Ever since Wizards of the Coast released their Third Edition of the ever-popular Dungeons & Dragons, I have always been a big fan of the ranger. I love the great mix of stealth and strength, but after a few levels the class lost most of its luster. Sure, at level one you got both the ambidexterity and two weapon fighting feats free of charge, (given you wore light or no armor of course). But after that, there was really no need to advance in the class other than for purely role-playing reasons. Sure you got favored enemies, but what good is a plus one to attack at 16th level, while your wizard friend gets meteor swarm and power word kill spells? And the spells you did get you were so far behind the power curve they were almost useless. So what is one to do?
A lot of things can ruin a game when it's being written and assembled by developers. Unwieldy or unsound systems, derivative story concepts, an uninteresting setting, bad art, or even an overabundance of typos and spelling errors can all make a gamer set down a book in disgust and consign it to the hindmost reaches of the bookshelf, where it will never again see the surface of a gaming table, or even the light of day.
Generally in our gaming sessions we are accustomed to all our PCs being on the same side. We are also accustomed to their side being the side of the just and good. What if one of our PCs was playing for the wrong team? What if the amazing way this PC predicts the enemy's movements is no accident? Moreover, what if this PC is the great enemy the party will finally face to end the campaign? An ultimate challenge for both the GM and one of the PCs, the subterfuge storyline can be the biggest shocker you have ever seen in a roleplaying session.
Gaming is about, among other things, stories. Stories of heroism, stories of horror, stories of humor. . .stories of people. This is about gaming, so it is, of course, about people. Not enough people, specifically.
Role-playing has always been a big thing for me: "House" as a kid, "Cops & Robbers" after that. When I first discovered the Internet in 1997 (go ahead and laugh), I stumbled upon "Yahoo! Chat" and before I knew it I was freeform role-playing online. The world it opened for me was immense.
It's the weekend and the usual roundup of friends comes together. The living room/den/garage has been prepared for a fun filled evening of romping through the enchanted woods or infiltrating the seedy underbelly of Neoville. The session begins and characters are played, each bringing a creative balance to the team. The players catch a break and find an uber item to help them continue their journey. Unfortunately now the ugly side in everyone comes out. Everyone wants the item and no one is willing to back down. Welcome dear powergamer.
With one successful Changeling campaign already under our belts, it was a given that my all-female gaming group would reunite to follow it up. I had some great ideas for a game of Mage: The Ascension with player characters drawn from the ranks of the Technocracy, and I was looking forward to trying out what I perceived as more "serious" gaming with a group as talented as the one I'd found. But before I get too deep into an explanation of how our second year of gaming together went, I'd like to take a few paragraphs to address some of the questions brought up by readers in the intelligent discussion my previous article sparked.
A few weeks ago, the heroes in my 3rd Edition D&D campaign killed someone. Ooooo, shocking, I know. I mean, I've run RPGs for two decades: body bags are nothing new. But this time the heroes didn't destroy the ravaging demon or slay the red dragon or kill the power-hungry sorcerer.
It's over. We played through the climactic combat, spent half an hour tying up loose ends and detailing the fates of characters we'd played for the better part of a year, and declared the campaign to have reached its end. Then we picked up our dice, finished off the milkshakes kindly provided by one player, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways, most likely never to unite as a gaming group again. There was sadness at leaving, true, but also a certain strong sense of pride at having accomplished what our characters set out to do so long ago, when the story had first begun.
A couple of months ago, while my latest RPG campaign was in its birthing process, I found myself leafing through players' character backgrounds. Several people, veterans of character creation, easily vaulted this obstacle. One player was not as gifted, however. He found the task intimidating. In addition to his inexperience in writing, English was not his primary language. Despite my frustrations in reading his attempts to portray his character's life before life, I tried to encourage him with topic lists such as those from the gaming sourcebooks or various gaming webpages.