7th) What was your most impactful RPG session?
Once again another difficult question to answer as while I can think of numerous impactful games many of those came from looking back after a campaign and seeing how the story arcs had come together. I could mention my first campaign of Torg which saw my bitter ex-cop descend into darkness to become the very thing that had broken him in the first place. Or I could talk about the excellent Smallville campaign by Stephen of Step into RPGs where my ordinary, boring and completely un-powered sidekick character ended up having to step up because those who should have been saving the day were too distracted with their own messy relationships (seriously, Smallville is amazing and such an underrated system). Or I might discuss my introduction to Legend of the Five Rings where my samurai went from having everything he could have dreamed of to a tragic tale worthy of the pillow books of Rokugan.
But those are campaigns and the question was session. Which goes to a game where I was GM rather than players. A Demon Hunters adventure where the players decided to metaphorically turn left instead of right. We hadn’t even started the adventure but were in what was the transition period from the previous mission. One PC was recuperating, having recently been turned into a vampire. The rest decided they wanted to get flowers for her and being a rookie GM I made an offhand comment that that section of the Warehouse (an interdimensional essentially infinite storage space) had been declared off limits for some reason or another. I’d been trying to redirect them back to the job at hand (I’d yet to come across the idea of “Yes and…”), instead they ventured off into the unknown assuming the comment was a plot hook.
We’d not even started the adventure and they’d already managed to break it. I was flummoxed. I could handle players getting creative in solving puzzles or side stepping encounters but bypassing the entire adventure? That was new and from the look on my face they knew how much they’d thrown me.
So I did the only thing that was fair, I literally screwed up my notes, admitted how much they’d evaded my prep and called a 10 minute beer break. Looking back I can’t remember the details of what I’d planned but I can tell you that the adventure we ended up with was far more creative and entertaining. It eventually led to the Chapter imploding in on itself with the vampire PC giving in to her hunger for blood and turning not one but two of the other characters after having been attacked. We ended on an epic fade out with the Chapter fighting amongst themselves in a grand library while trying to rules lawyer their way out of a Demonic contract.
It was amazing and taught me a lot of vital lessons about GMing.
When it comes to character creation I’m generally in favour of collaborative approaches that involve both the players and GM working together to flesh out both the PCs and their connection to the world. Some systems explicitly incorporate mechanisms to achieve this, such as the relationship maps of Smallville or the ‘phase trio’ (shared past adventures) of FATE Core while many groups use their own approaches such as the group template espoused by the Fear the Boot podcast. Regardless of the approach I’ve found that they tend towards generating both a cohesive group and a more interesting world.
With that in mind I wanted to share an approach to this that I recently experienced during character creation for an upcoming FATE Accelerated game, which uses a variation on the drinking game ‘I have never…’ For those not familiar with the original game the rules are quite simple, as you go around the group each person makes a statement concerning something they have never done, for example “I have never been arrested” and anybody for whom the statement is true takes a drink. Should nobody drink then the person who made the declaration takes a drink. Pretty simple really.
The character creation version follows the same approach but with the ‘I have never…’ statement being something that your character has (probably) never done. Should any of the other players like the statement they simply take a (metaphorical) drink and incorporate it into their backstory. In the event that nobody drinks it bounces back and becomes true for the person that said it, ensuring that everybody says something interesting as it could end up being true for their character. The real beauty of the approach is that multiple people can ‘drink’, introducing not only shared backstory but organisations and NPCs for the game.
As an example for our upcoming game we decided only on a very bare framework before embarking on ‘I have never…’ Firstly that we would be in a western setting but that our twist to the genre would be vampires. That was it. Going round the group we then made our statements which included:
- I have never shot a man in cold blood (made by the GM, with all players taking a drink).
- I have never robbed the Pan Pacific Railway (which I introduced with the other 3 players taking drinks).
- I have never been an Initiate of the Order of the Night (to which 2 players drank, we later decided this was a vampiric order).
- I have never learned the truth about what goes on at Mallories Ranch (to which I was the only taker).
After a few rounds of this we took these statements and used them to build both our characters and expand upon the party connections through FATEs phase trio mechanic. By the end we had interesting characters with real depth and a viable reason for them to have come together for the short campaign, which will allow us to skip straight to the action when we get going.
All in all I can’t wait for either the game itself or a chance to use the approach the next time I’m a GM.