Sunday, December 4, 2011

Role Playing Game (RPG) Week: 6 of 6

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Here we are closing out the RPG theme week. Nathan has produced three posts telling you about his history role-playing. I have produced two posts of the same nature. Today, I will be still dealing with history, but I would like to do it through specific stories.

There is a trap to telling stories about your role-playing adventures. That trap is that nobody cares. Try this:

So there I was playing my Monk character. I had +5 to attack from leveling up proficiencies and service to the demigod Ullmanis. Now that adventure to the Plains of Desershia was crazy, but let me tell you about how I took out seven fire beetles with one blow.

Yep. Everyone is looking for a change of subject right now unless they play the game and actually get what you’re saying… and even then they might be a little bored unless it’s a particularly good in game story. Now try this:

A friend of mine had a taste for a little goofiness in his D&D games, and named his Halfling Makeapoo (Make-a-poo). His Dungeon Master was pretty upset about this, claiming that he wasn’t taking the game seriously. They agreed to disagree, called the character Meepo for short, and went on with playing the game. Later, when I was driving to Tulsa, I noticed a sign for Lake Kickapoo, and being in Oklahoma, I realized that this was likely a Native American name. I called my friend and told him about the lake. I told him to tell his Dungeon Master that if the strong and noble cultures of our Native America recognize the naming convention that it must be valid. And if he argues, tell him that you have to make a poo before you can kick a poo.

The difference between the stories (aside from the poo story being a real story) is that one uses in-game jargon and tells a tale that is probably only interesting if you were part of the game, while the other is about out of the game interaction with humour that is recognizable to almost anyone. Not all gaming stories fit as nicely into the latter category. I just bring this up as a tip for telling stories about your gaming. Find ways to tell the story so that it is compelling to your audience, making sure to be honest about whether or not it can even be compelling. For this reason, I think this is probably a hard one to write. I’ll do my best though.

I think there is something to be said about a good character. All you writers out there, here’s a different spin on characters. A good character is a character that when handed over to another player, can be played as well as by the stand in player as the original player. In terms of writing, your characters should be so good that any writer could write the character if they sat down to it. Think about the truly classic characters, like Sherlock Holmes, and how you gauge the performance of a new actor. You ask if they were portraying Sherlock Holmes faithfully, because most people have a sense of how he should be played.

I had two such moments while playing characters that were once played by others. The first was the character of Artemis, created by my friend Jennifer, who was part of our group and dating the Dungeon Master. When they split, she no longer played with us. Her character was played by one of the other guys for a long while, but I ended up taking it over for a few sessions. During this time, a character named Venom had betrayed the group. This was because Venom was chaotic evil, but had never really been played as such when he was a Player Character. Now being a Non-Player Character (NPC)… do you see what I mean about game terms? Venom was being played by the DM, and he felt that the character should act evil. Artemis, as a character, never liked Venom. That was one thing I remembered about the way Jennifer played her, so when Venom reared his ugly, toothless head again, they literally had to stop Artemis from getting killed by her own hatred, because I played her as though the person she hated most in the world had just stopped by and acted like nothing was wrong.

I had to play a character named Yicup (Why I See You Pee). Makeapoo’s player isn’t the only one who likes goofy names. Jake, Yicup’s creator, always played Yicup as comic relief. Think of Groo the Wanderer, but a little dumber, a little uglier, and a lot more arrogant. One maneuver that was probably not officially supported by the rules was the “Spoooon!” attack. This involved Yicup putting on a spiked helmet and being launched from an oversized slingshot by the minotaur character.

When Jake went overseas for a bit, I was Yicup for a while. I was used to playing a thoughtful, peaceful Monk (who started as an NPC) with some badass stats that were also not supported fully by the rules, but we kept him balanced enough. But Jake had played Yicup so well that I had no problem deciding what absolutely unreasoned, tantrum-throwing, childlike decisions Yicup would make. For one thing, when Artemis tried to take out Venom on her own, Yicup was just like, “Let her at him. I’ll help,” as everyone else tried to stop her.

The story I mean to tell is this. There was a heavily guarded tower. The characters were trying to figure out how to get in without having to fight. They had thoughts like using Sleep or Charm Person spells. My Monk was supportive of this, because he had a spell that could increase the probability of the other spells working. Another thought was to bring the minotaur in as a prisoner, probably influenced by Star Wars with Chewbacca as a prisoner. My Monk was skeptical of this, because it seemed a bit random, but he was willing to try if that felt like the best course of action. They started trying to figure out how to tie up the minotaur without actually binding him, when my Monk said, “Guys, I think we’re going to have to fight our way in. Yicup is walking up to the front door.” The beauty of this was all the other players saying things like, “Oh fuck,” and “Fucking Yicup,” as they announced that their characters were grabbing their weapons and running after him. You could almost imagine their characters saying similar things. We won by the way. Partly because as the other characters were fighting the guards, Yicup just walked in and started causing mayhem in the tower.

The final in-game story I have is about my friend Jesse’s character, Scagneti. I notice there is a character named Scagneti in “Reservoir Dogs,” but I don’t know if that’s where it came from. We called the character Skank, which in turn could have been from “The Crow.” Who knows?

There was this accessory called the Deck of Many Things. There was an actually deck of cards for the players to draw from, but in the game when the characters drew a card, whatever was on it happened.

Our characters were basically screwed. We were tied up. We were going to die viciously if our DM didn’t drop down a god to rescue us. Jesse got an idea, which was that if Skank could just get his foot free of his boot, he could use his toes to draw a card from the Deck of Many Things. Maybe whatever he got would help. We all knew there was a wish card in there that had not been drawn yet, and Jesse was hoping beyond all hope that he drew it. After the proper rolls to get Skank’s foot free to draw the card with his toes, Jesse drew a card as our DM held the deck fanned out before him. Out of the 20 to 30 cards that were left in the deck, he drew the wish, and saved us. He described what our characters saw, which was Skank standing free of the ropes, with his boot in one hand and the card in the other.

Now I’d like to make an odd point for those of you still reading, because you’re likely gamers if you got this far… gamers with patience and a good attention span. If you’ll notice that the stories that I felt most compelled to tell had little to do with rules and stats and attributes and how much damage was rolled with a critical hit, and etcetera. To me, role-playing games are more about the stories told, and the character actions that make them memorable. The rules are simply there as an anchor to keep everything straight. They are not the be all to end all. The truth is that the group that these stories were from, well, we probably got away with an awful lot that defied the rule structure, but that’s only because it was a much more fun game when we got creative.

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