Monday, March 14, 2011

This time, I kill people.

Anyone who knows me knows how much role-playing games is one of my passions.  Being lucky enough to have a partner that shares that interest, our weekends tend to have one or two days of gaming.  Saturdays occasionally has our ongoing old World of Darkness Vampire: The DarkAges' Giovanni Chronicles game.  Sundays on the other hand is the day with the campier and funnier games with Mahar and Urim.  When we started the Sunday group, we had a game called Once, which had new World of Darkness Changeling the Lost and a Promethean the Created dealing with an incursion of Gentry onto the real world.  This game was then followed by an epic wuxia romp called The Twelve Zodiac Ministers, which used the Weapons of the Gods gaming system of EOS productions.  After all the flying heroes and crazy martial arts, we then dipped our toes into new World of Darkness' Mage the Awakening with a healthy influx of systems from Mirrors and other lines for what I then named as Singularity, a game which drew a lot from the Planeswalkers of Magic the Gathering and the Endless of DC's Sandman.

Occasionally, we dip our toes into one shot sessions too.  There was one night Rocky and Urim were able to get a taste of Scion after I adapted the Luna Brother's story Sword for a one shot game.  Another weekend, we had a chance to explore Psychosis, a unique game experience where not even a character sheet is required.   We even took a stab at playtesting my friend Eloy's upcoming role-playing game Part-Time Gods.

Up next?  The Sunday group is about to take a dive into Exalted.  To make things even more interesting, I've warned my players that I'm going to try to push the dangers of every session even bigger by allowing the dice to dictate if death comes a calling.  Typically in my games, I hold the importance of story and narrative up high.  Just like movies or novels, the main heroes are expected to live to reach the end of the saga.  Typically only key side characters and important cast extras are the ones who pay the price.  Occasionally, one major hero might fall, a testament to heroism or sacrifice.  This time, however, I was thinking of upping the ante.  While story and narrative remain important, I realized there is great gains to be found if I were to allow the dangers in the game to retain their lethal edge.  While normally I only kill Player Characters if the player insists on really doing something absolutely stupid (say, choosing to reach for the gun instead of surrendering even if fifty policemen already have their pistols trained at the cornered character), this time I've come to the realization that the decision to do something heroic would feel more serious a choice to make if the possibility of testing the character's morality is there.  The fear can be great, but the pay-off... oh the pay-off.  Imagine choosing to dive into a fight where the odds are clearly stacked against you, knowing you do have a chance of losing the character you've helped develop over real-time months of gaming, and succeeding!

I still have my reservations, admittedly.  The idea of actually killing off Player Characters sounds sacrilegious to me.  After all, it seems tremendously hard to be happy for any game where your character dies before the story ends.  But on hindsight, I realize that the fear of death becomes a driving force for the players to push themselves and make the difficult choices necessary to survive if not save other lives.

Exalted is a game after all about epic heroism and going against the impossible just to tell it, "Sorry, for me, you're actually easy to do."  Parrying mountains, training farmers into expert soldiers overnight, and stealthily moving across a hallway unseen by darting through the moment the guard blinks his eyes are staple things the Exalted can accomplish.  To play this game without the threat of death looming might make the heroism feel... too typical.  I want the players to know they can leap into a wall of spears, run across the pointed ends faster than the sharp edge breaking the skin, and throw a dagger into the enemy captain's eye, but a miscalculated move and a too impulsive stunt can lead to broken bones, torn limbs or death.

So the plan is to have the players choose a Caste that they will be playing in time.  For those familiar with Exalted, there are five kinds of Solar Exalted.   In brief, there are the Dawn warriors, the Zenith priests, the Twilight sorcerers, the NIGHT assassins and the ECLIPSE diplomats.  Each have their own advantages and areas of specialization.    But since I want the players to have a better grasp of the Exalted setting and how much the Solars are reviled, I will reuse an old approach from back when I first got a hold of the Dragonblooded book and have them start out as Dynast students in a new university.  Though the school they can get a first hand experience of life in the Blessed Isle, and I already foresee a radical point in the story arc where they will have to escape the very place the Solars are hated the most.  I will require the players to consider making their characters best friends though.  The last few games had a LOT of inter-PC conflict.  Maybe this time, they would want to try a game where the fellow PCs are their most trusted allies.

Oh yes, so much to look forward to in this coming game.
I wonder how many will die.

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