Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Co-Authoring A Hoppin' Night

This past weekend saw a genesis in my gaming career that caught me completely by surprise. I’ve been playing video games consistently since I began remembering my life thanks to my family’s Atari 2600 which later gave way to the Super Nintendo. I’ve been playing table-top battle games since middle school when I picked up Warhammer and eventually fell in love with the lower-maintenance Magic: The Gathering. And, as my three loyal readers know, I’ve been playing table top role playing games for the past few months special thanks to a local Dungeons and Dragons group I shoe-horned myself into.

While so far, this is a pretty standard nerd resume for someone my age, but this past weekend introduced me to another form of gaming, specifically roleplaying, that really tickled my fancy.

Not that you perverts.

A friend of mine (in fact, the same friend of mine I referred to last week as our Dungeon Master who will hereby be referred to as “Kato”) was planning on writing a murder mystery themed party for his parents. You’ve probably heard of these kinds of games before, a ton of middle-aged people dress up in costumes and put themselves at a dinner party (or other large social gathering, depending on the setting) and try to work out a Nero Wolfe style mystery that their alter-egos are somehow a part of.

Most of the time these parties are entirely planned out, complete with suggested dialogue and key points that are designed to be triggered as events happen. While this allows dramatic action to unfold in front of the party guests, it is entirely controlled. And therefore boring.

Well, Kato and I decided that would be no fun from our standpoint so we decided to spice things up a bit. We wrote out cards for each of the guests with three to five points on them. These points could be anything from a character quirk that was completely irrelevant to a crucial clue that was a cornerstone of solving the crime. And that was it, each character had their story, their goal and their bullet points and we basically said “go.”

Kato and I were both at the party in character and all the guests knew we were two of the creative minds behind the project so it wasn’t uncommon for a guest to bring their cards over and ask a question or make mention of a cool moment that had transpired. For instance, the detail of the murder said that three 9mm bullets were removed from the body and only one character sheet specified that the character carried a 9mm (and he wasn’t even the murderer). As it turns out, one of the other mobster characters had brought an air-soft gun as a prop and it was designed after a common 9mm pistol, so when guests asked him if he carried a 9mm he answered with an affirmative and even showed them the gun. It worked out perfectly.

As the evening wore on, and the pony keg grew lighter, some of the guests expressed frustration in how difficult to puzzle was to solve and it was fun to have a stake in the narrative because Kato and I were able to interject facts and details while staying in character in order to progress the story. There were a couple of times when we sat by the bar and had an overly loud conversation while other players were within earshot as we projected potentially valuable clues in character. Nothing terribly obvious, but it was enough help people draw some conclusions.

I now know what it’s like to play a babysitter character in D&D and, to be honest, it’s kind of fun.

It was a blast to play a game with a group of inter-generational strangers and let this world unfold with all of their help. I was surprised at how eagerly each of the guests adopted their characters and played their parts. They also added a lot of depth by improvising details into their backstories that helped improve their character’s relationships with the characters played by their close real-life friends. Some of the dynamics that sprouted up on the fly were remarkable.

This was gaming at its finest. Even though I highly doubt any of the guests would even consider it as such.

Kato and I have decided to edit the game a little bit and post it online in the coming weeks (or months) and then, depending on the response, maybe even write some more for kicks. I’ll keep you posted.

-That Guy

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