Tales from the Fireside – Damsels & Dragons, Part One

Campfire may be half a world away, but he recently sent a minion to my door clutching a scroll. Scrawled upon the parchment was the following…

——————–

So I’ve decided to run a role-playing game.

It’s not a real role playing game you understand. There are no stats, no dice rolls, no characters or monsters to speak of – at least, not yet. It’s so free-form it’s almost ephemeral. It’s little more than two people hunkering down by the campfire, telling stories.

Which is just how I like my RPGs, really. I’ve attempted to roll characters and conjure worlds so many times before. “It’ll be fun!” I tell myself. “Or at least, it’ll make a nice story for next week’s Tales.”

Three minutes later and I’m throttling myself to alleviate dice-induced boredom. Oh, I know it’s not a problem with the game. Maybe if I had a party to adventure with and a kind, understanding games master it’d all seem worthwhile. But sitting here in the Campfire treehouse mansion I feel like an amateur fortune teller throwing bones and not understanding their cryptic results.

If I’m going to be a role-player extraordinaire I’m going to need to call in the big guns. To help in my quest I’ve enlisted my good friends Liz and Lexx – the Trinny and Susannah of RPG makeovers – who are veritable fountains of knowledge on all things White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast. They know everything there is to know about every facet of role-playing games…

…except for live action role-playing, or LARPing.

“We aren’t LARPers,” says Liz, coolly.

“WE DON’T DO THAT HERE,” Lexx adds in block capitals.

Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t eat my face.

I cornered them online and coerced them into an interview which may or may not contain fevered elaboration. But that’s all right, isn’t it? I mean, tall tales – that’s what we’re all here for.

Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning. How did two young ladies who should have known better end up getting into role-playing games?

“This is a funny story,” says Lexx. “I was friends with a girl who was trying to impress a guy in her little brother’s gaming group. She didn’t want to join it alone so she roped me into going with her. The relationship never happened, she quit after a month, but by that point I was hooked.”

“A girl role-playing to impress a boy is probably the most ironic thing I’ve heard in a long time.” says Liz, who got into role-playing games through ‘nerdy friends’.

“I really liked the whole creating a world idea, talking with others to solve problems and killing things, whereas she was mostly using it as a way to spend time with people. I think she got a boyfriend in the end, but don’t quote me on that.”

For Lexx, Dungeons and Dragons was her ‘gateway drug’. For Liz it was White Wolf, the publishers behind Vampire: The Masquerade and the World of Darkness game series. “I found my first game through the girl who later stole my boyfriend,” she elaborates. ”It took place in those glass conference rooms they have at the library. I was a motorcycling vampire with sexy lips, as I recall. And a falcon.”

A sexy falcon?

“Oh, adolescence,” she sighs, obviously pining for the days of imaginary bike leathers and microfiche. I never realised RPG sessions could be so filled with tragic romance.

“Gamers are like actors,” says Lexx. “They love drama.”

Do they think there’s a lot of crossover between RPGs and acting?

“Yes, absolutely. Most of us were also in theatre,” says Liz.

“When I got to college,” Lexx interjects, “and we were trying to recruit friends to play, it was a lot easier to convince the actors than the non-actors.”

“I think there’s a certain appeal to one’s creative side,” says Liz.

I take it they’re more into the role-play aspect of these games than the combat and dice rolls?

“Yes,” says Lexx. “But combat has its time and place. Not to mention sometimes it’s fun to just ruin something.” She grins devilishly for a moment. “It just helps if there’s a motivation for it.”

At this point Liz and Lexx fall into one of their story-telling interludes, something they do quite often. Like pinballs they bounce and spark off one another, and when they get caught in reminisces of adventures long past it can be difficult to pull them back to the present.

“I still hold Stone and Odion killing Silhouette as one of my favorite sessions ever,” says Lexx, misty-eyed.

Whoah whoah whoah – who, who and who?

Together they tell a yarn that unspooled over a protracted campaign for Exalted, a White Wolf game about ancient gods and high adventure. The adventurers were plagued by an antagonistic duo – one, a little yappy ninja, the other a silent lunk reminiscent of Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill games. As the story goes, the two of them kidnapped one of the party members and trapped her in a tower.

“We went to go rescue her and he (“Tears Become Silhouette, the little talker,” Liz elucidates) decided to pick a fight,” says Lexx. “The scrappy ninja took a shot at us when we were trying to free our other player character and PCs Stone and Odion just ruined him.”

How many sessions did this take place over?

“I want to say he showed up randomly over a couple of months, but the murder took place in one session.” A beatific, time-lost smile spreads across her face, “One glorious session.” I half suspect that if she had a cigarette, she’d be smoking it right now.

Liz’s original hope was for Lexx and the other players to kill the larger of the two villains, sending the shorter one into a murderous rage. A few impetuous decisions and successful rolls of the dice later and her plans had been completely derailed. Not that she didn’t have back-up, of course. A good GM is always prepared.

“Killing the other guy caused me to branch off into a different murderous rampage.” she says, and shrugs.

“It also resulted in another bad guy who’d harassed us forever losing his arm,” says Lexx. “My favorite NPC got kind of messed up while my character was off killing this other guy. We weren’t sure whether or not he would make it. I was very upset by this and raided the liquor cabinet.”

In the game?

“It drove Lexx to drink,” says Liz.

So, not in the game.

“NPC friends are a great way to get to the players,” she continues. “Even the more action-oriented, kick-in-the-door types can get upset if their little sidekick is threatened.”

Yikes. So what kind of prep-work would be involved in creating a story like that?

“It depends on the GM,” says Lexx. “There are those who have scripted descriptions written out, and fully statted characters. I knew one guy who made a plot tree for some sort of social intrigue game. But there’s also a certain amount of just being able to come up with stuff on the spot if things don’t go how you planned. It’s great having a plan and games are usually better if you know where they’re headed, but it’s necessary to be able to answer the crazy questions you never thought of when a player asks them.”

“If Lexx and Anna hadn’t killed Silhouette, I can’t recall for the life of me what he would have done originally,” says Liz. “I just remember thinking, ‘Wait–they left the kids and mortal friend unattended, and the other guy is angry.’ I improvised from there.”

She continues: “I have ideas sketched for characters, and ideas for any major events or cool moments I want to happen – major events like ‘Siceon’s mother will be assassinated’ and cool moments like ‘They’ll see this guy fill a great hall with bloody writing’“ Quick thinking is necessary, in my experience.”

——————–

Part Two of this piece will be published on Thursday. Contact Campfire Burning via email – campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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