Secrets of the Templars

I honestly believe that it is not hyperbole to say that I used to game with a genius.

In my early twenties, there was a period between careers where I worked odd jobs and participated in 7-8 games a week. I didn’t sleep much. Four of these games were set in the World of Darkness (2 Vampire, 1 Werewolf, and a Mortals game), of which I ran three. One was an alternating arrangement where one GM would run Star Wars, or I would run Call of Cthulhu, or both of us would run our respective games in the same week. One was a Battletech campaign with RP elements that I shared duties for. The final game, and one where I was blissfully just a player, was essentially Shadowrun, but far-removed from the traditional setting.  Obviously, with all the creativity and energy needed to keep 5 campaigns going, the three in which I was a player were extremely important to me.   Of these, the Shadowrun Campaign was the most important, and still stands as one of my favorite games despite the 15+ years between it and the present.

Joining the Templars

I joined this campaign late, as a replacement player for someone who could no longer attend. Recent shake-ups in the campaign involving the loss of characters to either madness or death – and one never-explained disappearance, had the party at a point where it needed to regroup and take in new members. I was fortunate enough to be chosen. I say fortunate because it was my opportunity not only to play in a strongly envisioned setting, with a fun rules set, and absolutely great players, but it was also my chance to see genius at work behind the screen. Although he is lost to us now, he left us many legacies in the real and fictional worlds, and in my mind at least, this campaign is one for both of them.

The game was referred to as “Tom’s Templar Game” and it was set in Europe. Much of the territory we covered had slipped back into a quasi-medieval state, and our characters were members of an order of ostensible knights. Threats ranged the entire gamut from intra-order politics, personal rivalries, national crises, international intrigue, the spectre of war, disasters, and the supernatural forces at work in the world. The GM handled each of these separate dangers with seeming ease, with a razor-sharp focus on story as a tool of character development. He was also the first GM I met who could actually focus on providing opportunities for characters to shine without just glossing over it. He would set the stage, but you would have to earn the spotlight. Comedy kept easy company with Drama, and Action played a game of temptation… sometimes to be desired, other times to be feared, with players never certain which. It truly was masterful.

Shadowrun and Sanity

One of the core additions that was made to the game was a Sanity mechanic, based superficially on that from Call of Cthulhu, but which ran in both directions. It served as a filter for perception, and going off the edge at either end of the scale was a game-ending proposition. If one went Mad with a capital M, the character was taken by the GM in one way or another. If one went… we didn’t have a word for it, but let’s now call it Sane with a capital S, one ceased to be entirely a part of this world – perhaps taken to another plane of existence altogether… at least that is what we, who did not get saner, speculated in coffee shops late at night. Perhaps BF Wolfe can shed some light on that as his character did… uh… “Go Sane.”  😉

Uncommon Cast and Crew

The initial character group, from what I was able to glean in the secrecy-laden conspiracy which was the Templar Order, were generated according to the same templates, but each had some carefully designed secrets to protect. During chargen, each player had a chance to add some ideas to the process to create the same layers of secrets and half-truths which characterized the NPC members of the Order. We were forbidden to have cyberware and were expected to manifest certain powers like physical adepts by virtue of training and… well, virtue. Each player, I believe, started out thinking that each character was exactly like his in terms of base concept, but only suspicious that each character might have something to hide. The extraordinary group of players brought this world of innuendo, implication, and bald-faced lying to life in a palpable sense that could at times transport you elsewhere.

I hope that other members of this campaign, scattered as we are across the globe, will take the time to post their own memories and experiences of it. I’d love to hear what you all have to say about the magic and mystery of this exceptional gaming experience.

At the point where I entered the campaign, doubt about the Order, or at least elements within it, had started to form. Although I as a player had been given no reason to suspect this at the time, the design process for my character was not the same as that for the others. So different were they, that it soon became obvious that I could perform none of the signature ‘Templar’ abilities, yet I had strong ties within the Order. How could I be one of them, if I did not share in any of their gifts and little of their training?

Gleaning Glimmers of Greatness

One of the first things I was able to grasp about the game environment, was that the differences between my character and the others was a signal of some shift in the direction of the campaign, a shift toward darker, more troubling times. Looking back on it now, I wonder if my character was a sort of metaphor for the doubt the players had about the Order, and a sign that all was not as they had been told. In a campaign which had a vast cast of NPCs and a player group ranging between 5 and 7 players, the intricacy of the intrigue web was amazing. No one really knew what abilities, allegiances, secrets, and pressures the others had. New puzzle pieces surfaced and were buried constantly, and often we could not even trust that what we saw was really there.

Around it all, the world was descending into war and chaos.

Soft White  Underbelly and the Driving Force

In addition to having a web of secrets to expose or protect, we each had a goal. Some of these were minor, some major. Some were open, but most were secret. My personal goal was to earn the trust of the characters and help them to uncover the rot at the heart of the Order. Again, I didn’t realize it at the time of character creation, but the GM planted seeds and suggestions in my ear as we created ‘Montague Forte’ and over time, those seeds grew into strong trunks in the complicated forest of his outwardly simple character. In a game of secrecy and conspiracy, mine was the character prone to telling the truth and capable of asking the hard direct questions. More than that, he was empowered with the special abilities which made uncovering truth possible. This aspect of character design – particularly as it was not done overtly or forcefully, is enough for me to claim genius for Tom, but it went further than that.

Walking the the Extra Mile in Purely Speculative Moccasins

Tom took a conversation about games and gaming problems that he and I had had and used this game as a chance for us both to explore it for real. We were both prone to playing capable characters with a sort of lone wolf attitude, that left us on the outside of whatever PC group with which we associated. We both saw it as a problem, but found that when given the chance to play, it was to this sort of character we consciously or unconsciously gravitated. We both ended up staying in groups for reasons which are now commonly referred to as Meta-game Reasons, but then didn’t really have a term that we used. We knew the problem, but had no jazzy term for it. In our discussion, we had come up with a solution, but Tom actually put it into play by giving me a challenge: play a loner with no ties to anything at all, and no reason whatsoever to stay with the group if things go south… but in play – find one. The difference is subtle, but the effect was profound. My challenge was not to build hooks to the party from the outset, but to discover them, in character, in play.

In every aspect right down to the character generation package, my character was different and given every reason to be an outsider, and there I was, tossed into a conspiracy to end all conspiracies, in the middle of the threat of international war both mundane and mystical, while all around were disappearing or going mad, and I had to find reasons to bond with a group of Knights in the thick of everything facing certain death and insanity, possibly in that order….?

Can you think of a better opportunity and gift to give someone who rarely got the chance to play a character through any sort of arc, and more – to make doing so a significant part of the story design?


Imagine how much we all miss him.

39 Responses to “Secrets of the Templars”
  1. I came across this because of Facebook. Tom was a great friend of mine, and I miss him very much. I don’t have time to read all the comments right now, but Thank You for writing such wonderful piece about him. I never got into role playing, but now I wish I had – it sounds like you all had such fun and interesting, entertaining times.

    Actually, the only time I ever did role-play of that sort (other than on stage) – was when Tom created a present for two friends of his who were engaged. It was a live role-playing game, where each person was given a character, a place and time, and perhaps a list of other characters to meet? It was a great day – I loved being part of that.

    I knew Tom had imagination, and that he could tell a great story – but I didn’t quite know the extent of his talents. Indeed, he must have been a genius. Thank you for showing this side of Tom.

    Karen Power

    • Runeslinger says:

      I was the recipient of that gift.

      Tom knew that I did not want the traditional sort of bachelor party so he created a classic spy scenario for me to work my way through involving shoot-outs in parking garages, playing chess to earn clues from a close-mouthed contact, rooting through the pockets of corpses, interpreting clues inside matchbooks and hidden envelopes, and a ride in the trunk of a car, ending up with a big, James Bond climax with the villain. It was quite an adventure!

      Thanks for participating both in that, and this~

  2. It was my pleasure! My friend Charlotte T. came along and played my “pimp.” Haha. And I should have realized it was you – it’s just that I remember you having… a beard? Maybe a moustache?

    Wow, Tom created the whole thing. That is so cool. I mean, I could never write a murder-mystery game like that by myself. Just minor little scribbles once in a while. He had such a fine mind. Wish he was still here, I’d love to sit and talk with him about stuff like this, and maybe create something fun and interesting together with some friends.

  3. BF Wolfe says:

    No such luck with me. Notes are long gone after 6 different moves, and the memories that remain are of the people and laughter. I am quite content leaving the plot a final mystery of genius.

    • David says:

      Those too, but I like ruminating over it all the same. Sometimes something clicks, of course no way to be sure.

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  1. […] the departed is a friend who was one of the best GMs I have ever met. We used to have great conversations about gaming and other things. One of the games he used to […]

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