#RPG – Interview with Kevin Rolfe, UK Games Expo’s Infamous ‘Gang Rape’ Games Master

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH SIGN-IN SHEETS, INFORMATION ABOUT THE RECORDING OF THE SESSION AND SHOULD HOPEFULLY HAVE A COPY OF THE FORMAL STATEMENT SOON.

Editor’s Note: There is a rumour going around that Mr Rolfe has been barred from other conventions in Europe before now. This does not appear to be true. According to Mr Rolfe he has mainly attended Dragonmeet and UKGE, running two sessions at Dragonmeet and 8 at UKGE for the best part of a decade without problems. They attended Wyntercon once, but didn’t care for it (light on the RPG element). They have not been banned from any conventions previously.

Could you summarise, in your own words, exactly what happened?

When I came up with the adventure I had two scenes in mind.

One, the lads, drunk or high outside a kebab shop at 1 am trying to get enough money together to buy a kebab and two, the lads naked, handcuffed, covered in poo being chased by men with guns, which seemed funny.

I was thinking gross out humour, Porkys, American Pie and Inbetweeners – with a bit of Trainspotting and a dash of the Carry On films, but ending with a light touch of Hostel.

To get from the kebab shop to covered in poo, I came up with the lads on tour, Club 18-30 idea.

But as with all plans, not all of it survived first contact with the players. I forgot bits, the covered in poo part for one, and missed some of the comedic beats.

The second gross out teenage comedy/horror I ran later for the UKExpo’s team leaders hit all its comedy beats and was very funny. The game was halted at 11:30 so the giant robots attacking the rave scene fell flat.

This was a mash-up of the Inbetweeners Movie and Hostel. Not the greatest scenario.

A bunch of rich guys wanted to hunt some Englishmen for sport.

  • Act 1 was the PCs trying to get the money for a Club 18/30 holiday
  • Act 2 was the arrival in Ibiza.
  • Act 3 I removed the player agency for 2 mins for a narrative segment, then continued.

The Narration:

“The tour rep gives you some shots, everything goes fuzzy.”

In my notes it states, the drug used not only knocks them out, it gives them terrible diarrhoea. Hence no clothes and sore bums.

“You wake up naked, handcuffed to each other, with sore bums, in the back of a van. Guys with guns make you get out and say run.”

The image of the Inbetweeners lads running naked over wasteland handcuffed together seemed a funny image, which is why I constructed the narrative just to get that scene. However in the post-game chat with all the players I completely forgot to talk through the bits they missed as we were all talking about the structure of shock in horror games.

I believe this omission on my part has caused the problem. The players saw something that wasn’t there and I failed to rectify this as we started discussing something else. Had one of the players raised the issue I would have remembered.

However I accept that it was my fault that I forgot.

After they ran. they had the option of a farm or the woods. They went with the farm. Had they gone with the woods they would have met the robots hiding there.

I bumped into one of the players from the group of 4 friends who played, he said he was annoyed that there were no robots, had they gone into the woods…

[Edit – Late addition/Correction]
I had no complaints from the players during the game however, I bumped into one of the group of 4 on the Sunday, who complained on Twitter.

He said, “there were no robots we were expecting robots, that’s what you did wrong.”

He did not mention anything else, just that the lack of robots annoyed the group. Now if they would have gone into the woods, they would have found robots…
[End Edit]

Did you advertise the game as a horror scenario or with an age restriction?

It was advertised as an 18+ scenario, using a darkly mature game, but the burb clearly showed it to be a gross-out teenage scenario. Something like grubby teenage lads doing grubby teenage lad things.

Did the players remain for the entire session?

Yes, we began with a chat about the systems and the dark themes within them.

When were you aware that there was a problem?

Nothing till 11ish, when I got a call about something on Twitter. In fact one of the group of four said he was looking forward to the game of Kult the following day.

Did the convention staff listen to your side of things at all?

I’d been up since 4 and had just run 12 hours of games. I was in a bit of shock so not 100% as to what was going on, only that there had been no complaint and that they were going off something that was on Twitter. I think I tried to roughly explain the scenario, but I’m not really sure what I said.

Do you intend to appeal the convention’s decision?

Yes. I’m sending them a statement with a request to remove the inaccurate press statement they put out, due to the defamatory nature of their statement.

Were any of the players under age? What about the characters?

The age rating was 18+. The players were 18+, as were the PCs.

Did the ‘gang rape of minors’ actually take place in the game and was it described as such or in lurid detail?

Not at all, both my GM notes and the recording I made of the game clearly show that nothing of the sort happened.

[NB: Said recording appears to have corrupted or failed. Which doesn’t look good admittedly, but on the other hand the sign up sheets and adventure descriptions have been retrieved, see below. A recording does exist of one of the other sessions].

It’s my understanding that while Tales from the Loop is a more ‘kids on bikes’ game, Things from the Flood is more of a horror game with more adult content. Is that right?

No, both are darkly mature games. Anyone who has read the books, knows this. Just a read through of the scenarios in Tales from the Loop shows it’s an 18+ game.

Were you aware of any convention rules prohibiting the kind of content in your game before this blew up?

I have been running roughly 8 games a year for UKexpo for nearly a decade, minus the year I had Open Heart Surgery, so had an understanding of the rules but given there was no ‘gang rape of minors’ it was not an issue.

You don’t seem quite as social-media connected as a lot of people, what has it been like for you being ‘cancelled’ in this way?

I only have a locked down Facebook that I use to keep in contact with family.

Its quite mad to think that the game of internet whispers is revolving around you. I’m reading bits thinking, ‘that never happened’. Makes you think about the fake/real news in the age of misinformation we have woken up to. Bloody insane. The pseudo death threats, and threats of violence, from clicking keys in somebody’s mum’s basement would be funny – if it wasn’t happening to you.

Some people talk as though you have a reputation for pushing boundaries and being ‘edgy’, is that fair to you?

No, I run games that have twists, or that turn genres on their heads. I’ve run every genre from Dad’s Army vs the Deep Ones to Delta Green, to Musketeers in the Hollow Earth.

Have you been able to counter these accusations anywhere or have you been prevented from doing so?

I have not really spoken to anyone. I’ve not begun to online, just yet.

Your delayed Kickstarter has been brought up and used to attack you, but I saw an update from May 15th. Do you still intend to deliver and do you have a revised timetable?

This is really a conversation between me and the backers, but my Open Heart Surgery delayed things. A full draft was dropped a while ago.

This opens up the debate, what is or is not acceptable? MYFAROG? Let’s Kill the Ice Cream Man? Lover in the Ice and any of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures? Even the Alien RPG, a game based on a film where a monster puts its genitalia down your throat to empty its seed inside you… I guess gross out teenage comedy needs to be added to that list.

#RPG In Game Griefers & How to Deal With Them

mark-39951_640There’s always one arsehole.

That guy.

The one who insists on his character going off and doing his own thing.

The one constantly distracting the GM with notes or wanting a private conversation.

The one so wedded to his character concept he won’t bend with the consensus of the group.

The one who always wants to be in the spotlight.

A lot of the time we go along with these people and games often suffer because of it. You don’t want to ban anyone from the table and the usual social contract between players of give and take – that normally evolves organically – isn’t working or isn’t established yet. What can you do if you don’t want to kick them from your group, upset them and disrupt the game?

In the past, one thing I’ve found useful to help groups focus is to ‘gameify’ disruptive behaviour so that it penalises the player engaging in that behaviour. They are still free to do all these things if they really want to, but it stacks up negatively on their character and gives them penalties, making it harder for them to do things.

I called these ‘Black Marks’ and I would award them for engaging in too much non-game banter/discussion, playing around with phones and laptops (other than for game related things), taking too many smoke breaks and arseholey things in game like needlessly splitting the party, fighting your fellow party members, thieving from them or hogging the limelight.

We used little black tokens to mark these negative points and 1-3 were awarded each offence. I would then cash them in during play to reduce a player’s damage, make them miss or – at the end of the game – to penalise their experience points.

Assuming a d20 basis, each point was equal to a -1 to a roll and these could really make a difference during play.

Not all groups will go for this, some will react poorly and it can lead to more argument over whether they deserved the black marks or not, but for many groups this may offer a solution to bad habits and disruptive players.

ImagiNation Excerpt: Explaining Role-Playing, Again

Role-Playing

Odds are that most people reading this already know what a role-playing game is but, as this game is intended to reach out to new gamers as well as old ones, I’m going to take a little more time than usual to explain what a role-playing game is, how they are played and – most importantly – why they’re such good fun.

Role-playing, as a hobby-game, has been around since the mid-seventies and grew out of wargaming. A hobby that is represented in most people’s eyes by Games Workshop and their Warhammer game these days. Role-playing is a little different though. Rather than commanding an army each player takes control of a single character and guides their actions through a story created and refereed by another player called the ‘Games Master’.

This is a lot like playing games of imagination when you’re children. Maybe you shouted out ‘Let’s play Star Wars!’ and then people would take on roles: “I’m Han!” “I’m Chewie!” etc, and then – as kids – you would play out battles or re-play the stories of the film. There are three important differences when it comes to role-playing games.

1: We’re grown-ups now, so we have to justify creative play to ourselves with all sorts of adult structure and waffle.

2: Role-playing games have rules. This helps prevent the sort of “Bang, you’re dead!”, “No I’m not!”, “Yes you are!”, “Nuh huh, I have a forcefield” type arguments we had as children.

3: The characters and stories are our own and, hopefully, somewhat original.

So, how do you play one of these games? That’s actually pretty easy to do, but a lot harder to explain in any meaningful way. If you know anybody who already plays these kind of games then your best bet is to ask to sit in on a game or to get them to explain it to you in person. I’ll do my best to explain below, but one of the main barriers to spreading the hobby is the problem of explaining it.

The Games Master is one of the players. He comes up with the story, the challenges, the opposition that the players who are taking the part of the characters have to face. The Games Master sets the scene, looks after the rules and describes the action. It’s a demanding but rewarding role to take in a game.

The players create and describe their characters. These characters are made according to the rules – given later – and these descriptions determine the bounds of who a character is, what they can do and how good they are at it.

The advantage to The Description System is that so long as you can describe something, you can put it into the game rules. This makes it very easy to pick up and play with very little preparation or number crunching.

Here is how a little bit of one game session might go, we join the game already in progress…

The Games Master Sets the Scene: You emerge from the underground station into the light. You think this must be King’s Cross station – or rather what’s left of it. The station is overgrown, the floors cracked. Vines and creepers sprawl over everything and are festooned with brightly lit and sweetly perfumed flowers. Butterflies and other insects flutter and buzz from flower to flower and vine to vine. It makes the floor hard-going to walk through and here and there knots of thick vegetation block the path.

Kerr (Played by Kyan): “Damn, I’m glad to be out of there. Who knew so many people were afraid of rats on the underground?” Now we’re in the light I brush the dirt off my clothing and check myself for rat bites.

Juliet (Played by Karen): “Don’t relax yet Kerr. Rats make sense at least. We knew what to do about rats. Even giant ones. What’re all these plants about though?” I’ll move to the nearest one and take a closer look.

Games Master: You don’t find any bites you’ve missed but the ones you did take look a bit nasty, angry and red. The flower looks a bit like a bluebell or a snowdrop, but bigger and glowing with a honeyed, inner light. Each flower seems to be a subtly different shade, covering the whole rainbow throughout the station.

Kerr: “I don’t trust it. Pretty things always hide something nasty.” I’ll sit down on the steps and use my first aid kit on my wounds. I don’t want them getting infected.

Games Master: OK, I won’t make you roll for that. Daubing on some iodine or TCP isn’t exactly taxing. It’s probably a good idea though. What about you Karen?

Juliet: “Pretty things always hide something nasty eh? Should I take that personally?” I laugh at Kerr but I know he’s probably right. I’ll keep my hand on my pistol and move a short distance deeper into the station, looking out for trouble.

Games Master: Alright. I’m going to ask you to make a roll to see if you spot anything. Give me a moment. *He tots up the appropriate words and skills from a description of ‘something’ lurking in the station and rolls a dice, getting a four* OK, roll and tell me what you get. You need to beat seven (the roll, plus the opponent’s total).

Juliet: I’m paranoid, that’s usually a bad thing but I want to use it here. I also have a good eye and in our time off between missions I trained up in observation. So that gives me a total of three before I roll. If you’re OK with all of that?

Games Master: Sounds kosher to me.

Juliet: And I roll a five, giving me a total of eight. That beats seven.

Games Master: Distantly, behind the overgrown tangle that used to be the automatic gates, you briefly catch sight of a wild-haired, naked woman carrying a spear. Naked save for three strategically placed fig leaves that is. She ducks back down again, out of sight.

Juliet: What… the… hell… Kerr. Hurry up with what you’re doing. We might have more trouble.

And so the adventure continues…

Professional GMing? Is it feasible

It’s a perennial question isn’t it really? Roleplaying is cool, could I make it my job as well as my hobby? Essentially that’s what we writers and game designers are doing, after a fashion, and it’s not that easy at all.

MMOs have professional paid GMs, but that’s not really like being a tabletop GM. It’s more like tech-support and forum administration, only with less sociable hours and even less money.

Let’s assume you’d want to make minimum wage with your professional GMing services. In the UK the minimum wage is £6.08 per hour, let’s call it £6.00 for ease of mathematics. You want to match a 9-5, 5 day a week job. 35 hours a week, four weeks a month. That’s about £840 a month. Let’s call it £850.

You might get away with £10 per person, per month for a subscription service – broadly compared to MMO subs, which means you’d need a client-base of 85 people. That’s the equivalent of 15 or so six-player gaming groups (that’s about the size of a normal convention group).

Thing is, you’d likely be working weekends as that’s when most people would play and running yourself ragged you might be able to host three games a day, Saturday and Sunday.That’s 24 potential slots per month on a first-come first served basis, but you’d likely burn out pretty fast at that pace.

You could supplement that with GMing ‘services’.

EG: “I need adventure notes for a level 3 D&D group”, or “Run me off a dozen NPC orcs…” or “I need a villain for my campaign.”

Anything you do make up could also go into a ‘secure’ wiki or something, adding value people could raid all the time as and when they wanted (so long as they kept up their subs).

For a lot of games – now we’re in an open-source age – you would also have the basis for supplementary products that wouldn’t take that much effort to turn into a saleable PDF and would also provide incentive for you to do the best possible job when putting it together at the start.

I think this is… just barely… feasible as an idea. If you could combine those ideas, but there are definitely some non-trivial problems:

1. Taking it to a professional level isn’t free. Sure you could do all of this – running games over Skype or Google Hangouts, hosting documents in the cloud etc, using a free wiki host, but it’s not going to look very professional. You’re going to need some sort of storefront, way of tracking subs, access etc.

2. Paperwork is going to eat into your time to do the bit you want.

3. Creativity cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Being creative full time is exhausting and you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done.

4. What if you get sick? Can’t hold up your end of the bargain? You need a way to refund people.

5. You need a way to make sure your customers have equal access to you, fair access to you and are getting their money’s worth.

6. You need to have a rep. To be a rockstar GM, in order to attract people willing to shell out.

7. Some companies might by huge arseholes about you making money from running sessions of their games or charging for content for their games. Even though RPG magazines used to do his all the time.

This is all assuming that you’d be doing things on an individual basis. A company could match GMs and people wanting to play together and pay GMs on a game by game basis but that would be even more complex, a sort of Infrno-plus.

This isn’t something I would do. Maybe if I was still in my early twenties and was single it would be tempting to try, or if some investors could be brought together for the Infrno-plus idea. This is just an exploratory study, if you want to give it a bash, feel free to use this as the basis for your business plan and let me know how you get on.

But you’re mad.