Some talk on Twitter the other day (ending here) got me thinking about the best game I’ve ever played. Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps understandably, it violated a lot of the common assumptions about how to play role-playing games, but for at least two of us who played—me, and Austin—it changed the way we see role-playing games and what we felt that they could do. What follows is an anecdote, hopefully interesting.
It was a game of White Wolf’s Promethean: the Created. This is the game that I sold one player on by telling them it was about alchemy, another by telling them it was about hobos. Both are equally true—you play constructs and simulacra, in the vein of Frankenstein or the story of Pygmalion and Galatea, who are trying to become human. The game itself is really well designed; some of my particular favorite points are these: characters have a clear and achievable, yet utterly mystical, goal, that they can pursue or not, but that is a clear north star; characters are truly equally cursed and blessed by their condition, with great powers and harsh burdens; and finally, characters are almost but not fully tabulae rasae, free to respond to the world with unjaundiced eyes. I am also, as a huge fan of Shelley’s Frankenstein, fond of the conceit of the setting.
This particular game, as I said, ran counter to a lot of the common assumptions of tabletop games. First, it was played online1, which while increasingly common, is less satisfying to many people. Second, it was played with one GM and two players (until the last session, when one more joined). Third, it was neither a long ongoing game nor a one-shot: it lasted 5 sessions, the last of which was 11 hours long.
The game, by chance, ended up having some interesting parallels to Of Mice and Men, despite all the chapter names being allusions to The Wizard of Oz. One character—Alice—was too cunning by half, the other—Tom—a strong-but-slow type. The events followed the smart one trying to find her creator, but like any good fiction, was, in fact, about the characters’ development as people, and growing and changing relationship. It’s also worth noting that the characters didn’t get very far towards their goal of becoming human—they learned some important lessons, though.
The crucial moment, where everything came together about the game, was this. The two Prometheans knew one person in town, a druggie mage who had promised to help them, but was constantly making fun of Tom. Eventually, Tom punched him in anger. This was a case of fate intervening; we decided to roll the dice, and on 12 dice for a punch, Tom’s player rolled 12 successes. It was enough to kill the mage on the spot. We embraced that surprising result. The Prometheans returned to the mage’s apartment, and began to go through his effects, looking for any clues he might have found to their condition. It was a strange, suspended, sort of feeling, as I described the trivialities of this mage’s life, and the Prometheans discussed what had happened. This exchange was the crux of it:
“He was a bad man… I think,” Tom murmured, as though trying to convince himself.
Alice handed Tom a copy of one of the Elric books, seeing as how it was written in English. “Yeah? So what does that make you, exactly?”
That, in a nutshell, was the question of the game.
- Worth noting: we played this game in text, using Google Wave. The fact that we could see other people typing in real-time greatly improved the experience; the usual excessive lag of chat games was gone. [↩]