2019-07-02 Strange and beautiful things

I was listening to Judd’s podcast episode Reply Show Oscar 6/26/19: TPK the Canon with Jim and Supporter's Choice: Evocative blends of the mun.

What is it about the exact things he talk about that keeps me listening? I think it’s because I can imagine myself having the conversation I can’t have in my face to face games: referees talking to each other about their games, about what works and what inspired them and what didn’t work. I even listen to the call-ins because they’re not about praising each other or the products they made. It’s just GM-to-GM talk.

This time, he talks about strange and evocative moments in role-playing games. I started wondering. Then I started making a little list in my head. Then I decided to write it down. Here we go.

I remember a Burning Wheel game where the character of player wanted some information from a girl that was in love with him. You know how it is in Burning Wheel. You pick the skill. You look for helping dice. You propose an outcome. You start the duel of wits. The GM talks about consequences. It’s somewhat dry. But suddenly inspiration grabs me and I’m feeling the summer heat in the early evening hours on this island and the breeze and her dress, and this meeting, and she loves this guy and he wants what? Are we going to elope? Is he going to finally be painfully honest and tell her he doesn’t love her back? And it turns into a minute or two of the heart overflowing. I actually don’t remember the details. It’s just that feeling of the heart overflowing. When I read the session report I don’t recognise the names. I don’t even know which of the scenes is the one that I’m remembering. It happened years ago. It was one of the few times where love played a significant part.

I remember a game of In a Wicked Age where we were struggling in a Mesopotamian palace and Florian was playing a witch or some other powerful woman and somebody else was playing a man and maybe it was me, I don’t remember. It all comes to a head. Half the palace is dead, there’s blood everywhere. The last conflict, the last die is rolled, and she wins. It’s over. Florian gets to decide how it ends and he looks at me and says: the two of us will marry. Aaaargh! So bad! So good! Sleeping with the enemy, indeed. What a way to end the game.

As I was trying to find the session report for the previous story but couldn’t find it. I saw nothing the like in the two session reports I could find. As I was searching for this on my own wiki, however, I found a vignette from an old school Planescape inspired D&D campaign. The party talked to a woman about her family issues. It turns out her brother is unhappy because he married an adventurer and she’s always away doing stuff instead of spending time at home. An innkeeper hears about all of this and later ask all the player characters whether they have somebody at home, waiting for them to come back. All the players think about their characters and give a short explanation of why they don’t. I felt this was a sweet moment.

That reminds me of another moment in that same campaign. The players had fought their way into a pirate lair, ascended the tower and faced the pirate king. Somehow I managed to provoke Johannes into accepting a duel to the death even though his character was surrounded by plenty of friends. And so it goes. It takes a while to whittle down the hit-points. And then the player character has to roll on the Death & Dismemberment table. He’ll die in a few rounds! And Johannes persists: no helping his character! And he manages to kill the pirate king in those last few moments before he dies. We were all very impressed. Here, at least, the session report matches my recollections!

That was a great campaign. I also remember a different scene, even earlier than that. The party had determined that they had to fight two manticores. Johannes’ character still had a basilisk head and decided that they wanted to build a basilisk puppet and scare the manticores away instead. It was hilarious. This too has a session report that confirms my recollection.

Oh, and there was Marco’s character in that D&D 3.5 game that had failed their first saving throw against a poison and knew that no matter what he rolled on that second roll, they would surely die. So he sat down on the cave floor and composed a death poem. It was powerful stuff. Belflin Goes To Arcadia. But you know how it is: the dead always get raised. 😁

Anyway, I’m sure I could dig up more. But the key takeaway for me is that none of this was mediated by the rules. The rules are important for many things, but when I think about the great moments, the strange and beautiful things that happened at the table, the rules don’t matter that much. They might enable this scene or that scene, but as long as they’re not making you waste the precious time you have left on this Earth, as long as you love the game, they don’t matter all that much.

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