Friday, 20 August 2010

Is death on the table?

I'll let you into a secret: if I like my character, the feeling that they could die at random makes me uncomfortable.

This can be somewhat awkward in a game like Vampire, where identification should be strong and the sword of Damocles should always be there... but unless you're in a LARP or a chat or some other hordes-of-players situation it should generally only drop if you bring it on yourself.

Conversely, Warhammer is about the only random-chargen game I like because it's seeped into my bones since I was twelve, and while it kicks up fun characters I never feel attached to them. Which is good, because they're doomed.

So I tend to run games where you can kick back and relax and not worry about the dice falling where they may and landing on your character.

So it's kind of odd how many PCs died in The Watch House...

Buffy provides a system where everybody should be safe due to the many ways of avoiding death provided by Drama Points. This lead to people making madly dramatic choices for the PCs including, yes, dying, usually when their player left the game but in one case several weeks of playing a vampire beforehand.

And in another case coming back and playing the same character despite her having died nine months earlier.

In many cases players weren't coming back - two of them were leaving the country - but I do wonder if death being optional made the option more appealing. Without having the constant threat of death, death becomes another narrative thing to try?

Friday, 13 August 2010

So why is it called "The Watch House"?

Because of The Watch House, by some way the longest and for emotional investment best game I ever GMed. I fully expected it to run for about twelve weeks, not six years.

A simple premise, lifted (with permission) from SteveD. Where do Watchers come from in Buffy? Their university years are sure to be pretty formative. Steve set his game in Oxford, so I put mine in Cambridge. Since the show had just ended, I set it five years in the past rather than dealing the fallout of season seven. I joked that if I was still running it in five years I'd have to worry about that... and sure enough, I was, and I did.

A lot of its success was lightning in a bottle - the mix of enthusiastic and creative players throwing in ideas - but there are some lessons a GM can take away.

The Buffyverse is like any superhero universe, open to a wide variety of stories, starting with action-horror-coming-of-age-in-a-funny-way but spreading far and wide. I ran almost-serious ghost stories, love stories, family dramas, flashbacks, flashforwards, perfect worlds, nightmare futures, broad farces, fairytales, killer robot B-movies, multiple-versions-of-a-character adventures, dungeon crawls, descents into the underworld both literal and figurative, and even a behind-the-scenes episode.

The NPC cast may have gotten too big at times, but a fair number of the NPCs were well enough defined that different PCs had different views on them and each had a point.

A system I could run in my sleep (and very nearly did in one convention game when I had a cold) helped too.

Since then I took a year and a half off from big all-in kitchen-sink games, purposely limiting settings to certain styles, and that was interesting... but also generated lots of ideas that wouldn't fit.

Since January I got back on the do-anything bandwagon, and it feels rather like coming home.