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Hack For More

WEEK 8: 04/15/04 (and then some)

by Edward McEneely
Apr 27,2004


Hack For More

WEEK 8: 04/15/04

Arrrghh! More and more, I find myself in serious danger of writing a column about not gaming, thanks to the crippling number of PC no-shows.

This week, Erich's friend Seth was supposed to join us for a GURPS Wild West/Civil War/Zombie one-shot (this is what comes of interspersing Shelby Foote with All Flesh Must Be Eating on the ol' reading list) prior to jumping back into HackMaster, thereby bringing our total number of player characters back up to three---I'm not really up for running one-on-two sessions any more. The amount of work I have to put into them makes them too much of a zero-sum equation.

Unfortunately, Seth had to stay late at work for a meeting and incidentally indicated that he wasn't particularly interested in any sort of GURPS one-shot, so that little gem was discarded and instead Erich, Laura and I all watched part one of Kill Bill a movie seemingly designed for fans of Feng Shui.

If I were more prescient, or if my satchel were larger, I might even have had Feng Shui with me; as far as instant pick-up games go, it's one of the best, in addition to being my favorite system to run Call of Cthulhu adventures with. (Why? Because I can.) Sadly, I hadn't, and while GURPS is marvelous, it doesn't really handle quick pick-up games well, so we all discussed Erich's webcomic (www.porkfactor9.com) instead.

(Incidentally, does anyone else think the mechanics for fighting with mobs from Unknown Armies would work marvelously well in Feng Shui? The image of a crowd dispersing around a small group of heroes, leaving only their fallen comrades behind seems to be remarkably genre-appropriate. At least to me. If nothing else, it'd make for an awesome set piece.)

This is, I think, one of the major advantage that computer RPGs have over pencil-and-paper games. (their other huge advantage, that they always get the rules right, can cancel itself out unless you know a little bit about programming. I don't know even that much about programming, so I don't count it as an advantage.) You don't need anyone else to play a computer game. Friends are optional.

Sure, regular gamers have solo adventures, but that reminds me too much of the choose-your-own adventure books, essentially the slum of slums when it comes to literature. In addition, I'm pretty indecisive, so I was always paralyzed by choice before the end of page one. (Plus, they never seem to have the crucial "I waste him! It's a trap!" option.)

So here we are again. Another column ostensibly about gaming in which no gaming occurs. I have only this to say in my defense: I'm sorry! Oh God, I'm so sorry! There'll be actual gaming next week, I promise. Even if it's just me. I promise! I'll play a solo adventure, or something. Whatever may happen though, there will be gaming.

So, next week: gaming! This week: all a bad dream.


Attention, presumably loyal readers! This is a column from Beyond Time And Space. Yes, this is Past Edward, speaking to you, personally, right now, in The Future.

Allow me to explain. When I submitted the idea for this column to the vast, impersonal brains who run RPG.net like some sort of H. G. Wellesian dystopia, they required a minimum initial commitment of three columns, as proof that I would actually write for them, instead of trading off of the fame I have (by now, no doubt) gained as the Hunter S. Thompson of roleplaying columnists. However, when I made my initial submission, only two actual gaming sessions had taken place. You can see my dilemma here.

So in the event that the Future Me in fact sucks and cannot meet deadlines, I have, in advance, before I even know whether or not I am, actually writing for RPG.net, per se, written my very first filler column! That's right, increasingly bored reader, in the event that I for some reason miss a session of gaming, and cannot submit a column, I have prepared, in advance, some mindless pap to distract you from my monstrous failure as a human being. Neat, huh?

Exciting, I know. A little scary, even. I'm scared too. At any rate, in keeping with the theme, this week's column deals with a game I ran years ago, when virtually every penny of my income was disposable, and 110% of anything I earned went roaring straight out of my pockets---nevermind the bank, which didn't see a dime of my money until after College---and into the cash registers of various gaming stores. I had to do this, you see, because I was the only person in my gaming group who ever, ever, EVER bought a rulebook or supplement. If gaming was punk rock, my friends liked "Rock N' Roll High School", and I had a chain running from my nose ring down to a Prince Albert embossed with "Anarchy". Metaphorically speaking, of course.

(In the interest of accuracy, I will mention that most of my players did buy a few gaming books at one point or another, but I think it's fair to say that I waste---spent more money on gaming products than they did.)

Moving along! Back then, my system of choice was GURPS. Oh sure, I had started with West End Games' Star Wars, cut my teeth on the munchfest that was (and presumably still is) Rifts, and bought or played two dozen or so other systems (mostly bought, sadly), but by 2001, everything was GURPS, because GURPS Worked For Me, Dammit. So, there we were, running a Delta Green game with the aid of GURPS Cthulhupunk and a total disregard for John Tynes' suggestions on how to play the game. Delta Green may have thought itself ready for Blackhawk Down-levels of gunplay, random violence, and total disregard for atmosphere, but it was like putty in our hands. We were adolescents with the atom bomb at our fingertips, and armageddon was now, baby!

At this time, my group consisted of Nate, Alec, and David, in ascending order of (self-admitted) roleplaying ability, as well as age (and thus, theoretically, maturity). Nate was playing an FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who had been driven slightly batty by his first encounter with the Mythos (the Traveller in "Puppet Shows And Shadow Plays", for those of you familiar with the game); Alec played an FBI negotiator, and David was a Mossad agent seconded to the CIA. (As you may have guessed, I was a pretty lax GM, even in my prime.)

In those hoary, far-off days, I GM'ed like this: I would get my players into a messed-up situation (usually with Nate's unwitting help), and watch in amusement as they tried to get themselves out of it, causing everything to spiral out of control into a degenerating maelstrom of mindless violence (which, if done properly in GURPS, is childishly easy). Fun times.

In the game, David and Nate had decided to interview the parents of a child abducted by the Mi-Go (in the guise of Delta Green's Enolsis, a pretty thinly-disguised Scientology-based sect) while Alec worked on setting up [buying] a [the] safe house [pizza].

David's character was placatory and worked diligently at extracting information, but Nate (who easily wins my Most Valuable Player Award ten thousand times over) decided to threaten the suburban couple, first verbally, and then with his semi-automatic pistol. The panicked housewife rushed to call the police and David exiled Nate to the outside of the house, where he aimlessly stood guard over their Ford Crown Victoria and began to unwittingly emanate subtle GM-Screw-Us vibes. [Here, a proofreader wondered if any of my players have ever NOT emanated those vibes. To that, I say: Ha-ha-ha.]

Inside the house, David had (sort of) calmed everyone down, but even the best fast-talk roll wasn't going to cancel out the fact that a screaming housewife had dialed 911 before Nate had cut the line with a bowie knife. (Nate thinks very quickly, but more often than not, that hurts him more than it helps.) If the games I ran were at all rooted in reality, this story would end with "and then the police arrived". Unfortunately for Nate and David (but not for you or me), this is where the story really begins.

Officers Trent, Murdoch, and McLuhan arrived in a squad car, sirens blaring, and proceeded to leave McLuhan covering Nate in front of the Crown Victoria while Murdoch and Trent rushed inside to apprehend David and reassure the terrified citizenry.

At this point in time, any sane gamer would have probably either (a) talked his way of things or (b) gotten Alec to spring him from prison using FBI credentials when he returned with the pizza. This is not how Nate's mind works, however. For what follows to really have the full effect, you must realize that it was noon in an upper-middle class suburb on a bright summer day.

Cunningly, Nate said "I'll offer to show him my badge." So far, so good. But Nate's brain was a 1970 GTO convertible, and crazy was now firmly ensconced behind the wheel. You see, this was secret Nate-code for "I am about to do something so amazing that David will consider killing me, here, in real life. It will be that amazing."

Nate looked me in the eyes and said "I am going to quick-draw my bowie knife and slash this guy's throat." And why not?

"Okay," I said, trying to supress my glee, "roll for it." Nate made his roll. Of course Nate made his roll. How could he not, when this transcendent moment was the one I had lived my entire life for? "Congrats, Nate, you slash the policeman's throat. But, uh, his Glock went off when you did it, and you can't hear so good." Nate was fine with this. True-blue gamer that he was, in fact, he immediately pried the Glock 17 from the late Officer McLuhan's cold dead fingers and raced into the house to "rescue" David.

I had kept the PCs seperated when they weren't in the same room (a general rule of thumb for GMs, I think, and one of the easiest to implement, even for a complete yo-yo like myself), so all that David knew was that someone had fired a gun outside the house. David, however, had gamed with Nate before, so he had a pretty good idea of what to expect. A stream of oaths flowed unbidden from his mouth as I informed him that the two other policemen were now covering him with their pistols.

David was still looking for a non-violent solution to the problem when Nate burst in, a handgun in either fist, blazing away like Roy Rogers in the John Woo remake of A Fistful of Dollars. Nate wasn't terribly interested in what he hit, so long as he produced the USDA-approved "hail of bullets", so David (wisely and voluntarily) hit the deck, followed almost immediately by the hapless defenders of the public good, now leaking like cheap colanders as Nate wasted ammunition in the most exciting way known to man.

"Nate, you're moron," said David. I mentioned that the housewife, terrified beyond belief, had dashed for the kitchen and seized a butcher's knife, the only weapon readily availible. Nate was ready. Nate was on the ball. Nate had no qualms about sending vast quantities of lead downrange into a hausfrau.

"Moron, huh?" Nate sneered at David. "I just saved your ass." Casually, he dispatched the departed woman's spouse with his last bullet and ejected the magazines in slow motion, because Nate was that cool.

David glowered at Nate so fiercely I thought he would spontaneously combust. Barely able to control my sniggering, I told the dynamic duo that they had about two minutes before more black-and-whites showed up.

In a voice dripping with hatred, David proceeded to give the most incredible directions on the disposal of bodies to Nate, directions of such clear and incisive brilliance that I began to seriously wonder if anyone who angered David would ever be entirely safe.

In one minute, forty-five seconds, the carpet was covered in red wine, the shell casings were recovered, the bodies were loaded into the trunk of the police car, and David and Nate were roaring off to a cheap motel, where an acid bath was prepared and the bodies were disposed of.

The aftermath was necessarily an anticlimax, because nothing can match that single pure moment when a player grabs a whole campaign by the short hairs and initiates the self-destruct sequence, and the campaign ended within a week of Nate's intrepid acts of derring-do, but the memories I have are well worth it.

Of course, I don't want people to think that I condone the sort of PC behavior described in this column; I don't. Anymore, I mean.

That is to say, all of us were a lot younger then, and we all looked upon role-playing as a way to be goofy together and release the tensions that made our teenage lives unbearable (in our own minds, anyway); I don't think any of the things we did in those games were actively malicious, or even evidence of some sort of deep-rooted psychosexual inability to cope with life. By the same token, I don't think we were exactly a sort of ideal that gamers ought to look up to, by any stretch of the imagination. The PCs were a bunch of goofy kids under a mediocre Game Master whose attention span was too short for any sort of in-depth plotting, but we were fine with this. I envied (and still envy) those GMs who can keep a campaign going for years or weave multiple sub-plots into an over-arcing storyline. I've never been good at that, and probably never will.

But I still have fun gaming, so I've got that going for me.

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What do you think?

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