Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Return to the Table: Success from Failure

"Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up." Bruce Wayne's father, Batman Begins.

Before moving to Atlanta, the last tabletop roleplaying game session I played, if I'm remembering correctly, was back in 2001. It was a rather unpleasant experience, since it was a first attempt to have my wife, Caroline, get into D&D. She'd wanted to play for years, and my friends were starting a new campaign, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It didn't go very well, overall. She left the session feeling like the other players didn't want her there. I assured her that wasn't the case, and that they were just a little overbearing at times, but the damage had been done. I think that we played one or two more sessions, but it didn't last long. After that, up until 2006, I played online exclusively, through email, msn groups, online chat, and play-by-post forums.

That was fine. It worked for a time, and it offered a different medium to work with. I found that that I liked the extra time afforded to me by the play-by-post method, and it gave me the opportunity to do some good writing. The downside is that games took a LONG time to play.

When I got to Atlanta, I joined a D&D group, and went to a few dinners with the group. I also joined my first tabletop game in a long time. It promised to be an interesting group, with Monsters as the Player Characters. I was thinking "Cool! We get to play Monsters that decide to take up Adventuring, since it seems so lucrative for the human-types! :D". I still think that it's a good idea, and it would be kind of neat to run a side-campaign in 4eD&D based on it, but that's for a different post on a different blog.

Anyway, I created an Incarnate Clay Golem... which is an idea I'd been sitting on for a little while. If you're not familiar, this isn't Gollum, as in the ex-hobbit that craved after his "Precious". A Golem is a magical construct. For example, Dr. Frankenstein created a Golem. A Flesh Golem. Also, the episode of X-Files where Mulder and Scully are posing as the suburban couple, and that monster made of trash keeps killing people at the direction of the head of the HOA... that is a Golem. A Trash Golem.

In D&D, for a Clay Golem, a wizard or priest forms a humanoid shape out of clay, and performs a number of rituals over it, and it is imbued with a semblance of life. The golem's creator controls it, giving it orders, such as "Follow me and protect me" or "Stand here. If anyone tries to pass you without first saying the word 'Kalamazoo', hit them, and keep hitting them until they stop moving.". The idea behind an Incarnate Golem is that, by some means, the construct has been turned into a living being. I developed the idea from the rules given in the "Savage Species" book, and he basically started out with a lot of strength and hit points, but he was only a 1st level fighter. The idea of playing a "blank slate", and developing him from there was promising, but the game ended up being a disappointment.


The first problem was that the DM took my character concept and twisted it into something that HE liked better. Now, I admit that I didn't speak up and say "No, I don't want that" as he changed things and gave me more and more "stuff" for the character. "Clay" (heh) ended up being an Awakened Golem, instead of an Incarnate Golem. Now, what that means is that instead of being transformed into a living being, he had a living soul invested into him. So, he was still composed of clay, and still had all the traits that came with it, resistances and such, and he was a higher level fighter to start. I wasn't entirely pleased, but I put my trust in the DM, that he had a plan or something.

Now, I should say, at this point, that the experience wasn't entirely the fault of the group or the DM, though. I can't blame them entirely. I missed a few sessions, most notably the first one I was supposed to play, because I COMPLETELY forgot about it, only a week after I'd made the character (welcome to a glimpse of what the ADHD-PI mind is like. *sigh*). Apparently the DM was pretty upset about that, since he thought I'd quit without even trying, and took it as a personal slight. I smoothed things over with that, but I still had to miss a session a few weeks later that turned out to be a key one.

In addition, I'd created a character that was pretty much all melee-based, but he never got into a fight. Not once. The only time I rolled a d20 was for a perception check... oh, and a Knowledge: Arcana check, even though I didn't have "Knowledge: Arcana" as a trained skill, but I managed to roll a natural 20 on the die, so I actually ended up knowing something... somehow. I was told that the second session I'd missed contained a bit more action, but at the same time, I was told that even though there was action, it was still not a great session, and it ended with a massive Deus Ex Machina.

The entire experience was just a bit pedantic and there wasn't any tension, except what we created ourselves. The guy playing the giant insect (Thri-Kreen) felt that he needed to debate the merits of allowing any new people into "the Hive", and seemed to relish drawing the negotiations out as long as possible. Otherwise, we just wandered around this abandoned fortress we had claimed as our own, discovering new parts of it without any real challenges, and having more and more NPC monsters showing up and joining our group... each needing to justify, in detail, what they would bring to "the Hive" before they were allowed in.

During my last session, we had decided to use a portal in the fortress, which is apparently how one or two of the other PCs got here. It linked to a wizard's tower, and it promised to mean some action for us, so I got excited. Alright! Finally some action! However, just as those lines were ultimately a disappointment for Ed Gruberman, they were a disappointment for me. The moment we arrived and were about to begin exploring the tower, elements of one of the other character's past showed up suddenly, and whisked us all away to a far distant land. For the rest of the session, we all just sat around doing nothing while he was put on trial for something we didn't understand, and that wasn't really explained to us. Afterwards, I'd found out that the lack of action was because that particular player complained to the DM that there was too much action in the previous session (which I'd missed).

So, by this point, I'd had enough. When I got home, I emailed the DM and said that I was dropping out of the game. I wasn't mean about it, I just said that I was expecting something else, and the game just wasn't for me. I thanked him for letting me play, and told him that I hoped the game continued on successfully without me. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be the case, because he emailed everyone saying "Anyone else?" and my friend Craig dropped out too, and that caused the game to collapse. Oh well. Sorry. I didn't know that I was a load-bearing player.

Even though that game ended, I was fortunate to have met two of the players. Craig and Dave, both of whom I have been playing with since, and both of whom have become good friends of mine.

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