next night, his response was “Where’d they get Heavy Pistols? They didn’t ask me for them. They didn’t spend actions. It’s not on their character sheet. I didn’t approve it!” And since both characters were made after Tim left the game, it certainly wasn’t approved by him.
I call this a grey area. Yes, they should have known to check with the storyteller before assuming they had such weapons, but the game offers no system for determining starting equipment. Since the game is not using weapon cards, it’s a loophole left open – they need some level of resources of finance ability to buy the weapons, and they must be registered unless they have level 4 police or street or level 3 underworld. If they met those requirements, they probably felt entitled to such armament.

25. Surprise Violation 1: No declaration of challenge, just counting to 3 Anthony
The next turn, Sarah’s character comes zipping past using Level 5 Celerity. Her PreEmpt action takes her to just a foot or two from Anthony, who she has no reason to fear – she thinks he’s a ghoul of a loyal kindred, not kindred himself, and certainly not the enemy.
She gets asked some out-of-character questions by Reed, who isn’t involved in the scene. I think Reed wanted to know what round of the combat they were in.
Meanwhile, Anthony points his hand like he’s holding a gun to the back of Sarah’s head. He counts softly to three. Then he announces a surprise attack.
The rules state you can only claim a surprise attack if you announce a physical challenge and your foe doesn’t respond within 3 seconds. It goes on to say that anyone “whispering challenges to get the element of surprise is cheating, plain and simple.”

26. Spirit of the Game Violation 1: Random Motive-less PC-Killing Anthony
This brings up the point of why is Anthony deciding to grease another PC in the midst of all this? He says it was retribution for Sarah’s character being so mean to his character during Elysium. And don’t get me wrong, she was – she actually risked his life at one point.
But he had represented himself both in-character and out-of-character as playing Geo’s Ghoul. Not being kindred, the setting dictates that he should be treated as a slave by the elders. And since he was a vampire and lied about it, he’d committed a crime that in Kindred society carries the sentence of the bloodhunt (He did not present himself to the prince, and he lied about his lineage to the Seneschal).
Furthermore, he’s launching his attack during a messy mass combat, with 2 kindred witnesses (and more if anyone else walks out of the main room). While Anthony knows that the 2 witnesses were his real-life buddies and wouldn’t rat him out, from their character’s point of view he was a ghoul they’d only met once before.
Nothing mentioned here in mistake #26 is against the rules in any way, but an experienced player, like Anthony claims to be, should know better than this. This is not D&D or Amber – the combat system sucks and most people are NOT here to spend a night on mass combat.

27. Surprise Violation 2: Claims target must relent Anthony
Sarah suddenly realizes she’s under attack, and gets ready for rock, paper, scissors. Anthony says she can’t, that she has to relent because it’s a surprise attack.
That’s not how it works. The real benefits for a Surprise attack, are that the first action of combat that round cannot result in the surpriser being harmed by the surprisee. If they lose the challenge, they may bid a second trait to gain a second challenge. Even if they fail both challenges, they can’t take any harm from the surprisee’s action.
There’s also a strong implication in the rules that you can’t declare a surprise attack while already in combat rounds.
I point all this out, and they decide it’s not a surprise attack after all. They go to shoot the test.

28. Turn Sequence Violation 6: You mistakenly Relent, part 2 Anthony (pg 196, pg 88)
Despite previous clarifications (see mistake #17), Anthony again tries to claim that since Sarah has taken her pre-empt action, she now has to relent to his normal action.
I remind him of the previous ruling by Kevin, and as a result, Sarah does not have to Relent, but instead she can’t use Dodge.
In case it wasn’t clear enough in mistake #17, the rules say none of this – there is no mention of those who have already acted having to relent or being unable to retest. The only penalty to them is they cannot do harm to another character till their next official action. They may still bid traits and activate abilities in defensive capabilities, without any further restriction.

29. WillPower Violation 2: Willpower Does Everything, and Anthony has a lot of it Anthony (pg 108)
Aside from the grey-area mistake about how the entire playgroup thinks Willpower can retest anything, there’s a bigger issue at stake here.
Anthony spends a total of 4 willpower during the battle. He never looks at his character sheet to record any of it.
This strikes me as weird since a ghoul starts with 2 willpower, and it’s so expensive to buy up. So, the next night, I ask Kevin. Anthony’s character sheet lists only 2 Willpower.

30. Ability Violation 2: The “Did I spend it?” trick Anthony
Later in the fight, when Sarah spends a Dodge, Anthony counters with “there’s no point to doing that, because I’ll just cancel with a Firearms.” Sarah’s response is “Okay”.
He uses this same phraseology multiple times. I believe in Anthony’s mind he thinks he’s not spending any Firearms, but in Sarah’s mind she thinks he is. She’s crossing off Dodge’s from her character sheet, he’s not even getting his sheet out of his pocket.
He does this three times and then, after the scene, he makes a comment that his character only has 2 levels of firearms total – If indeed 2 was his starting amount, then that means he bluffed/tricked his way into 3 uses of his 2 levels.

31. Weapons Violation 4: Heavy Pistol Anthony (pg 202, 205)
Each time Anthony’s PC hits Sarah’s PC, he presents the Heavy Pistol rule as that it does the extra damage on wins or ties. At least he’s consistent. At this point I question it, and he insists it works on ties. I hadn’t read that section since HOD was running, so I back down, assuming I must be wrong. I find out later that I was right.
He hits 3 times, for a total of 9 damage. Sarah’s PC has the first level of Fortitude, meaning her Health levels are Healthy x8, Torpor. She was going to be out of his line-of-sight on her next action, so even just one tie having resulted in a point less damage and her character would have escaped.

At the start of the next round, Chris’s PC Spaz comes into our area, using obfuscate. He literally stands such that his shoulder is touching mine at the end of the turn.

33. Necromancy Violation 1: Definition of Mindless Rolfe & Kevin
Kevin had told me that the zombies were mindless. I wasn’t sure how that interacted with Obfuscate, so I asked.
Kevin rules that since Obfuscate doesn’t make you invisible, it influences others minds to make them ignore you, the mindless zombies are immune to it. Since he is GM, he can rule however he wants.
The zombies can now see Spaz, however, and he’s the guy they were summoned to destroy.
However, in hind sight, I think this was a mistake. The rules do not actually call the zombies mindless. They certainly don’t say anything about zombies being immune to obfuscate.

Chris realizes he’s in trouble – since I’ve been told my 3 zombies can see him. At the start of the next round, he burns celerity for a PreEmpt and a Second Action.
For the record (it will matter in a moment) I'm taller than and have longer legs than Chris.

34. Moving Violation 3: Size of Stride Chris & Rolfe
Chris takes his 3 steps for his celerity PreEmpt. I take my 3 steps to follow, and I’m nowhere near him. I tend to take my combat steps as measured orderly steps, as that’s what seems fair. I’ve often seen other long-legged players take ridiculously large steps, and it seems unfair to me.
Since he started the action touching me, he should be touching me again by the end of my action, if I so wish it.
I attempt to correct it, suggesting either my steps should be bigger or his be smaller. He seems to take offense to this, and gets really defensive, shouting to Kevin “I took normal steps!, I’m a big guy!” This is a really minor thing, the rules don’t say how big a step is supposed to be, but he makes a huge deal of it…

35. Moving Violation 4: I’m Huge! Chris
Instead of being gracious about it, Chris tries to insist that since he has the Huge Size merit, he should get more or bigger steps each turn. Kevin cuts that one down really fast. The Huge size merit just gives an extra Healthy level, it says nothing about movement.

Chris gets ruled against, the zombies remain officially within melee range, so I declare the attacks of the 3 zombies I’m playing.

36. Moving Violation 5: Half an action is now an action Anthony
Anthony immediately chimes in, saying that I can’t attack because I moved. He says you get only 1 action per turn, and that action is either taking 3 steps, or attacking or dodging.
Of course I fight this one. It was ridiculous enough when he claimed this on Celerity PreEmpts at the start (see mistake # 16) of the mass combat. Now he’s claiming it on “everyman” actions too, despite him moving and shooting in a single action versus the zombies a few turns previous.

Since I’m being 3 zombies, we have two other players shoot for two of the tests so it all happens at once (the way mass combat is supposed to work – this is the closest anyone comes to proper use of mass combat rules this session). Chris wins two of the tests and takes a single level of lethal.
This is also noteworthy because no one tries to claim that Chris must relent to my attacks. Chris, Anthony & Phil have all claimed multiple times this session that if you’ve taken your action, you must relent on all challenges. They’ve tried this on Danny, on Sarah, and on me. Now it’s one of their own in this same situation with the two others witnessing the challenge, and they say nothing. Possibly they’ve just been straightened out about how the rule works from being corrected multiple times, but it sure looks suspicious in the light of everything else.

Chris is struck by a Zombie. I point out that this probably decloaks him. That’s the point where I begin to feel bad about Kevin’s ruling (at my request) that the zombies can see him, but I was technically in the right so there’s little to be done.

37. Obfuscate Violation 6: Nos on the train-tracks Chris
He argues quite fiercely against it. Had he argued that the zombies being able to see him in the first place was weird, I’d have agreed, but he probably still would have had to live with Kevin’s ruling for the length of that battle.
Instead, he argues “I didn’t interact with my environment, my environment interacted with me.” That doesn’t fly. True, he did not intentionally touch the zombies, but bystanders would see the zombies swinging at something standing in front of them – and one them hit it and drew blood.
Effectively, the question is: If an obfuscated character stands on a train track and gets hit by a locomotive, do they remain obfuscated? I'd say "no".

38. Thaumaturgy Violation 2: Teleporting Ritual Thingy Again Jody
Jody is still playing a zombie, but choosing not to attack Chris, the person she was summoned to destroy.
Instead, she continues pestering Kevin about when her real character gets her free escape from her ritual. She’s asked several times though it’s been clearly only a handful of rounds have gone by and she’s been told repeatedly her ritual takes 10 minutes in-character.
Kevin’s sick of it, so he pretty much shouts “Fine! You’re done! Make your free escape!”

39. Obfuscate Violation 7: Can’t cloak on your second action Chris
After my attack, Chris takes 3 steps away and tries to cloak. But this is clearly his second action this turn, and celerity actions cannot be used to activate Mental or Social disciplines. No one comments on this though, because we’re all focused on Obfuscate Violation 8 (Mistake #40, below)

40. Obfuscate Violation 8: Chris doesn’t have Vanish from the Mind’s Eye Chris
He was still in sight of Anthony’s PC, so I point out that he can’t Obfuscate while being watched. He says something to the effect of why does it matter who’s watching when he turns invisible. Several of us say “You can’t vanish while people can see you, not unless you have vanish from the mind’s eye”.
He doesn’t seem to understand what we mean, so I ask “How many levels of Obfuscate do you have?” He answers, “Three.” So I explain that you can’t disappear when someone can see you unless you have the fourth level. That’s why it’s called “Vanish from the Mind’s Eye,” I tell him, “because it’s the level that lets you disappear while being watched. At levels 1-3 you need to be hidden before you cloak.
He just keeps protesting, claiming he can cloak anytime he wants. After more than a minute, he finally says “Okay. I step out the door, and then Obfuscate.”
Of course, there’s trouble with that notion as well. Firstly, the door’s been blown off, by a rocket launcher so there’s little to hide behind. Secondly, the outside of the building was under observation by a whole bunch of mafia guys – they were now fighting Nos but the gunfire and explosions were still likely to draw some attention towards the big whole in the wall he’s fleeing from. Lastly, he’s still trying to activate Obfuscate while using Celerity.
The argument feels like it will never end – Chris is clearly in the wrong, and out-numbered on the issue, but won’t submit to logic.

At this point Kevin gets so fed up with the arguing, he calls the game. “Everyone on pause. We’ll pick up here in two weeks.”

41. Thaumaturgy Violation 3: Teleporting Ritual Thingy Yet Again Jody
As everyone starts to drop character, try to relax, walk away, etc, Jody squeals about how she’s so happy she escaped with the torpored body of an Elder – namely Sarah’s NPC (which everyone thinks is a PC).
In the round and a half since Sarah’s PC went down, Jody’s only action as her Tremere was to nag Kevin about her ritual.
She did not take an action to pick up the body let alone the 3 actions doing so would have taken since Sarah had moved 3 actions away from the Jody/Phil/Anthony clump before she fell.
Actually, it would have taken 6 actions – 3 to get the body, 3 to get back to where she completed the ritual. And probably moving like that before it’s completion would ruin the ritual anyway. More importantly, she’d been told more than once that she couldn’t take anyone with her – a torpored body is still a person.

So that’s the total list of cheating I saw at this session. But as my Parthian shot, I would like to bring up one over-arching issue that the GMs should have nipped in the bud:

How the hell did Chris get all this stuff? Refering to the 100 newly embraced vampires, wielding AK-47s with Incendiary Bullets and piloting airplanes full of explosives...

Embracing someone does not make them your slave, in fact for many kindred the embrace is a horrifying experience that forever embitters childe against sire. Yet Chris’s 100+ children are willing to die for him.
I doubt he’s won 100 social challenges to get that – he is a Nos so his Repugnant x3 makes that unlikely, and he doesn’t play the character in a way that makes me suspect Social is his Primary Attribute Category.
Even terrorists die only for causes they believe in. To control a group so thoroughly they’d be willing to crash an airplane into a building full of people they’d never met before, as “happened” in the game two sessions before, takes life-long religious indoctrination, or long-term brainwashing. Those are all unlikely given the length of this story arc.
Vamps have two ways around it – High Level Dominate or blood bonds. Dominate is out-of-clan for Nos, so it’s unlikely Spaz had the required 4th level of it.
This would then imply that each Childe drank at least 1 point of blood from him on 3 different nights – So shouldn’t Spaz be down on his blood levels if he’s fed over 300 blood to NPCs over the past month and a half of game play? It’s at least 5 points a night for two months to accomplish what he has, yet he seemed to have plenty of blood during the mass combat – he burnt it for Celerity every single round.
The only solution around this would be if he bought all the childer with experience points. A retainer is a 1-point background, for which you get a human that serves your will (but doesn’t know about Vampires) or a ghoul that lowers your blood total 1 point each session.
With 11 Physical Traits and at least the second level of Obfuscate each, it seems unlikely his army is composed of retainers. They had the power of full-blooded Vamps.
There is a “Pawn” Merit in The Long Night that lets you have a Vampire lackey to do your bidding. It costs 3 freebie points at character creation, and merits cost double when purchased with experience later. So for a total of 600 experience (which is so much to be highly unlikely) he could have 100 such powerhouses as he’s demonstrated.
And then there’s the weaponry. Each automatic weapon requires an action expending 1 level of Finance Ability, Resources or Finance Influence, PLUS an expenditure of Police 4, Street 4, or Underworld 3 or the Repair Ability.
The Police/Street/Underworld/Repair requirements can be ignored if you buy the weapon through regular channels and register it. But that’s tough enough for any Vampire to do, since they’d usually have to shop up in public during the daytime to accomplish it. Being a Nos doesn’t help, either.
The rulebook is unclear about what it takes to get your hands on Incendiary Rounds, but it does state it take additional effort to get High-Caliber rounds.
The rocket launcher and flamethrower are a bit tougher. Thousands of dollars on the black market, so Street 5 or Underworld 4 would be a good start, with Resources 3+ to bankroll it. And ultimately it has to go missing from somewhere in the first place, so there should be note of the theft or at least a big gun-smuggling ring in rumors for those with any serious amount of Police or Underworld Influence.

I sincerely hope that was the most bitchy, rules-lawyery thing I ever post to a blog. Man, it's good to be away from Albuquerque.

No offense intended to Kevin, the GM/ST of the session. He was surrounded by assholes, idiots, and opportunists - and did the best he could with what had been dealt him. No disrespect intended to anyone (I'd guess half the group) who didn't cheat, or anyone (such as myself) who cheated only in the heat-of-the-moment reaction to what they saw as obvious large-scale cheating, or to anyone (such as Dave) who cheated for a moment or two before recanting and apologizing and taking their action back. That night sucked for all of us. While I no longer have seething emotions about it, it cost me about a week of sleep a few years back.

I hope the cheaters have learned to be better people. I hope their egos are no longer so shallow as to require cheating to be a part of their RPG experience. If not, then hopefully they've switched to games where striving to win can be done without it being at the expense of the groups enjoyment. I hope the non-cheaters have culled the cheaters from their midst, and/or rehabilitated them. 'Cause it ain't worth putting up with that crap.

No comments: