Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Gamer Warstory from the Era of Open World Play

There's been a bit of chatter on the ol' 'Sphere recently regarding the "good old days" of shared game worlds: the phenomenon in which gamers would take their characters hopping around from one game world/campaign to another. It was before my time, personally, but I came into the hobby at a point when it was still possible to catch older hobbyists reminiscing about those sorts of social networks and the campaigns spawned from that fertile ground.

Since it's been awhile since I've posted a Roger E. Moore Dragon Magazine editorial anyway, I thought I'd share one such story here. (It's also, as the essay itself points out, an excellent example of how romance can play a role in driving campaign action.) From Dragon #161 (September 1990):

Once upon a time in a campaign far, far away, there were two adventurers named Black Bart and Ursula. Black Bart was a dark-haired fighter from an AD&D® game world, with a sneaky grin and a magical sword for every day of the week. Ursula was a good-natured barbarian with flame-red hair from the GAMMA WORLD® game, an expert with pistols and grenades. The details of how the two met are murky, but the important thing was that they did meet - and unexpectedly fell in love.

Romance is not a commonly discussed topic with regard to role-playing games. The article "Romance and Adventure!" in this issue is the only one I recall on the subject, aside from notes in an article by William Armintrout on TSR's old METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA game, which appeared in The Space Gamer magazine. If romance appears in an adventure at all, it is as a minor subplot (one example takes place in the WG8 Fate of Istus AD&D module, on page 52).

I have a feeling that, in average game play, a full-blown fairy-tale romance with daring deeds and the works is most likely when only one of the two characters is a player character, the other being an NPC. Once in a while you get the same effect between characters run by two people who are already romantically involved in real life (I've seen it happen), but that's rarer.

Ursula was the NPC of the couple mentioned above, but Black Bart never seemed to notice. They were seen everywhere together, happily bashing monsters and braving every quest that came their way. The peak of their careers came when they piloted their own cargo lifter during the great Damnation Alley coast-to-coast run across the ruins of North America, about which volumes could be said but my editorial isn't long enough. Black Bart and Ursula were a bright spot in every game adventure, right up to the moment when Ursula died.

The end came very suddenly. A chaotic-evil fighter played by another player became irked with the rest of the party one evening and attacked everyone at once. This was particularly bad since everyone in the group, including the attacker, was as heavily armed as liberal DMs and transuniversal-campaign travel will allow. Guns roared, + 5 swords lashed out, and 20-HD fireballs erupted across the campsite in a savage, no-quarter battle.

Ursula caught the chaotic-evil fighter's main attack. She doubled over, nearly dead after the first melee round, and dropped her weapons. The fighter moved to finish her off and cut up the rest of the group, failing until the last moment to notice that Ursula had tugged the pin out of a torc grenade and was clutching it to her chest. The resulting explosion completely disintegrated everything for almost 50' around: the evil fighter, Ursula, their equipment, the dirt and rock under their feet, everything. The party was saved. Of the two combatants, nothing remained.

Black Bart wasn't the same after that. He became moody, which is a nice way of saying that he took out his frustration on every unfortunate monster that came within sighting distance. Something had to be done, so when it came my turn to be the DM, I brought Ursula back to life. But there was a price tag.

It seems that Ursula had been under surveillance by a mad scientist in another universe, and he'd fallen for her even if she was an unsophisticated barbarian. When she was attacked, the mad scientist worked the controls of his time-space machine and popped her out of harm's way in the last fraction of a second before the torc grenade blew up (but he thoughtfully left the grenade behind for the fighter). Ursula became a prisoner in the scientist's citadel, a mile-high needlelike tower in the wastelands of a world known as Barsoom.

Black Bart began to have dreams in which he saw Ursula calling out to him for rescue. Immediately seizing the chance to find his true love, Black Bart learned of Ursula's location during visits with high-level sages and wizards, and he gathered his allies for an assault. Warriors from lands of fantasy and science-fiction rallied to his cause, and the adventurers were soon neck deep in combat with banths, pirates, Green Martians with radium rifles, and worse.

Black Bart was relentless. When his crew reached the deserted city where the mad scientist lived, he ignored all the monsters that attacked the group, marching steadily on for the tower and killing everything that got in his way. In the final battle at the top of the spire, Black Bart fought the scientist in single combat and threw his headless body from the balcony. The subsequent escape from the tower (whose base was triggered to blow up if the scientist was slain) made up the final chapter of the adventure, and Ursula and Black Bart were together again.

I haven't the faintest idea of what happened to those two characters after that. I would hope that they are happily hacking their way through the multiverse even now. The memories of that adventure would last for years, and we remembered too the cause for which it was fought.

Cheers to you, Black Bart and Ursula, wherever you are.

I love as much of what goes unsaid as what's stated explicitly. Who were the other members of the party, I wonder? Sounds like it was quite a motley crew. Also interesting is the high incidence of direct lifts from pulp settings - Damnation Alley, "a world known as Barsoom" - going on.
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