Telling Stories: Three big memories (and why they stand out)
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of roleplaying. So much so that honestly, I don’t remember most of it.
I don’t mean this in the sense that I’m not paying attention, just that roleplaying enough means that things are slowly going to fade into memory. You can’t be expected to hold onto a decade of memories with perfect clarity if you’d like to remember trivia like the names of your cats and whether or not you paid the phone bill.
But some stuff sticks out, memories that you couldn’t get rid of even if you tried. So here are a few of my best, as well as some thoughts about why I still remember these and what lessons you can learn from them, good and bad. Because there’s a reason why a lot of roleplaying fades into the background as “important but not memorable” while other pieces stick out for years afterward.
The Fall of the Mad Druid
Here’s an event that I’ve talked about and alluded to for years without ever going into full detail. The short version – because the long version would easily take up an entire article, if not two – is that Airelle the druid had gone utterly insane, taking up residence in Blackrock Spire and planning to start a ritual that would have vaguely understood but definitely negative consequences for everyone. (They were vague mostly because, again, she was kind of insane.) This was the culmination of years of roleplaying, back when you could have a group of ten people in the Spire, with most of them at level 70 and able to trivialize the combat.
Airelle was waiting in a chamber, invisible… until she emerged from the shadows, stabbing one person in the back and another in the neck with a screwdriver. It was quick, brutal, and savage, and the retaliation was equivalent, leaving her choking to death on a pool of her own blood. It also set up the fall of the organization that sought her out and the beginning of a slow decline for the woman who killed her.
Why I remember it: This one barely requires an explanation. It was huge. It was an enormous, big, sweeping moment that had all the markers of a climax. People died, a villain was killed, and storylines paid off in the most dramatic way possible. Besides, how can you not love a scene where someone gets stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver and then pulls it back out?
The lesson: Over-the-top isn’t the best default mode, but it’s great to have scenes that are absolutely on the next level every so often. Don’t shy away from a good scene because you worry it would be too dramatic; these are good things.
Also, don’t be afraid of consequences to the point that you don’t ever do things. Two characters died permanently from this, one immediately and one from slow-acting injuries. That was neat. It wasn’t what we had planned, but it was what happened. Consequences make the game feel more alive; make use of them.
From a very public scene to a very quiet, private one, the aftermath of a different climax. Theodate Springhar had decided to throw in her lot with a manipulator and a betrayer, and she found herself dead at the hands of another. All Rhio was doing was delivering the news that Theodate had died… and found herself lectured on exactly what she had done wrong, how she had failed Theo, and how she’d screwed up irrevocably.
Why I remember it: It was all totally accurate. That was the really cool part.
I’m a fan of analyzing characters and their motivations, of understanding why they do what they do. I have a very detailed understanding of my characters and what they do wrong. This whole speech that Rhio was subjected to provided that exact same analysis in-character, aimed directly at Rhio’s heart, pointing out in agonizing detail how badly she’d made a mess of things and what she was unwilling to admit about herself and the choices she had made. That for all that Theo may have screwed up, she was driven to it by Rhio’s actions. It was quiet, it was personal, and it was the sort of scene I love seeing in a film, where a character is forced to face their faults in an immediate sense rather than the abstract.
The lesson: It’s fun to have your character understand others, and it’s really fun to let those characters have it. Sure, there’s a lot of fun to be had with characters who don’t understand why they keep fucking up, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had with characters who do understand… especially if they keep doing it.
A Sith’s Betrayal
Ma’com Fexe, better known as Darth Liberius, was apprenticed to Darth Aequitas (Airelle Sonasiin). He chafed under her restrictions, and while he was sympathetic to her goal of reforming the Imperial laws to be less fixated upon the will of individual Sith, he still feared her inevitable subjugation. On a suggestion from his lieutenant, the Mandalorian Rubidiam Sloane, he contacted the spirit of Darth Vendes, who gave him the key to undoing Aequitas. But he hesitated to deliver the killing blow, and Aequitas fled in her ship, sending a a coded transmission to the closest thing she had to a friend – Master Antimony of the Jedi.
Antimony agreed, in concert with Dr. Cetlali Zicotl, to provide Airelle with the resources and knowledge she needed to strike back against Liberius, despite protests from her sister (now a Major in the Republic Army). Meanwhile, Liberius was busy consolidating, taking control of Airelle’s old assets… including a number of apprentices to use as a host for the spirit of Vendes…
Why I remember it: Yes, it was cool setup. But it was also done entirely by two people. Every single character I mentioned up above was played by the same two people, all with the purpose of shifting Liberius into the role of Big Bad and making him a threat rather than a stooge.
The lesson: This is the way that you can really roll out big-scale stuff with a limited core of people. Creating interrelationships between alts and making use of those allows you to really produce a rich tapestry of interreactions, culminating in some really fun stuff. As long as you have multiple people willing to participate, you can create some pretty elaborate roleplaying scenarios – even if you are limited by how many people can be on screen at any given moment.
Feedback, of course, is welcome both down below or via mail – as are your own memories, naturally! Next time around, I want to talk about the sort of world your characters live in and how that van influence roleplaying. The week after that, let’s talk about derailing plots, railing them, and the importance of not planning at all.
About expostninjaI've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.
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