Monday, November 28, 2011

[Solo GPC] 524: The Knight of the Lake

My recent break from running the Solo GPC campaign came at a good time. I was starting to feel a little uninspired in terms of running adventures for a lady-centered game and wasn't sure how I wanted to handle certain emerging themes and story arcs. After re-reading Steinbeck's Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights during the break, I came back refreshed and full of ideas. Frankly, I can't wait to see how things play out over the next few years. This year's adventure would be a brief respite after the high drama of poor Sir Haegirth's quest and the beginning of new challenges for Meleri. Of course, in Pendragon, respites aren't exactly free of drama...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on Being a Player

As much as I'm sure the title of this post will draw in a record number of Google searches executed by desperate 14-year-old boys trying to figure out how to score chicks, this is in actuality just some random thoughts on my three-month tenure as a PC, a rather novel experience for me these days.

In days of yore, I'd say my time running games and my time playing games was about evenly split. As the other members of my old high school/college group became increasingly disinterested in putting in the work and hours required to be a GM (having been lured away by the siren call of CRPGs and MMOs), I found myself taking up the slack. That was the beginning of my career as full-time GM. Over the last 10 years, I've more often than not found myself gaming with newbies or lapsed gamers just getting back into the hobby, neither category being particularly well-suited to running games. So my full-time GMing continued.

When my last campaign wrapped up in July, my wife Desiree kindly volunteered to step up and run the next game. This was more than a little brave on her part; she's only ever run one-shots or short mini-campaigns, usually just for me or, once in a while, me and one other person. Our group at the time consisted of six other players (myself included), so this obviously constituted quite a leap for her. She chose Pendragon, her hands-down favorite RPG, and I duly looked forward to getting a chance to see how things are as a player in a good-sized group over an extended campaign, something I frankly haven't experienced since John Goodman was making cameo appearances on SNL as Linda Tripp.

I was prepared for the experience to be different, but even then I had little idea (or rather had forgotten) just how different being a player in a campaign can be. I've been a player in one-shots from time to time, but that's a totally different beast from campaign play. I'd forgotten how challenging, how frustrating, and how rewarding it can be to be a player.

The challenge element, of course, was of wholly different nature from the challenges faced by a GM. It was a novel experience for me to be faced with a problem and not know the right answer. As a GM, it's all about putting pieces of the puzzle together on the fly. As a player, one has to find out what exactly the puzzle pieces are to begin with!

Ergo the frustration. I've got a great group right now and we managed to keep moving forward, keep from getting stymied, but I still found myself frustrated at times. I was frustrated at character generation because I'd frankly forgotten that with Pendragon it's best to let the dice tell you what kind of character you've got; I came in with a pre-conceived idea of the type of character I wanted to play and spent a lot of time trying reconcile that image with the character I got. I was also frustrated because, as I found out, the role-playing muscles required to play a PC are quite different from those required of an NPC. Then there was, again, the simple frustration of not having all the info in front of me. Weird!

Ah, but the rewards. In order to talk about that, I have to talk about the campaign and my character a bit.

His name was Sir Driant. Son of a sub-Roman British nobleman from Glevum (Gloucester) he thought rather a lot of himself. I envisioned him as a young James Spader in the sort of roles he used to play back in the 80s. Driant's privileged background meant he started the campaign with the most Glory, and didn't he know it. The rest of the campaign seemed to revolve around breaking Driant down and remaking him. Driant spent the campaign as an errant knight; even an attempt at an arranged marriage backfired disastrously when the prospective wife turned out to be landless and, worse, a shapeshifting murderer. Driant killed his wife personally and turned to raiding his ancestral rival, the Duke of Clarence, to support himself.

He was also a fair jouster and won twice as many jousts as he lost, culminating in the winning of a golden lance (as depicted on his coat of arms above). Driant took on a second squire just to tote around the golden lance in his wake. He and his brother knights (i.e. the other PCs) formed the Order of the Chain (represented on Driant's shield by the circle in the corner) based on an adventure in which they tried to free a giant from its underwater chain. Driant's family trait of "Swims Like an Otter" came in very handy that day.

But I mostly found myself playing second-fiddle throughout the campaign owing to my atrophied player muscles, Driant's largely negative personality Traits, and some good old-fashioned abysmal dice rolling. This didn't bother me too much, but there were still several times I seriously considered recklessly charging into combat so I could suicide Driant and start with a fresh character I might feel more attached to. But I trusted our doughty GM and persevered, and I'm glad I did.

The final adventure of the campaign took us across a giant sword bridge to Merlin's Island and thence into the mystical Wastelands. At the Turning Castle, we met the Maimed King. Attempting a Passion roll to boost my chances of solving the riddle of the king's wound, I rolled (of course) a natural 20, which in this case meant a fumble! Worse, fumbled Passion rolls mean Madness and surrender of the PC to GM control. At this point, Des pulled out some brilliant improv and had Driant, in his madness, see clearly what needed to be done - he took the Grail and healed King Fisherman.

I pledged my service to the Fisher King and Driant became a Grail Knight on the spot. His negative traits flipped to positive and he became a Religious Knight, his life now filled with meaning. The climax of the campaign was a rousing battle on the Plains of Joy against the diabolic forces of Duke Klingsor, the dastardly fiend who had been laying siege to Castle Joy. In his new white robes and armor, Driant charged with his Grail Knight brethren to one side, his Chain Knight brethren to the other. We kicked Klingsor's ass to hell and gone and Driant bid a fond farewell to his brothers in arms as they returned to the real world.

Des will likely run a follow-up Pendragon campaign sometime next year and I'll make a new character for it; Driant is effectively retired, home at last at the Turning Castle. But the experience of that story arc will live on in my memory for years to come as an excellent example of the benefits of patience and perseverance and the unique rewards that can come from being a player in a campaign.

Having said that, I'm very much looking forward to getting back to running games again. Having GM'd so often for so many years, I'm afraid it's in my blood now. The Solo GPC is back on (the next session summary is due shortly) and I'm working up a World of Darkness chronicle to run for the group at large when we reconvene after the holidays. Still, I think I'd like to make a resolution for 2012 and beyond to try and get back towards the balance I once enjoyed between playing and running games. As I was reminded, they may be two sides of the same coin but they are very different sides indeed.

WTF White Wolf?

So as you might have inferred from the quiet atmosphere around here lately, I've sort of been unplugged from the online gaming world for the last couple months; haven't been posting, haven't been reading. As I'm slowly plugging myself back in, I now discover that apparently White Wolf Game Studios is possibly defunct?

Art by Carol Cavalaris
Wikipedia paints a very gloomy picture; the unofficial White Wolf wiki is not quite as dire, but undeniably grim as well.

Regardless of the true extent of the damage and the company's (lack of a) future, this news makes me very sad. I got into gaming right as Vampire: the Masquerade was blowing up in a big way. For me, the World of Darkness has just always been there in the background, as much a part of the gaming hobby as D&D or Call of Cthulhu and White Wolf has always been an industry giant. Granted, I knew that the WoD has waned in popularity over the last decade and wasn't nearly as red hot as it was in the Nineties, but I didn't think things were that bad. Personally, I've had a bit of a star-crossed relationship with the WoD, particularly Vampire, always wanting to get into the game but being stymied for a variety of Byzantine reasons.

Ironically, earlier this month I (finally) picked up the nWoD core rule book and have been loving it. The refocus of the new edition brings the world more in line with how I always envisioned it; gone are the days of trenchcoat-wearing goth superheroes, thank god. The nWoD seems to be more of a general horror game now, which is great. A nice companion to the highly specific horror of Call of Cthulhu. But it was in the course of Googling around to catch myself up on the state of the WoD game line that I discovered the links above. My star-crossed relationship continues, it would seem.

Another pillar of my hobby experience crumbling? Say it ain't so!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Follow Us to Glory

Today we wrapped up the group Pendragon campaign my wife's been running since July. I'll write up a summary of what went on and my thoughts on getting to be a player for a spell in a forthcoming post, but I wanted to share a little doodle that came out of today's session.

The campaign culminated in a big battle against a supernatural baddie and his army, and a big chunk of the adventure today prior to said battle consisted of us going around the country trying to drum up allies. In addition to specific lords we had in mind, we wanted to pick up volunteers "on the hoof" as it were. To that end, I had my squire make a sandwich board to wear whenever we passed through a new village or town...

Sadly and inexplicably, this tack didn't get us much in the way of volunteers, but we went on to win the battle anyway.
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