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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Accursed Game

I've been watching Crossbones on NBC and enjoying it, because 1) I like pirates, B) the acting is good enough and the plot intriguing enough, and III) it's potential source material for 7th Sea, which is a game I dearly love but is, apparently, cursed.

I feel I should take a moment to explain that while I do not consider myself a superstitious person, I believe I have enough empirical evidence that I can convincingly explain that every time I play this game, bad things happen. Come, I shall conceal nothing from you.

First, a bit of history

7th Sea debuted in 1999 as an almost-but-not-really companion game to Legend of the Five Rings, but while the latter was based heavily on Kurosawa-style Samurai action, 7th Sea was a swashbuckling adventure based in what I like to call "fantasy Europe with the serial numbers filed off, using all the coolest parts of a nation's history" (Elizabethan/Arthurian England, Inquisition Spain, Borgia Italy, Viking Scandinavia etc).  While L5R was very lethal, 7S was of the "whenever possible, use a chandelier" school of heroic over-the-topness. In short, it's a fun game in which it's hard for your PCs to die stupid deaths and it has enough history porn to give Renaissance aficionados massive boners.

There was also a little movie that came out in 2003 that made pirates popular in the media. You may have heard of it.  Despite this, and despite the fact that 7th Sea is culturally accessible to pretty much everyone in the western world, the game went out of print in 2005.  (For the record, the second and third movies of the PotC trilogy came out in 2006 and 2007, so pirate fever was still raging at the time. And yes, you could play as pirates in 7S -- in fact, the first supplement for it was a pirate sourcebook.)

Contra Legend of the Five Rings, which features a culture foreign to most of the world, and is currently enjoying its fourth edition.

Still not convinced 7th Sea is a Jonah?  Fair enough. Read on.

How it's affected me

I discovered 7th Sea back in '99 or 2000, but the first time I played was circa 2004. It was a fun game, and my players Got It, and we all had a blast. Shortly thereafter, though, I lost my job, was unable to find another, and due to deteriorating health from malnutrition (most of my savings were going toward rent, and so I was eating lots of fast food and Ramen noodles) I moved back to Florida. A friend of mine from college knocked up his girlfriend, and I basically said  "In exchange for a break in rent I'll help take care of the baby." They accepted my offer and helped me move. 

I stored my 7S books with said friend. They didn't have a room for me at the old place, so I slept in my old bedroom in my parents' house while they looked for a new one. During the pregnancy, his girlfriend increasingly froze me out, and this only got worse after the baby was born.  I just attributed this to hormones. and tried not to take it personally. However, when they DID find a house, I asked "Cool, when can I move in?"  and she said "Never. I don't trust you with my baby. In fact, I don't want you coming around at all." Needless to say, I had done NOTHING to deserve this, and when I pressured my friend about it he agreed that there was nothing in my behavior to warrant mistrust or suspicion. But she didn't want me around, and he was a pushover and didn't fight it. So I cut ties with them, because what else do you do when someone basically says "I think you might abuse my baby based on no facts whatsoever"?  That was in spring 2005. 
I didn't touch the game for a while. The next time I dug it up was in 2008, when a player in my then-running L5R game was getting tired of running her Star Wars game and wanted something new.  I said, "Hey, have you tried 7th Sea? It's great!" and promptly loaned her all my stuff.  I made a character (detailed here), we played exactly ONE half-assed game, and she never got around to running another. 

Not long after I came out to her about being genderqueer. I figured I could trust her and she would understand. On New Year's Eve, I gave her a kiss at midnight (chaste, on the cheek) because she looked lonely. I didn't ambush her, I just said "Hey, give me your cheek for a moment" and she did, so I figured it was okay.

It wasn't okay. This is odd, because she also drove me home that night, and could have said something about it then, or in any of the days thereafter. You know, like adults do. Instead, she went behind my back for the next few weeks, turning the rest of my gaming group -- who were easily-manipulable horny engineers in their 20s -- against me. I don't know what she said about me, and I couldn't get a straight answer out of anyone on the subject. They all looked sheepish and evaded my questions. Personally, I think she told them I was queer and it made them uncomfortable, and she knew it would make them uncomfortable, and she did it because she wanted to be the only girl in the group.
In 2010, I ran a game over Google Wave. It was a bit of a horrorshow, because these people failed to understand that 7S is a game of action, not a goddamn Shadowrun where everything must be planned to a fare-thee-well or else the GM will screw them over. No, I specifically told them "If you act appropriately heroic and dashing, I will give you villains that are equally egotistical and have classic Achilles' Heels," but for whatever reason they couldn't process that.

The game lasted a few months before I essentially said, "I give up. You are taking days to deliberate over things which should only require a few seconds of thought. It is not fun for me to constantly flog you into action. This game has become work, and so I'm ending it." The fallout from this was that someone with whom I was a good friend basically stopped talking to me -- we didn't have a fight, we just sort of fell out of each other's orbits, probably because we had a fundamental disagreement about How Games Should Be Run. Oh, and my girlfriend dumped me without any warning.

Another good friend who played in that game also "broke up" with me, but that was years later. I still attribute it to the Curse, though. 

In 2012, I attempted to run another online game with another batch of people. I will say that this group, at least, seemed to Get It in terms of playstyle, but the group fell apart pretty quickly: one player decided he didn't have time to play and therefore dropped out of the game after the first session; another basically had a bad attitude about it from the beginning (didn't make a character, and then complained that I "took away all his creativity" when I made a character for him, complained about the mechanics, etc) and was a drain on everyone else, so when he said "I don't like it but I'll give it one more session" I replied "You obviously don't want to be here, so don't bother." I think another player liked getting drunk and/or stoned during play, but he was actually the least of my worries.

The end result of this game was basically the same as before: someone who I thought was a good friend (Mister Bad Attitude), and with whom I had talked over IM for many hours over many months, basically stopped talking to me. Again, no fight, just drifting apart... when someone is constantly marked "Busy" on GChat I respect that and don't bother them, and after that game suddenly this person was busy all the time. The last time he spoke to me was on Christmas, where he asked me for money. Before that, I don't think we had more than 5 minutes of conversation in the previous year, usually me going "Hey, how are you" and he'd reply with "Alright" and then not say anything more.

I report, you decide

I am currently four for four in regards to not being able to sustain a 7th Sea campaign, and every time I play in one, it always results in relationships getting all twisted. Now, to be clear, I am not specifically saying that it is the fault of the game that I lost my job, or friendships went sour, or I was dumped by my girlfriend. Some of those might have happened anyway. Maybe the game brings out something unpleasant in me that drives wedges in friendships Or maybe the game just shows up whenever things are about to get really shitty for me. 

All I'm saying is that 7th Sea is basically a Jonah, a Foul Weather Jack, a Stormcrow, and that wherever it goes, misery seems to follow in its wake -- at least in regards to me. 

So, you tell me: Am I being ridiculous and freaking out over coincidence? Or have I established a pattern of repeatable bad luck through empirical evidence?

And that, dear players in my Traveller game, is why I will never, ever, play 7th Sea with you, either as a GM or as a player: I value my friendship with you too damn much to risk going 5 for 5.

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