Archive for the ‘ RPGs ’ Category

About “A Parliament of Rooks”

Being especially inspired after reading the opening posts to DaveB’s “The Broken Diamond”, I decided to get down and dirty and write what I am doing with my campaign today instead of tomorrow. You guys are so fortunate.

So, let’s begin with the very first thing that you see: the title. The two most prominent words – Parliament and Rooks – are the most important. So let me explain why I picked this title. It sounded cool. No lie, I honestly chose the title because, well, not only was I desperate for some profound title, but I needed one and I had no idea what to call my campaign. One reading of Gaiman’s “Sandman” later and I was granted an epiphany, and poof! I had myself a name for my campaign. Of course, as Fate usually turns out, the title was more fitting to the game than I could ever have realized.

Parliament. Good old Wikipedia defines it as such:

a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French parlement, the action of parler (to speak): a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which such a discussion took place. It acquired its modern meaning as it came to be used for the body of people (in an institutional sense) who would meet to discuss matters of state.

To speak. We have a tendency to take that skill for granted but next to our possession of imposable thumbs, the ability to craft and utilize a language is one of our more important assets. The ability to speak has one defining purpose: to exchange information. In the modern age the information we exchange tends to be either pig headed, ignorant, or useless, but it is still information nonetheless. When the information no longer has a purpose, what happens to society as a whole? It becomes stagnant, distracted, and oblivious to the rest of the world. Huxley believed that what we loved would destroy us, and the sluggish evolution of our information is evidence of that.

And yet language is still mightier than the sword. What is it that decides whom a soldier fights? Is it honor, location, or even nationalism? No. The answer is politics. The ones who practice the art of politics, politicians, are not wielders of the sword, but of the pen. Or to be even more precise, not even politicians, but circumstance determines where and whom warriors fight. But what decides these circumstances? History (in the form of past grudges, stereotypes) is one answer. But ultimately, it is the writers (or the media today) that determines the moods of the people. Today, the television and internet has a much grander influence on the way people react, what people desire, and even whom and how they love, than any other industry in the entire modern world.

Indeed, language is supreme. It may be a single bullet could start a war, but not only would that bullet have been motivated by some grand speaker, but the war will end with a single stroke of the pen or press of a button on a keyboard.

Language, and the use of it, and the multiple layers a single sentence can have (and the repercussions of that) will be a major theme of the game. Just like Leone, I am far more fascinated with the events that lead to violence than the actual acts of violence themselves. My players could very well spend ten minutes in an exchange of words that will be followed by just a few minutes of violence. This is also a revere of the general RPG event: minutes of dialogue followed by 10 to 15 minute fights. Anyone can do a fight: but how many can make dialogue exciting?

Now, onto the Raven. It is a carrion bird, something that eats from the dead. They are ghosts of the murdered in Sweden, and the souls of the damned in Germany. Essentially, they are the physical remnants of those that should have stayed dead but still walk the earth. In a way, this is what the players are. They are those who have amnesia: those that in a literal sense had died. After all, they are not the same Mages that they were before. They are not the same Mages that caused a huge political upheaval of some kind in 2006. They are different in every way but one: they still bear the tattoos that their first lives had. But in every other way, they are different. Is it not fitting that they each have a Raven tattooed on their bodies?

Ravens are more than ghosts and spirits of the damned, though. The Norse saw them as spreader of news. Odin named the twin Ravens Thought and Memory. The players are also looking for such things. “What did we think before?” and “Who were we before?”Moving back onto the theme of messengers, the characters (nicknamed the Raven Mages) are the unknowing messengers of another sort: the war is coming. These feared mages will, just by their very presence, bring about a new war. The Banishers and Seers of the Throne were also affected by the players back in 2006. Once they know that the Raven Mages are back, they know that it is time to get moving. There is no time to waste. The Pentacle Orders have their strongest mages now.

Okay, but enough about all this stuff about language and Ravens. Let’s move onto something a little bit more interesting: identity. I love exploring the idea of what exactly identity is in the world where we have the internet. Think about it: the entire idea of who I am has changed with the arrival of the internet.

“What did your parents name you?”

“Matthew Anthony.”

“What is your real name?”

“Doublehex.”

/ahy-den-ti-tee/ n: The collective set of characteristics by which a thing is collectivity recognized or known: The set of behavioral or personal characteristic by which a person is recognizable as a member of a group: The quality or condition of being the same as something else: The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persistent entity: *individuality*: Information, such as an identification number, used to establish or prove a person's individuality, as in providing access to a credit account.

Our parents gave us a name at birth, something that they thought would be a fitting title for people to call us. But we go out into the world, and we are disgusted by it. So we eventually find the internet, and we become fascinated by it. Then we find forums, which ask us for our identity. “Who am I?”You could have put down your own name of course, but you didn’t. We put down something else; something that we felt really represented our philosophy, politics, our view on society, our hobbies and interests. The names that we have on the forums, this is who we really are, what we really want to be.

But even the idea of identity in the Internet is a fickle thing. We can have different names, can’t we? I can go from one site to the other, picking names at random and none would be the wiser. You can go from site to site, and one day you can be a girl and the next a boy. As long as none of your colleagues discover the ruse, you can be whomever you want. The information you give is as much truth as it can get. With no way for them to verify the information, why should they doubt you?

Identity is something of a myth, isn’t it? We don’t have any sort of identity – how can you have an identity crisis when there is no such thing?

The Shadow Names of the Mages are the exact same thing. In Boston you can be Pyro. In Chicago you can be Orpheus. If you are strong enough in the Mind Arcanum, you can make them believe you even if met you as Pyro when you are speaking to them as Orpheus. If you are proficient enough in Life you can change your very body, adding even more to the idea that Mages have no real sense of identity.

Oh, and guess what? They don’t go around addressing themselves as Pyro or Orpheus to Sleepers. They are Marcus Anthony. So Mages don’t really know who they are. But that is just fine. They can be whoever they want. Why be yourself when you can be God?

And that should do it. For the 1st Act at least.

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Back in the Game Master’s Chair

Yeah, we are kinda like that.

This Sunday, the 14th, at approximately 7:30 PM, I will make a triumphant return to the GM’s chair. It’s been a somewhat long time since I actually oversaw a game. The last time I did was my first time as a GM, the first time getting a group together, and I was pressured to accommodate a series of Christian, social, and political themes into the narrative due to me wanting to having it held at a church so that we could have a place to play. Even only a curious onlooker would have realized right from the get go that this was a recipe for disaster. I could very well have been a somewhat competent GM, but I had serious bad luck in finding people to play with besides my good friend Pete. This is what eventually destroyed the first experiment: we got bored of it being just 1 on 1.

That was in, if I could recall correctly, late July or early August. I started to attend a Sc-Fi/Fantasy/General Geek club at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and I quickly found another group.  I wasn’t the GM this time but the player, a role I took with stride. Of course, there was a certain problem: I was a roleplayer, while everyone else were gamers. The story had little real thought behind it beyond just an excuse for us to do crazy crap. There was little real chance for us to actually act out our characters. It was mostly combat, combat, some quick narrative, and then some more combat.

It was clear that I found the wrong group. I made quick friends with the GM, but once the group fell apart, I had little complaints.

Skip to now. It is the middle of March, and not only do I have a group, but it is nearly full. Five players, including myself as the GM. Some of them I found by mere chance (a meeting at a gas station with him wearing the infamous “Jesus Saves and takes Half Damage” T-shirt), one of them came to me online, and the rest I found in a “looking for group” ad on SomethingAwful. Compared to last time, everything came into sync near perfectly. Even the issue of holding a group somewhere was quickly solved when I was told that a building on the UNCG campus has close to no people on Sundays and is for all intents and purposes perfect for us.

In a way, it almost surreal. It seems like a total paradox to the reality that I had came to a few months ago when I decided to try to find another group. I was willing to accept a modest sized group of just 3 players: now I have to face the realities of having to accomadate 5 players. Almost all of them are of the same mindset that I am: a focus on story. Excuse the language, but holy shit.

Needless to say, but I am very excited for this Sunday. It is just four days away, and even though it is just character creation, and optimistically we’ll only get an hour of actual game-time, I can’t help but think that Sunday can’t get here fast enough. I am back in my realm, surrounded by people who like the same sort of stuff that I do, playing the game I have been wanting to play for the better part of the year now. The only thing that could go wrong would be if the building caught on fire Saturday.

Of course, all of these benefits (the high number of players, and their love for a good story) does have one possible drawback: the stakes are higher. Before it was just my friend, who would love whatever I gave him. But now I have people who knows what a really good story really is. Like me, they don’t read just horrible spin off fiction. Their shelves aren’t full of Star Wars, Dragonlance, or Warhammer books. To be frank, they have read real literature, stuff with emotional and intellectual prowess. They will probably be expecting a story with good pacing and interesting characters, at the very least.

Of course, I am more than up for the challenge. I  intend to deliver on them in spades. More on that in the next post.