Turning the Wheel

This contribution to the March RPG Blog Carnival is really nothing more than a small suggestion which tries to suggest a means of bringing a healthy balance of the interrelationship of living and dying to the stories into which a group invests their time. What sort of game could we have if the characters played chose to take an active hand in turning the wheel of life, and heavily invested their time in seeding the earth of their own graves with the fruits of their wisdom and experience?

That death is a big part of life goes without saying, mostly because of how often it gets written. The killing aspect of death also generates a lot of words among out particular group of hobby commentators, either in terms of how to do it better, faster, grittily, or more realistically, or in terms of, ‘Don’t hate me because I pretend to kill things.’

A few months ago, I was discussing play styles with an old gaming buddy, and afterward wrote an entry called Random Encounter: Analyst’s Couch, which takes a poke at the stereotypical fantasy hero which many of us move past playing early in our gaming lives, but in whose shadow gamers everywhere seem to be forced to stand, regardless of the expansion, progression, and diversification of the hobby.

I think most of us get a good chuckle thinking way back through the hoary mists of time to our first forays into dice-controlled make-believe, and the simple pleasure we found imagining life and death struggles without the attendant burdens of grass stains and skinned knees. The gradual evolution from uni-dimensional to multi-dimensional characters, stories, and story arcs is often one of changing the group’s understanding of the lives of the PCs and adding detail and consequence to the death of the NPCs. While it is of course more complicated than that, in terms of this month’s blog carnival theme, this description will do.

In my generation games, which I primarily like to run for Call of Cthulhu or Vampire, I like to include a lot of details like births and deaths, changes of fortune, and other mundane but important aspects of living which significantly alter or curtail the lives of those with whom the characters interact or are related. As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend not to do this in my more classically structured games, partly because they tend to be focused on resolving events, and partly because the characters tend to be generated with less meat on which to feed.

One thing that I have wanted to do to a greater degree than I have, is to turn certain things on their heads, such as the typical group generating young characters at the start of their careers. I think it would be interesting to run a campaign where the intent was to retire. Even when a group chooses to play a higher-powered group of experienced heroes from the start, this is not exactly the same thing. In fiction and film, we often see the older mentor wrestling with fear of no longer being up to a challenge, or with the difficult task of letting go of a cherished pupil. We see them wonder if they should not shoulder the burden of the latest quest themselves, but try to have faith that their student can overcome it. We see them advise, train, correct, and reward promising students, and we almost always hear of one that was cast out after a turn toward villainy. These are hard decisions, and no story should ever assume that the pupil is actually ready, or that the mentor is not full of blind pride.

It strikes me that there is as much at the end of a hero’s career to keep a campaign full and exciting as there is at the beginning. Instead of treasure and experience points to be sought, players would be seeking out ways to contribute to the world around them, and prepare themselves against the end times of their lives. Pupils might be sought, or towns might be founded or their development influenced. Villains might return for one last round, or a new villain – inspired to seek greatness over the body of a legend might show up looking for a fight. More interestingly, a nemesis, might change their ways, and force that change down a hero’s unwilling throat. Building projects, families reaching maturity, the loss of pets and steeds to the ravages of time, the commissioning of a proud weapon from the best smiths for a favored newcomer… A group versed in troupe style play could explode this idea into endless permutations of view points spanning generations of quests, growing in experience, aging, and passing on the torch; so much life, founded in the simple idea of approaching death. Even though most of the above examples appear to be drawn from fantasy, there is just as much, if not more to take on in any other genre. In my own gaming, I would love to take this approach for my next run at Aces & Eights.

RPGBloggers Carnival

March is all about living and dying

While this ‘twilight years’ approach to campaign design is nothing new, I suspect I am not alone in not having done it to any significant degree, nor do I expect there to be many groups who have chosen to take it on intentionally. Long-lived campaigns wherein characters age and are finally retired, such as one must do with Pendragon, or can choose to do with pretty much any other game, do not seem to be in the majority. If few games live to such maturity, and yet there are vast story and character opportunities to be mined at the end of the characters’ possible arcs, it strikes me that this is one area just waiting for us, the aging and experienced gaming community, to sink in our carefully maintained teeth, and shake heartily.

2 Responses to “Turning the Wheel”
  1. johnnfour says:

    Nice post. Especially liked the idea of a retirement campaign.

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