Two Years in Review

It's been a long time, blog. A really long time. I've spent two years updating my education in a madness inducing storm of anatomy, massage techniques, and hydrotherapy. But I survived, and despite a firm agreement to avoid gaming while in school, it continued to creep into my life, here and there, until I found myself gaming more days than I was going to school some weeks. Not that I ever skipped class or anything...

So here's a short (and long) review of the past two years. Insert quaint folk music here.

About a year and a half ago I became involved in an on-going drop in game of Heroquest run by a friend. It had a large cast that I was very excited with when it first began that steadily began to drop off into a smaller, almost non-existent cast mid-way through. This was the result of busy lives and the scattered methodology with which our GM ran the game. When we were down to about four players, I began to recruit other friends, and drew in a regular in all of my games, Alex.

As a system, I found Heroquest overly complicated for my own needs and intentions. My GM liked to go to dice when not necessary, and I realized this after reading the rules myself. But the GM, E., was fantastic if a little loose with the rules, and over all, it provided a great story line. My curse with dice continued in this game, and I became the character who regularly screwed up so that the difficulty became easier for other people.

My first character was a baker named Calliope. She was quaint, adorable, and pretty. I had her in a relationship with another PC, who eventually chose his religion over their love and it broke her heart. By the end of the game, she had become leader of her clan in New Pavis, married another PC, and had retired as an actual character. My second character was a storm bull aka barbarian rage-woman, and left me with little to do besides hit things, which by that point in my academic career was all I had the patience for.

Overall the game provided good story arcs and liked to explore themes of poverty and community, both of which were well thought out and provocative for the crowd we had. There was intrigue, interpersonal relationships, and fantastic character arcs. While I would never run the system myself, I would definitely play it again.

I decided, against my own wisdom, to run a short campaign of Summerland. While I loved the system, I stumbled at the open-endedness I had provided my players, and ended up giving up on the campaign before it had taken off. Initially, I had designed several prophets who would appear throughout the world as important and sometimes unimportant NPCs the PCs had originally met before The Event.

Now, if you're not familiar with Summerland, it's about the apocalypse happening, but it happened by nature taking back the world. Giant trees, feral humans, thinking animals... it's a terrifying and stunning landscape. I had run a game of it at FanExpo 2012 (discussed in another post soon!) and had done phenomenally with it.

The system runs beautifully. The premise is the characters are traumatized individuals who aren't affected by the Call (something that pulls on the minds of humans and lures them into the feral world of the deep forest). However, they want to be part of a community, so they struggle to get over their trauma throughout the story. There are four base stats, each with two 'tags' that give descriptors, and then another set of rules for getting over shit, aka, your trauma.

Now, what the author meant by "trauma" is really kind of a fluffy still functional version of trauma. The examples in the book are good, but really, playing a person with a level of trauma that renders them incapable of living within society is really, really traumatic, and my friends and I negotiated it to mean people who could still function, otherwise the game would be impossible to play. So while not the dark level of trauma we know as trauma, it was still kinda traumatic? Although one player had a vegan girlfriend as his trauma, which was fair.

Two episodes in and one player and myself became very busy, both of us with school, and we ended up not ever picking the campaign up again. I intend to go back to it, one day. Overall I love the system, and would happily use it in any setting, and can't wait to play more of that world.

GURPS: Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
Oh boy. GURPS. Yeah. I played GURPS. So the great thing about GURPS is the fact that there's a rule for everything. This, in my opinion, is its downfall. CoAD was based on the novels by the same name written by Michelle Paver. It's about a kid in a stone age world (beginning of bronze) who goes on a quest and becomes a man over seven books, and deals with tribal life and spirits and other low-tech magics.

GURPS found a way to be about these things. Our GM, J., had us create every day folks in this setting and then continued to throw mystery and intrigue at us. Which would have worked, I think, if we felt capable or competent. Because we didn't, we shirked from battle, because we sucked at it, and when we did fight, we almost always came horrifically close to death. Although we spent over a year and a half playing, it was about a month of in-game time. The level of trauma our normal characters endured was enough that our final scene was each character going their separate ways, hoping never to be disturbed again.

J. wove a fantastic and dark tale with so many layers we floundered a little in the mystery. Everything was connected, and it all made sense, but it was nearly impossible for me to follow all of it. This was a lesson I learned in one of my other games. I personally found the fact that no NPCs knew anything extremely frustrating, as it meant our PCs never got answers. Another big road block in this campaign was the fact that the PCs didn't get along. At all. We had fist fights and yelling and party cohesion problems.

Each of us redid our character a little. Nudged them in the right direction, tried to find something to motivate them, and eventually we came to a point where everyone could live at the same campsite, mostly. Once the party cohesion problem was solved (again mostly), our ability to understand the narrative and dive deeper into it increased, and the story began to make more sense. Although we never did fully understand the depths, we hit an emotional exhaustion with the characters, and finished the first chapter of this story, then put it on a shelf for later as J. started up another campaign.

As themes, CoAD explored human nature, community, and responsibility. Only about a third of the players had read the source material (the novels) and therefore there was a schism in culture that some players brought to the table and others didn't know about. I found this extremely problematic, and as one of the few who had read all the books, it was a little disheartening to have folks not willing to even listen to the audiobook to get a sense of what that world was like. Although I can't demand people read things for game, this was one game I felt reading the material enriched the world and the characters.

The themes weren't explored as deeply as I would have liked, but I do feel there was a pressuring exhaustion in the characters I hadn't experienced before. Each day that we played became more and more tiring for the PCs and at the end, so badly did they just want everything to be done. It was reminiscent of Call of Cthulhu or Trail, where there's a keening desperation behind every thought and action, to the point of abandon recklessness at the end. That was my favourite thing of this campaign, that feeling of impending doom, and by the end, being willing to do anything to stop it, even killing a fellow clansman, which was against clan law (BIG DEAL).

And now...
There are other games I played, I'm sure. But I want to talk about them in greater depth. So for now, this is a good summary of what kept me occupied. In future discussions I'll be mentioning my on-going D&D 3.5 campaign with M., the best damn D&D DM I know of. I'll talk about FanExpo 2012 and 2013. I ran a kick-ass Deliria campaign this last year that needs discussion, so badly. And I'm also in an on-going zombie apocalypse game with C., and J. is now running a GURPS fantasy game. Lots of things to discuss, and future games to plot.