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The Play's the Thing

The Game is Dead, Long Live the Game

by David Goodner
Apr 21,2004

 

The Play's the Thing

By David Goodner

The Game is Dead, Long Live the Game

Hi ya'll. We'll be postponing our discussion of different personality types, perhaps indefinintly if I get another idea I like better first. This time out, I was inspired by the end of my several months long WitchCraft game. I decided to do a sort of retrospective.

In the Beginning

The seed for this Chronicle was actually planted around three years ago. Our group was between games, and Chris was thinking about running. He'd picked up WitchCraft recently. I loved the game from way back in the Myrmidion Press edition. I suggested a character to him, a psychic test subject. The big twist would be that I would not actually start the game playing that character. I'd start playing her older brother, who had discovered that his baby sister was in a really terrible place and hired the other PCs to help him rescue her. He'd be a Mundane, and would die during the first session. None of the other players would know this was the plan all along.

That game fell through, but the idea stayed with me, and the personality of the psychic character slowly grew. "Anna" had been violated in every way possible, and somehow held on to a tiny shread of her humanity. She was very much not a typical hero. She was callous and cruel because that was the only way she could survive what had happened to her. But deep down, she wanted to believe there could be something good in the world, and once she had power of her own, she was determined to use it to destroy others who she judged to deserve it. Trying to figure out how someone like her would relate to the world was a challenge, and I thought she'd be fun (in a slightly squicky way) to play.

So years passed. We played some Fading Suns and some Tribe 8 and some D&D, some Deadlands and some smatterings of other stuff. And Chris finally decided he wanted to run something big again. And better yet, he'd been reading Anita Blake novels.

He decided on WitchCraft. Our conversation went something like this:

Chris (puts down Bloody Bones): I've been thinking about running a modern occult game. What do you think about maybe WitchCraft?

Me: I'm playing Anna.

That Chris remembered a character I'd proposed three years ago and never played, and didn't think I was strange for holding on to the idea in excruciating detail for all that time is probably one of the reasons he's my best friend.

The Game is On

So we got the group together. At the beginning, there were four PCs:

Anna Williamson: Psychic test subject with telepathic powers and... issues. Scratch that. Anna didn't so much have issues as she had entire runs of magazines on microfiche with full text archives on computer. She was a telepath with mind control abilities. She was also a musician, and if stupid demons from the outer demensions would have just stopped trying to invade our reality, she would have been really happy playing night clubs and stuff instead of going out and fighting evil.

David Lin: PI. Mr. Lin was an ex-military type who'd had a run-in with a vampyre in his past. He was Mundane (had no powers) but in WitchCraft, Mundane with a capital "M" makes you more like Rambo or Sherlock Holmes than like Willy Loman. He was an action hero, more than a little crazy, and was the center of the group since he was the one Anna's brother hired to rescue her. Lin hired the other PCs to help.

James Sinclair: Demon Killer Ninja. A mystical martial artist with a ten-year gap in his memory. He wanted to fill in the holes, and had a general desire to "do good." As it turned out, during the ten-year gap, he'd been a pretty bad person, and somehow gotten that part of his life wiped out. One of the group's major adversaries was the group of mystically powered assassins he'd founded back then. They were really surprised when he showed up to kill them.

Dr. Maggie Rynolds: Healer. Part of a family of demon hunters, but Dr. Maggie didn't really want any part of it. She wanted to be a pediatrician. Her sneaky family set her up to be hired by Mr. Lin because they knew it would eventually get her involved in the family business. In the first adventure, she went along because it was likely that Anna would need medical treatment (being in a mental institution where she was being tortured and all).

The game ran weekely for several months. There were three big threads of the plot, all braided together. At the end was a Mad God the PCs dubbed "Crocathulu" since it looked like a big, slimy lizard thing. It was trying to gain access to our world through a couple of means. There was an evil voodoo street gang, and a group of evil ninjas, and the project that had created Anna and some other psychic kids, all ultimately tied to this one big baddie.

Anna's rescue started off a kind of domino effect. The whole mess gradually fell to pieces, and the PCs were just following the carniage, usually arriving just in time to stop something from getting completely out of hand. Each encounter pointed us to a little more of the plot, and showed us a little more of how interconnected it all was.

Last night (as I'm writing this, you'll read it much later) was the final session. The heroic PCs shut down the evil psychic researchers and rescued their last few victims (but not before some of the bad guys could get away for the sequel) and tracked the big baddie to its lair where there was a terrific showdown.

Lesson for the forces of evil: If you're vulnerable to fire, don't make your base of operations in the same building as a meth lab. You might end up being beaten to death by a burning refrigerator.

Post Game Wrap-Up

So now I'm sitting in the afterglow, or aftermath, getting ready for our next game. I'm also thinking back on the last one and trying to decide what worked and what didn't and what I can do better next time.

What worked:

  • My goal with Anna was to play the traumatized child within the young woman trying to be "normal." I hoped to ocassionally frighten the other PCs with Anna's casual inhumanity. It worked pretty well. Some of the stuff I thought was really good barely got a raised eyebrow, and sometimes I got really shocked looks for stuff I didn't think was that big a deal, but on the whole I was happy. Anna came off as someone generally good, but with a skewed idea about what "good" meant. There were some factors in the game that softened her edges a little. Dumb ole' Dr. Maggie being all compassionate and understanding all the time made it hard for Anna to reject all humanity. So in the end, she was nicer than she might have been.
  • The plot progressed nicely. Everybody shares the credit for making characters who fit in with it and not getting too side-tracked on personal developments. Two PCs were just made to be in the thick of it, of course. I'm also pretty happy with our clue-finding ability. It never felt like we were running around aimlessly until the GM had to hit us with a clue-by-four.
  • Roleplaying in general was pretty good. I was happy with my portrayal, and the other characters were cool.

What didn't work:

  • Group dynamics were our worst problem. One player (playing David Lin) had to drop out, and we never managed to replace him. That threw things out of whack for the rest of the game. Instead of One full-bore combat character, one combat/social, one social/combat, and one mostly non-combat character, we had one full-bore combat character, one social/combat character who couldn't really keep up, and one mostly non-combat character. We tried to redress the balance, but it never really worked.
  • A big chunk of the problem was that I should have paid more attention to the other PCs. Kate (playing Dr. Maggie) was a new gamer, and made up an almost entirely non-combat character. Tom (playing David Lin) made up a combat character, but one who would either have to develop supernatural power in play, or end up in a mostly support role (both valid options). And in the end he had to drop out anyway.
  • If I'd been paying attention, Anna would have been much more combat worthy. Instead of a smattering of different powers, mostly focused on investigative ones, she would have had just two, both very useful in combat. It would have shifted the focus of her personality slightly. Instead of having trouble relating to people she generally saw as puppets, she'd have been more flighty and afraid of herself because of her vast destructive potential. That would have been fun to play, too, though.
  • I was too passive. I have that problem a lot. With Anna, it was a little worse because a lot of her characterization was about isolation and alienation. Logically, there were a lot of times she just wouldn't talk. I was roleplaying her sitting quietly very well, but it wasn't very exciting to watch.

What to do next time:

  • I need to make more forceful characters, and make a conscious effort to play them more forcefully. I tend to be a little shy, and I think I'd enjoy my gaming more (and maybe my real life, too) if I wasn't. But part of it isn't shyness, it's that I make retiring characters. Anna's a good example. She just wasn't very talkitive or driven.
  • I'd put down "work on group integration" but normally I'm pretty good at that. I just really blew it this time, and my mistake was magnified by some things beyond my control.
  • The last thing I want to work on is communicating my desires to the GM. This one's a touchy point. I'm not sure how to express it.

Chris ran a pretty plot-focused game. Most of our sessions related to unraveling the big puzzle and defeating the minions of darkness, with very little beyond that. The PCs were presumed to have private lives, but they didn't really come up much. Unfortunately, a lot of what I wanted to do with Anna was wrapped up in her daily life, so it didn't come up much in the game.

I'm not sure, however, that this was a flaw in the game. Chris didn't run a game exactly like what I wanted to play, but that doesn't mean it was bad. What he did run was pretty good. The only flaw I'd point out was that combat didn't seem dangerous enough, and that was really only partially his fault. When we lost Mr. Lin, the combat dynamic of the whole group shifted. Anything that could hurt James would slaughter Anna and Maggie. So frequently, we ended up in fights where the girls hid while James beat up the bad guys.

Toward the end of the game we fixed that, too. Anna got better at support with her telekenetic powers. She couldn't really lay down the smack, but she could provide key distractions, and trip up adversaries to keep James from being overwhelmed. And when she needed to be, she was plenty dangerous. All it took was one guy with a low Willpower and a big gun.

Also, most of Anna's private life wasn't reflected on her sheet in any way. She didn't have any contacts, or any adversaries besides the big, scary conspiracy that was one of our primary foes in the game. So I didn't give Chris a lot to work with.

So the last item on my list is a reitteration of the predominant theme of my column, "work with the GM." From now on, I need to make sure the GM knows what I want, and that I know what the GM has in mind so I can adjust my expectations. I generally do that somewhat anyway, to tell the truth. This example just shows me why.

(And, Chris, I'm not dissing your game. This is a fairly minor quibble in a darn good game.)

Alright, that's enough for one month. I'll see what inspires me for next month.

Till then, have fun. Good gaming.

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What do you think?

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    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg