Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Rerun: War Story

The following originaly appeared on my other personal blog. In light of it being Labor Day, I'm taking the day off to work on the dungeon and spend time with friends. Here's the story of my favorite gaming memory:

Every hobbyist, no matter what their particular flavor of recreational activity, possesses a collection of anecdotes, recollections, funny tales, and non-sequiturs related to their preferred form of “non-work.” Without exception, these stories are usually only interesting to other hobbyists of the same pedigree. Individuals who don’t indulge in these activities, when forced to endure retellings of these stories, tend to drift off, roll their eyes, or politely redirect the conversation on to more broad topics (“Shut your pie-hole before I’m forced to clear leather on you, nerd-boy!”). For this reason, such tales are often referred to as “war stories.”

I’m no exception to this. I have my own treasure trove of stories that are usually safely hidden away until my dinner guests, dates, potential employers, or heads of state are in a position where escape is impossible. Only then will I start regaling them about the time Pootak MacDin MacCool managed to snatch an evil squirrel straight out of the air, hurl it back into a cave to be shish-ka-bobbed on an Elven arrow, and STILL catch the edge of the cliff before plummeting to his death below.

I’m going to tell one of those stories now. Since you supposedly reading this of your own free will, you may graciously escape before I start.

Still here? Okay then…

When it comes down to it, I’ve done a lot, and seen a lot, of great things through the eyes of imaginary people that exist solely as a collection of words on a piece of paper. I’ve done the usual heroic tasks of saving the world, defeating the grand beastie, leading armies to victory, breaking eldritch curses, etc. Despite the pleasure that I found in those game events, not one of those is my favorite moment that I ever experienced in a role-playing game. In fact, my favorite moment is most likely unrepeatable, no matter how much time, effort, creativity and planning was attempted to recreate it.

My favorite moment (and moment it was, since it lasted no more than a minute or three in real time) occurred during a campaign I played in during one of my many college years. We had a rather large party (6-7 if I remember correctly) and the players were all friends of various closeness in real life. I was playing Erik of Cullenport, a pretty standard 1st edition Fighter, who due to his high Charisma, was leader of this particular band.

The party had just finished a quest to secure a place of sanctuary for a newborn child. The boy might, or might not have been, the last legitimate heir to a usurped throne. A throne that the party all had reasons to see returned to its rightful bloodline. After experiencing the rigors to obtaining provisions for a newborn without a lactating woman of any sort in the party (“O.K. we’re taking the goat with us. Brother Hank can cast Purify Food and Water on the milk. That’s just like formula, right?”), discovering that babies put a crimp in adventuring opportunities (“Come on! Babies love caves. Let’s go in!”), and losing a party member to a ferocious stump (“It’s just a rabbit.”), we’d finally entrusted the prince to Brother Hank’s religious order and were headed south along the Western Sea to meet with the Elvish Court , for reasons that escape me. We knew peril lay ahead once we reached the forest, and having just barely escaped with our skins in the previous adventure, tensions were running a little high in the group.

Then, we had a beach party.

The DM said nothing more than we camp for the night on the beach. Immediately after saying that, the party (by which I mean the players) decided that a little R&R was needed. Our wizard announced she was looking for sharks, the ranger built a big bonfire with the wood that the thief gathered, I kept watch, and everyone else engaged in light role-playing for a minute before the wandering monster rolls turned up nothing for the night and we moved the game along.

That was my favorite game moment out of some twenty-something years of playing.

In those few minutes, using nothing more than a few casual descriptions, my mind painted the most vivid picture I’ve ever experienced during a role-playing game. I still have bits of it. I still see Gillian standing on the shoreline, eyes scanning the black waves as she holds the bottom of her robe up to avoid the surf. Her dog, Duncan, is splashing at the water’s edge, barking at the low rollers. Mirk the Fodder and Thea are throwing driftwood onto a roaring blaze, their silhouettes black against the fire. Erik is sitting on a low dune, watching the scene below. His armor is stowed safely by the fire, but his sword still lies close at hand. His mind is relaxing for the first time in many days. His friends are safe and can let their guard down, if only for a night. Erik doesn’t quite have that option, for the responsibility of leading this band still weighs on him. A weight that, much like his sword, can be put down for a little while, but never fully abandoned.

Fifteen years later, I swear I can still dimly smell the salt air and hear the waves break. I can feel the strands of beach grass blow against my bare arms as the breeze blows off the sea. I can still feel a little bit of that peace, the one that Erik must have felt that night, in my heart.Something was just right during that moment of that game. I’ll never quite know what it was. That’s why I’m sure it can never be recreated.

But I still try. One day, if everything is just perfect, I might experience something like that in a game again. In the meantime, I’m content to experience the good times that happen around a gaming table, and look forward to tomorrow night’s game.


Scott Clark said...

Hi, Michael--

I just recently discovered your blog, and am working may through the older posts.

Your post about your favorite gaming moment is probably my favorite OSR gaming post. :-) This kind of thing is why I'm trying to work out an FRPG that has a wide range of options and experiences, with not much time spent on combat. It takes a lot more thought that way, but I think it'll be worth it.

Thanks for all the great posts.


Michael Curtis said...

Thanks, Scott! I'm glad you discovered the SoTPR and are enjoying your visit. Your words mean a lot to me and I appreciate them greatly.