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Hack For More

WEEK XX: Seven Years Ago

by Edward McEneely
Jun 15,2004


Hack For More

WEEK XX: Seven Years Ago

Yeah, it's another filler column. Wanna fight about it?

I'm writing this one shortly after finishing up the non-event Week 7; after the airing of the previous filler column, I had promised RPG.net another to take its place in reserve, and The Powers That Be exact a terrible price for ending a column before its time. They say Mr. Skarka still eats through a straw now, even unto this day; he was a much better columnist than me, and I can only imagine what fate might befall me.

The last filler column dealt with a game that, although it was wildly derailed, the players all had fun. This time around, I'll cover the worst game I was ever in, the only game so bad that the players formed a united front to disrupt it in the most violent manner possible.

It was the tail end of the nineties. We were young, dumb, and pretty ugly. We were also playing Conspiracy X. Sean was the GM; Lauren, Charlie, Josh and I were the players.

Here is where the problems were: Sean and Lauren were dating. Now, some GMs can handle this well, with grace and tact. Some GMs aren't egomaniacal conspiracy nut morons. Unfortunately, Sean couldn't and he was. (Sean, if you're reading this now, I'm sorry, but it was true at the time, and I'll stick to my guns on this one.) Now, the rest of us weren't much better, averaging between about fourteen and fifteen, but dammit, we were the players. It didn't matter if we weren't objective and impartial.

Now, even if the GM and a PC are dating, and blatant about it, it can be overlooked. But Sean, in his indefinite wisdom, had given our cell the following objective: we were to track down a rogue operative (Lauren, of course) and apprehend her, using any means necessary. In addition to this adventure plan, which can only be described as Gallipoli-esque in conception, Sean had a nasty habit of running what a better columnist here at RPG.net has called a "GM-PC", in this case a troubled Catholic priest who was the confessor for Area 51. It wasn't a bad idea for an NPC, except that it would have worked better if he wasn't a God-NPC, incapable of doing wrong, insufferable, and instantaneously allied with Lauren.

Even all of this might have been overlooked, because we were all fairly indiscriminate in our tastes, but for one final straw. Although Lauren and Sean went to a separate room to determine what her character was doing (and, we suggested uncharitably, to do other things as well, outside the context of the game), Lauren was allowed to remain in the room while we made our plans, and even allowed to immediately counter them using knowledge her character couldn't possibly have have possessed.

So it came to pass after an hour or two of frustration, I remembered that in Conspiracy X, the AEGIS terminals carried by every operative can be commanded to self-destruct. I set Lauren's to detonate.

Sean looked at Lauren expectantly. "Oh," she said, "I throw mine way."

I was in a transport of suppressed rage. I would have cheerily murdered the pair of them with nothing more than a fistful of six-siders. I think I developed a nervous tic in one eye.

"Okay," said Sean. "You throw it into a passing car, and it blows up."

It was like a declaration of war. When I've had it with a GM, there's only one thing left to do: torture NPCs. (In another, nearly-as-godawful game run by Sean, we scalded a Vampire: The Masquerade-type Ghoul to death in a deep fat fryer, primarily for committing the crime most meriting death in our eyes: he was a favorite NPC.) The other players were firmly behind me, and it was into the Ford Crown Victoriamobile and off to Roswell, where we promptly shot Sean's GM-PC priest dead. Sean ruled it hadn't happened, and resurrected him, so we shot him again.

Sean had AEGIS recall our characters to Washington to face a tribunal, along with Lauren, who would doubtless have been reprieved for bolting in the first place. Charlie decided he was on Lauren's side, and quickly hijacked the plane, taking us to Canada. My character (and Josh's character, come to think of it) were having none of it. We shot Charlie with tranquilizer darts. His character turned out to be a foci and a werewolf.

"If you shoot him again," warned Sean, "he'll lose control of the plane and you'll die."

"We ready our Uzis," we said.

Needless to say, the game ended shortly thereafter.

Kids, what I did to disrupt the game was WRONG. Wrong and immature. But along with the power being a GM provides, there also comes a sort of responsibility; a responsibility not to suck.

Now, a little under a decade on, I know I wouldn't handle a situation like that again, but I also know that a GM wouldn't do that now. Thus, the rather Hobbesian social contract of gaming in maintained in perfect balance.

I share this story with you as an example of what happens when the players aren't really friends, but rather just a conglomeration of ordinarily unaffiliated people who meet up to game, each with totally different expectations.

None of the people I was in that game with have ever gamed with me again; understandable, in retrospect, although at the time we were all pretty glad to be rid of each other.

This single, horrible game, however, taught me the most important lessons about GMing that I ever learned, which was to avoid pitting player against player, and never to try and join in the game as a PC while running it. A GM has plenty of rules to abuse without interfering with the actual gaming of the players themselves.

So, in a way, despite the abuse I've heaped on Sean, he taught me more about how not to run a game that I ever would have figured out on my own. Indubitably, I was guilty to a lesser degree of all of his sins, although after that one awful session, I spent a lot of time trying to rectify that. As the Laager crisis has shown, I'm not always sucessful, but without this little lesson, I wouldn't be trying it all.

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