Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Which The Warlock Peruses the Perfect Party...

For those of you that were hoping for more cross-blog shenanigans, never fear:  it's just The Journeyman GM's turn to host our info.  This time around, we take a look at one of his games--his Deadlands "Heart of Darkness" conversion!

In the meanwhile, I wanted to spend a little time talking about a recent game that really blew me away, which is only more fitting considering the time of year!

I'm talking, of course, about the PlatinumChick's Call of Cthulhu game, "Welcome to Zendik Farms", which I ran for the first time this past Friday for the WittKids.  I've spent quite a while running over-the-top steampunk action in Deadlands, and it had felt like ages since I'd actually run a true 'horror' session.  Upon arriving, the PlatinumChick and I found ourselves with no less than 11 players--more than enough for two full tables.

I've got to say, though:  I think I ended up the beneficiary of that division, though.  My table was nothing short of immaculate, with a series of spectacular role-players who bought into the nihilistic, cult-driven storyline like none other.

If you haven't played the PlatinumChick's "...Zendik Farms" scenario before, you're missing out.  Based on an actual real-life cult (from which people have actually escaped!), the scenario seems simple on the surface:  characters start on what seems like a relaxing excursion to an organic arts community.  But, the plot delves into deeper secrets and horrors, the longer that the investigators stay.  No session ever truly plays the same way twice, as the farm itself provides a mini-sandbox for the investigators to play through.

So, let's talk a little about my players.  I was excited to have Lindevi (also known as DigitalKat) on board, as she was aching to play in horror game as much as I had been aching to run one.  She's well known my capacity for Wicked GMing, having played in my Deadlands "Follow the Walkin' Man" campaign as well as a Ravenloft one-shot I'd run years ago:  "An Incident at Ravencroft Asylum".  Lindevi was coupled by a familiar face from our Friday night sessions, Chris I!

I knew these guys could role-play.  I see it on a regular basis, as they delve into deep character interactions and difficult moral choices.  What I didn't know was how much the other three would get into it--two WittKids and a community member totally new to the Guild, LatinJoseph.  The three of them played their parts to the hilt, with WittDrew even converting to the Zendik cult partway through the scenario!  The stark looks of horror on the others' faces as their comrade willingly started going along with the farm's plans was priceless--you can't script emotional responses like that!

The segment of the game that struck me most, though, was the willingness for players to put themselves in vulnerable positions.  Characters continually committed that "cardinal sin" of splitting the party again and again, even isolating themselves with members of the cult.  LatinJoseph astounded me, leaving his traumatized college activist alone with Zendik scion Fawn, all the while under the effects of various psychotropic drugs.

I've posited before that the social contracts inherent to role-playing games are fundamentally a variation on the same relationships and contracts held between dominant and submissive members of a BDSM-style relationship.  I've been doing quite a bit of research into this concept, actually, in the hopes to expand my theory into an essay suitable for my upcoming Pendulum Method compilation.  LatinJoseph showed his flexibility and versatility in storytelling by allowing his character to submit to the given plot element:  the psychopathic Fawn.  His metaphorical submission allowed for fantastic role-play opportunities in that his own character slowly came out of their psychotropic haze (which he portrayed spectacularly!) but also for Lindevi, whose then-insane investigative reporter did her best to save LatinJoseph's college student!  By relinquishing a degree of control in the scene, that narrative power was magnified and spread out through my own NPCs, Lindevi's character, and even through himself!
It's okay to give up control
once in a while!  Cut loose!

Throughout the course of the game, the role of 'dominant' was passed back and forth between players and Keeper almost seamlessly.  Lindevi herself took the reins when a horrific event caused her reporter to lose a significant amount of Sanity, leading her to take WittSean's character hostage!  WittSean rolled perfectly with the scene, mentally handing over control of the scene to Lindevi.  Later on, Chris I's housewife stole the show, overturning tables in a desperate, last-gasp stand against the Zendik faithful.  However, the narrative power swiftly changed hands to WittSean's crisis of conscience:  does he betray his 'innocent' friends or does he believe the idyllic truth put forward by Wulf Zendik?

It's that sort of continued, extensive power exchange that takes an average table and makes it a good one or, in the case of this group, takes a good group of players and pushes them into an evening of phenomenal gaming.  This group's ability to build opportunities for one another through narrative power exchange allowed them to achieve some of the best table-based role-play I've ever seen.  When we staggered out of our room in Shouvlin at nearly 12:30 that morning, the group was worn, beaten down, and thoroughly smiling.  And, after a long session of dominance and submission, that's about all you ever want...

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