Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] The Tilean Rat

So, last week, during my unfortunate complete and utter failure to produce a few hundred words on the topic of RPGs, our gracious and currently absent hostess told you all about the Curse of 7th Seas.

I don't have a repeat offender game, as such, but I do have a few little stories that I want to get out of my system. I'm bound to refer to them again at some stage, so let's get 'em on paper (proverbially speaking) here and now.

First up, the Curious Case of the Tilean Rat.

While I was doing my MA, I had the strange hankering to a) introduce my beloved and saintly life-partner Hark to roleplaying and b) run some Warhammer Fantasy Role Play for the first time since high school.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, hence WFRP, was my formative RPG; though I technically came in with Advanced Fighting Fantasy and though in later years I became a World of Darkness man to the core, WFRP was the first game that I actually sat down to run with other people in more or less the manner that the developers intended. That game has a certain style associated with it; a sense of blackly comedic futility which merged seamlessly with the part of my brain that chain-binges Terry Pratchett novels and the tendency I have, as a GM, to create complex social and political situations, set the plates spinning, know what would happen if there were no PC wildcards involved, and then just... let things resolve themselves. Society as puzzle and interpersonal conflict as combat, in other words.

The threat of actual in-character violence is very strong, there's an undercurrent of it, but weapons are seldom drawn, mostly 'cause I've made it quite clear that I don't fudge; once you draw, it's you and your brains against the dice and the environment, and I'm a referee - I'm not here to be kind. Combat in my games is scary precisely because it doesn't happen often and someone usually comes very close to death. The consequences are genuine; killing someone who didn't deserve it will have repercussions even if you don't get knobbled while doing it.

The WFRP campaign was wildly improvisational; I had a pretty detailed mental map of Marienburg, a letter containing a dark ritual, half a dozen groups wanting to get their hands on it and, by the end of the first session, at least three inaccurate copies floating around the city, courtesy of appropriately paranoid player characters. It was, I thought, gravy all the way.

I didn't realise that one of the players was growing steadily more frustrated with the whole 'Maltese Falcon gone Warhammer' style until he lost his patience with a scribe they'd hired to translate the ritual and produce yet another dud copy and simply stabbed the guy. I was mildly flabberghasted. "You're... just going to kill him? In his office, in the middle of town, in mid-morning? You don't... think you might, y'know... that might have... consequences?"

That was the first time I've ever run face-first into such a clash of styles. In the past, I'd either taught the entire group to play, or I'd included enough action sequences to keep the variety fresh for the players who just wanted to smack things with their axes. It was the first time I'd had cause to actually think that I might not be GMing 'properly' for a given value thereof. It was not, however, the last.

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