Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Character Death; or Funeral for a Friend, Love lies Bleeding.

Death is something everyone is familiar with, right?  Unless you're pretty detached (if so, here's some news for you), Death is something that is reviled, revered, celebrated, and lamented the world over.  It's a powerful concept, especially in popular culture (what with the injection of zombies and vampires and other supernatural beings).  I'll leave out my prejudices on how death has been approached in said cultural phenomena, and get right to my point, which is the death of someone you're familiar with, and where storytelling is concerned "Character Death".

Hey Y'all, How's bout a hug?
This past weekend, a small group of adventurers ventured into the waterworks of one of the largest cities in the world (that they inhabit) only to find that the murderer they've been tracking is actually a number of murders, or more specifically a Cult.  The adventurers swept through the hidden sanctum, fighting for their lives through roaring subterranean waterways and pipe filled halls until the reached the leader of the cult.  The leader was obviously mad, and mutated by some dark gift.  The adventurers were in the middle of giving the cult a sound beating when a screeched pierced the room, and out of one of the pipes a sickening other-worldly creature arose from a pipe in the center of the room, a brain the size of a man lined with whipping tentacles and affixed with a razor-sharp beak.  The creature set to work sweeping adventurers off their feet and tearing at them with it's scissor-like jaws.  Eventually the adventurers were forced to flee, two barely alive, carrying the third; unconcious, and the last lost, ripped apart by the alien beast and dropped down the well when he was no longer perceived as a threat.

The players were not happy.  No one complained, and I don't think anyone felt I'd cheated them, but the Grell dominated the fight and the only thing worse then players having to run without victory, is that they lost one of their number.  

Depending on setting, most
dead player characters find
themselves an audience with
this lady.  So, you know,
Not all bad.
Most players see the death of their character as a blessing and a curse.  On one hand you've lost all that time and energy put into playing that character.  On the other (and this has been especially true in my group) you get the opportunity to make a new character.  Potentially you can make a character that fits a little more with the group (cover areas that the group needs), make someone that covers the weaknesses your last character encountered, and/or make something/someone else entirely that's just more fun to play.  My players to date love bringing in fresh blood, much to my disdain as it keeps the group loose and trust a rarity among player characters as new faces aren't readily trusted.

At any rate removing a character from any story by Death creates a hole.  Bad storytellers (and Dungeon Masters looking to get on with the story) ignore that hole, worse storytellers make that hole dominate the story.  But a great storyteller recognize this "Death-hole" (wow, I need to work on my word-smithing)  for what it is and what it represents in real life, a challange, a lesson, and a mark.  

Grief is a force to be overcome.  Not ignored, not fought, but to embrace and resolve.  This is obvious to anyone who has ever lost a loved one, you mourn, you allow yourself to feel the pain of loss, and when you've felt the requisite loss, you let go.  The pain of that loss doesn't just end, you carry it with you, but you resolve that loss, you reconcile your feelings, and you move on.  Only the unhealthy seek to not resolve their feelings and stew in them.  They use that pain as a barrier to defend their actions as opposed to taking responsibility for their actions that hurt others because they were overcome with grief.

A healthy person goes to someone they lashed out at (eventually) and says "I want you to know I was overcome with sadness and pain when I hurt you, but that is no excuse.  I'm sorry."

An unhealthy person says "I want you to know I was overcome with sadness and pain when I hurt you, it's not my fault."

...can you tell I've had "Unhealthy people" issues in the past? Also, sadly, unhealthy characters seem to be popular (those characters who seem to lack insight on the issues they're suffering from, and stumble their way through a happy ending without learning any real lesson).  Death is a very real thing, and should be felt and dealt with the same whether the person is fictitious or not.  No one is stoic enough to say "my friends are dead, well, better just suck it up", if that is the case something is wrong with them (and you should run with it).  Should the death of a character enter into your story, I recommend that the impact of their death be balanced with the resolve of those they left behind.  But, I digress.

Dead Player characters never really
disappear, they're just used as monsters in later
campaigns.  Here's some having a party.
So one of my player's characters were killed, he lived a dangerous life and such a thing is not uncommon for an Great Axe wielding Barbarian, but the pain of the loss brought the game down a notch or two that night.  It was right at the end of the evening as well, which made the closing of the game a little difficult.  Everyone hung their heads, apologized, and seemed genuinely lost on how to proceed for the next week. This struck me as a peculiar thing that a fictitious character was lost, but it was the players who did not know how to move on.  Perhaps this lends a little validity to my last post...  

Under any other circumstances I would point the story in a fresh direction, allow players to roll new characters and see if I couldn't salvage ideas of what I took from this story and this cast.  But what my players don't know is that their storyteller has learned a thing or two about Death and how to handle it.  There will be no new story, no new cast characters (well, except maybe in the case of one of them), or new setting.  Resolution will come to my players and their characters the way it always does in Swashbuckling, Spell-slinging, Tales of High Adventure...

...with Vengeance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bending Reality; or Storyteller's Delight, Dungeonmaster's Lament!

This Dragonborn is doing
quite well...

So I sat down with a friend this weekend, who is a writer, and is my biggest inspiration for attempting to break into the world of writing with Unrelenting Force (two shout-outs there, 1. to my friend who is an amazing writer, and 2. to Skyrim, with which I've been slaying dragons for the past 4 days).  I find myself once again looking at someone's work and saying "how do you do it!?".  The ease with which she mixes mythical concepts with time honored philosophical tradition boggles the mind.  My attempts to introduce philosophy into my story telling have been failed exploits to be sure.

I think my biggest adversary in attempting some sort of philosophical incursion in storytelling has been that my main mode of storytelling has been Dungeons and Dragons.  Not that D&D hinders the ability to tell a story, not even close, but the story is not just mine, it also belongs to the players.

Here comes the theory....

Imagine if you will someone trying to explain to you, as a character in game that you are not just a character, and not just a player, you are both.  That these people you've created as your avatars in these imaginary worlds are part of your psyche that are every bit as real as you are because you have created them.  Not to cater to the hopelessly lonely or the mentally unstable, not to say "by playing you obviously have multiple personalities", but an attempt to explain that you are not literally a dragon-slaying defender of justice or all powerful arcanist, but that parts of you ARE these things, and therefore you are these things.  That when you a real person, create a representation of yourself to interact with the representations of other real people, those representations become real through belief and action, and that you actually become (one might even say ascend to) a metaphysical being, a multifaceted persona with multiple representations of yourself, you become a walker of worlds.

...these ones seem to be giving me
some trouble.
Now, This is a concept that is fraught with real and imaginary consequences based on personality traits that manifest in players when they participate.  For the sake of argument we'll equate these to a familiar eastern symbol, Yin and Yang.

With Yin you are a unstable mental anomaly cast into a sea of change and chaos, surrounded constantly by ever changing faces, none of which you believe are real, and therefore none of which you trust, and it shows by your actions against them.  Your focus is on survival, pushing out external forces, and protecting your integrity (physically in the case of your character's survival, morally by not being swayed to take action your character would condone) in the face adversity.

With Yang you are a powerful, extra planar being may experience a hundred lifetimes, and learn REAL life lessons, high adventure and true companionship and camaraderie with others.  Your focus is on fostering growth, harnessing change for the benefit of everyone and protecting the integrity of everyone and everything around you, by seeing it through the the coming adversity.

The alternative to these is you take it way too seriously, lose your grip on reality, buy a sword from the state renaissance fair and stand in your yard brandishing your blade at those who seek to encroach upon your lands.  But let's just stick with Yin and Yang for the time being.

This is what game night
must seem like to my friends...
The interesting thing about these personality types is that not only are they constantly at odds with one another, they are two sides of the same coin.  These aren't classic fantasy representations of "Good" and "Evil", but representations of a person's agenda and to which way the lean.  A Person with Yang focus may leave a defeated enemy alive so that that person has an opportunity to live, learn, and change.  Someone with a focus in Yin might kill a defeated enemy, to protect what they stand for from ever being threatened again.  And the best part is that like the player's real selves and character selves, though they may lean more to one side or another, they inherently embody both of these traits simultaneously!

...Ok, the positive and negative influence thing kind of got me off topic.  Can you see my enthusiasm?  Let's bring it on back...

If someone is mentally healthy and can perceive it, there is a lot of healthy things that they can experience through storytelling (I shy away from "role-playing" because of the carnal connotations...though I'm sure they can be cathartic too).

And what did my players say when I presented them with this possibility?  When I designed a game to show them and declare, "You are eternal champions one and all.  You have lived a hundred lifetimes in a hundred worlds and the time has come for you to open your eyes, realize that you are not just mere people sitting around a table drinking mountain dew and eating prepared finger foods, more then opportunistic rogues and raging barbarians, you are all of these things and more! You walk the worlds as travelers of the planes, transcending simple rules and words to become metaphysical beings in touch with creation and spread across the universe!"?

...They weren't ready. Neither was I... 

...Well I suppose it was my fault really.  I wasn't as strong a storyteller as I should've been.  The players seemed bored so I hurried things along, leaving out some key figures to the equation of "you are you, in game and out" because I thought they would catch on.  They didn't.  When I made it glaringly obvious some of them gave glazed over looks, others rolled their eyes.   In the end they killed my in story manifestation of myself, all creation fell away and at the moment they were to take control and rebuild it, said "so who's running the next one?"
...this is what game night is to me.

I guess that's a way of rebuilding.  Maybe they saw me as one of those people I fear, the ones that lose touch and greet everyone with "Hail" and "How art Thou?" (but when not at a Ren fair).  I think I expected too much.  In fact I know I did.  Now, I cater more to the players, who just want a sandbox to run around in as heroes, or anti-heroes.  They fight foes and do legendary deeds, and it's good, because now that I know the limits of what players expect and what I can tweak to challenge them.  At the end of the day my players, my friends, want to play a game, not "be enlightened", but that's fine and definitely fun!

But in my heart, part of me waits, and it's head swims with stars and worlds and wonder.  It waits for a time and an outlet to show that we can all unlock the secrets of the universe when we work together and that truly we can achieve anything with the power of thought and faith.  I was privileged enough to get clued in on the book my friend is working on this weekend.  And that part of me cheered, out loud, and I began to write.  I took myth and remolded it.  Like playing with matchbox cars, they were my houses and streets, and I drove like a madman with a pen and sheets of paper.  When I was done, I reread it, laughed out loud, and closed the notebook.

Inspired again. Fus-Ro-Dah!

Friday, September 23, 2011


Oh, Patrick Rothfuss, tell me your
secrets of writing and
Awesome Beard!

This is probably the fourth time I've started a blog on here and just stared at the screen thinking "What to write?".  I like writing, more specifically storytelling. I've got all these great ideas for it, but then I get to this point and I feel like a blank sheet or empty text box is the positive side of a magnet, and I'm the positive side of another magnet. My hands get heavy, my concentration drifts, my brain gets dry mouth, and it's hard to stay focused.  I guess that's the discipline of it, sitting down working it out and getting it all out of your head.  I wonder how professional writers do it.  If they finish a page rub their hands together and say "Oh man, 260 more of these bad boys and I'm going to make some BANK!" or if the drive to finish is a labor of love.  I'm guessing more the latter, I imagine guys like Patrick Rothfuss come up with worlds like the "Four Corners of Civilzation" and charactes like Kvothe and say "I can't let this story fall by the wayside, HIS STORY MUST BE TOLD!".
Maybe that's it, maybe my characters aren't good enough.  Maybe their just more of an idea then a "great idea!". Maybe I'm just out of practice? I could hop on here ever few days or so and do a short story or paragraph probably.  Truth be told, I probably wouldn't keep up with that, I'm already losing interest in this post.  I had a hundred things to write, but here I go....