Monday, March 22, 2010

Best Game Ever?

So we played D&D on Sunday. Nothing strange there, we do it every other week. What was strange was whilst the players walked away from the game we were in some state of utter shock. Was that one of the best sessions of the game we have played? Yes. Was it the best game I have ever played in? Quite possibly.

So, what brought this around? Lets see.

The story revolved around the heroes - God-killing Demigods now, set on a path to end this reality and shape the new one in their image, we were leading our massed armies against a corrupt risen Primordial with fatal intentions. We had to cross a desert, battle with our forces, breach a trans-dimensional oasis and twat the Lord of Life and Sun into so much celestial pulp. That was the quick version. Now it gets interesting.

The first thing that made the game awesome was that we had a choice to make. Kill or Banish. Kill and there would be consequences - we would be killing one of the fundamental forces of reality. We've already done for the Primordial of Dream and now no-one dreams. Banish and he would be back again and that was really not part of the plan. However, we also had the chance to redeem his corrupt soul, but that might sunder the oasis. It was very complicated and involved some proper thought. It was good.

Then consider the battles - a skill challenge, but a truly epic one, in two parts. The stabilisers are off in this part of the campaign and it shows. My fighter was hurling rocks down the throats of draconic monsters to save stranded dwarf Battle Golems from a deadly swamp etc. Really great imagery. We aced both skill challenges (six successes, no fails). Our house rule is that if we ace a skill challenge, we can establish a campaign truth. These are AWESOME editing tools. We had two. This was always going to be good.

The first one we used to allow Artemis, the God Hunting Ranger, to be able to 'become one' with the Oasis, overruling the GMs previous statement that we would lose it when we killed the Primordial. The PC could step in and take his place. Instant awesome and bless Andrew for agreeing. We used the second to dictate that when he did that, the roots of the World Tree (Which was based in the Oasis) showed the way to the other 'safe havens' that we knew existed - these are essentially our secret weapons in our battle and now we have them in our sights. Its big, high risk stuff. However, the GM added that the Oasis was now a God Free Zone and those of is with Avatar or DemiGod epic destinies were banished. Poignant.

And still we aren't at the awesome.

Two years ago I wrote the Sun/Moon myth of the world based around my old god, The Unfettered God. Hidden Moon was tricked by Th Unfettered God to always be chasing her love, Blazing Sun. Since then we have discovered that TFG was a false god, a demon and all his oaths were false and worthless. Morn (my character) was his paladin and a couple of sessions ago I utterly destroyed him.

Hidden Moon appears before the battle and asks Artemis (the ranger) to save her husband, Blazing Sun, the son of the Primordial from the upcoming slaughter. This came out of the blue and Andrew had to remind me what I wrote. After that it just became a rollercoaster. In the midst of the battle, Morn reveals that she is no longer bound by the tricked oath and she can be together with her husband. We defeat the tainted Blazing Sun and instead of killing him, I release him too from his oath and he ascends to the heavens and for one day only, the Sun and the Moon appear in the sky together, reunited in their love.

Awesome enough for you? You ain't seen nothing yet!

So we continue on, kill the primordial (in a very fruity three phase battle), take the Oasis and generally bask in our awesome. Andrew then drops the bombshell. As the Sun Lord has passed, the world wakes up to perpetual twilight. The sun is diminished and its light no longer touches the world - only the moonlight. And then we realise the impact of this. We had just reunited these aeons-parted lovers for one moment, only to tear them apart eternally due to our actions. We had reflected earlier that everything we touch seems to end in pain and destruction and wow, this one really was.

To cap this off, I think we all just clicked when it came to at the table play. This was big stakes stuff and it really did feel right. After reflecting a little about how things played out, two things struck me.

Firstly, this was so nearly a game of Fate. We were, effectively, playing a game of Aspects and Compels but in D&D. If we could make something more complicated, or awkward, or awesome, we were and in many ways we dialed it up to 11.

Secondly, and this might be a totally wide of the mark call, I believe Andrew, the GM, may have been playing a very good game of 'sit back, listen to the players as they randomly spout idea after idea and then reflect their awesome back into the game'. If he was, he played it superbly.

I remain quite detached from the story at the table when I play. I am not the sort of person that gets 'scared' in a horror game etc. but for the first time EVER I was emotionally moved by this session. Highs, lows, love, betrayal - it had it all. Next session, we deal with the Dragonborn Emperor which should be an equally difficult session - the words 'God Emperor' were mentioned with regard to our Dragonborn PC. Be afraid.


ps. Yeah, this was D&D 4e, the game you cannot roleplay in. /facepalm

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

And now the End is near....

I haven't posted a lot about our D&D 4e campaign because it is covered elsewhere in excruciating detail, but something struck me about it this morning - the fact that it is coming to an end soon.

Now we know all about this, we have talked about it and in our game planning sessions we have got a pathway of intent laid out to carry us to Level 30 and the End of Time. However, the approaching doom has brought some matters to the fore in my mind.

The first is that there is a finite amount of time to do anything I want to do with this character. I'm not even sure there is anything I need to do, but the pressure of time has made this more apparent in my head. The last thing I would want to do would have the campaign end and something being left loose and flopping.

The second is that we will inevitably start thinking about what we are going to play next and more importantly, what formats our games are going to take. History tells us that we run highly successful long term games (City of Kings, Buffy, Pendragon, Crescent Sea) and have a patchy track record when it comes to shorter campaigns. However, we have a decided desire towards shorter campaigns, I think. As we get older, we have less time to prep and with a table of GMs, we all are willing to have a go. I think we're going to have to have a good hard think about the structure of these games and how we are going to produce things that are (a) runnable, (b) satisfying and (c) sustainable.

The third thing is simply a recognition of the amazing job Andrew has done of taking something as mechanical as D&D4e and turning it into something so smooth and utterly enjoyable. This masterful display of GMing has made me think long and hard about some of the 'theory of roleplaying design' stuff and wonder just how much of the impact at the table of a game is actually down to the players themselves and their ability to play with each other and riff off each others strengths whilst compensating for the weaknesses. This also speaks to the degree that a group, through their underlying social contract will house rule a system, almost instinctively, to suit their needs. For us its things like random death, experience points, money and encumberance - we simply can't be doing with them at all. It might be different things for other players. Hmmm... consider me pondering.

Regardless, this Sunday we go to kill a Primordial and put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons again. Great game.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Glamour of Glee

Best show I'm watching on TV at the moment? Glee, by the proverbial country mile.

The question that has been running around my head is why? I think I may have cracked it.

On the surface, its a perfect show for me. Its about American High School Sporting Competition (a particular favourite of mine - see 'Bring It On', 'The Mighty Ducks' and other hidden gems) and it mixes that with musical stuff - and we all know how much I love musicals. Its funny and uplifting and I can watch it with the kids and they love it.

All of that is cool, but thats not the secret.

I think the secret lies very much in the shades of grey that exist in every character. The show has a veneer that it is about goodies (the Glee Club) vs the baddies (the Cheerios) but thats just not the case - a good few members of the Glee Club are still Cheerios! Mr Schuester is the White Hatted good guy teacher - who happens to be falling in love with the school counsellor. Sue Sylvester is the boo-hiss baddie - except when she isn't, like the latest episode looking at disability. The lead good girl is a self-serving ego-maniac, the lead boy is a two-timing dimwit, the greyness is everywhere.

Even two of the less prominent characters - Artie and Tina - have some grey sides. Tina fakes her stutter (how shallow) but Artie now doesn't fancy her because she was faking a disability, but the way he puts it, it sounds more like its because he only fancied her because she was disabled and now she isn't.

These shades of grey make the show wholly unpredictable. It's wholly understandable that the self-centred heroine, Rachel, would consider being with Noah, the bad boy football player who really loves Quinn, the pregnant cheerleader, who is going out with Finn, the idiot football player who secretly loves Rachel because ... its Glee - and nothing is ever set in stone!

Monday, March 08, 2010

300 Posts and the Sun in Shining!

You can feel something in the air. People are smiling, laughing and joking. The world is a brighter place. The oppression has been lifted, the future is laid out before us and it is good. Today is a better place than yesterday and the day before that. What has brought about this wonderful emotional epiphany?

The sun is shining.

Now I have occassionally cracked a joke about the weird shining disc in the sky but this is the real thing. Its a bona fide spring day and boy does it feel good. The weather has been officially shitty since about October last year and this is the first day I can remember where I saw blue sky and felt like it was right. Its stupid but true - it makes a massive difference to the way I and it would appear many other people feel.

Of course, this is probably it and tomorrow it will go back to dull, with a side order of crappy - but today, this glorious wonderful day, its bright and sparkling.

(And yes, this is 300 posts on the blog. Thats a lot of shite)