Holy CRAP!!

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Welcome to RPG Corner, a place where you can share your knowledge and thoughts of the Role Playing Game world. Each week we will have a new topic to discuss, so feel free to talk it up, make suggestions, post images, and have a good time.

This week's topic is randomness and ignorance.

In a very interesting post, James Maliszewski of "Grognardia" talks about the referee of a live RPG as a player instead of an omniscient overlord:

I guess all I'm really saying is that I like playing games whose mechanical underpinnings afford the referee a greater scope to be a player of the game rather than its "master" (never mind "storyteller," "narrator," or anything of that sort). I think the shift away from that, which you can see even in late OD&D, is one I don't find especially congenial and that I've happily cast off.

Which, as someone who's been a Game Master before, I can tell you is definitely true. I think that's part of the core appeal of the RPG genre in general, again as James points out:

As I see it, a good part of the enjoyment in being a player in a RPG campaign stems from ignorance. You don't know the details of the adventures the referee has planned; you may not even know much about the wider setting in which those adventures are based. In many old school games, you don't even know what sort of character you'll be playing until you roll some dice and see. Over time and through play, all these instances of ignorance are lessened to some degree and the process of doing so leads to much fun.

It's that gradual elimination of ignorance that's the hook for a lot of people, that sense of discovering the unknown, of unveiling hidden secrets, of finding out surprising and astonishing phenomena you'd never get to experience otherwise. Saying "I wonder what's over that next hill?" is about as fundamental a human sentiment as you can get, and truly great RPG experiences use that to great advantage.

But that can't be all that's going on, I would argue. If the gradual elimination of ignorance were enough, we'd just get together with our buddies to eat pizza, drink beer, and read through the latest Time Magazine, after all. No, the key element that has to be combined with that exploration is, quite simply, randomness. The old-school pen-and-paper (or increasingly, e-mail and play-by-post) RPG games I enjoy the most are the ones that feel like it's all being created more or less on the fly. That no one, not even the referee, really knows what's about to happen. Where one toss of the dice can determine your whole fate, whether what's over that hill is a baleful medusa ready to blast your whole party into stone, or a wealthy merchant looking for some adventurers to help him spend his coins.

Where randomness meets ignorance is scary when it comes to political elections, but the absolute core of good RPGs.

Which brings us to the discussion topic -- what's the most thrilling, random, exciting, totally unexpected thing that's ever happened to you while playing an RPG? The kind of thing that makes your hair stand on end, or your stomach get all fluttery, or causes everyone in the group to sit back in their chairs and say "Holy CRAP!!"

My example isn't all that crazy or thrilling, but it captured all those sensations and I still remember it after many years. We were playing Champions, with my buddy John as the GM. My character was "Cavalier!", this other-dimensional acrobat/martial-artist type who learned everything about America by watching movies from the "Action Adventure" section of a video store. We were under assault by the bad guys, some of whom were in jets. As they banked low to turn and head for home, Cavalier! decided he didn't want to let them get away, so I announced that he was going to teleport onto the canopy of one of the fighters.

I remember John just looking at me blankly, saying "He WHAT?!" It just came to me, and it seemed like something he'd do, so I went for it. I have the most vivid visual of this guy clinging to a plastic shell on a screaming jet fighter, bashing at the cockpit with his staff, and neither me nor John had any idea what to do about it.

That's classic RPG fun, to me, and the kind of thing it's hard to get anywhere else.

So now it's your turn! Share with us a story from your game-playing past that stands out in your memory as particularly random and fun. I look forward to hearing them!

9 Responses to Holy CRAP!!

  1. In a D&D campaign, I was playing a half-dragon Ranger (I didn’t start out as a half dragon, that just sort of… happened). He was a really woodsy type with no use for the trappings of civilization, and his rough-hewn clothing was constantly the butt of jokes by the more cosmopolitan party members. So much so that when we got to the next town, he went to a tailor and had a brand new outfit made from the finest materials available. The DM played this to the hilt and did a half-hour improv with me on the fitting and the material choices much to my Ranger’s befuddlement.

    So he finally picks up his new duds and goes to the tavern to show off to many a “don’t you clean up good” comment. Then the party gets embroiled in the meeting with the mysterious stranger- the hook for our next adventure. Suddenly, there are cries of “Fire!” and the sound of screaming from across the road. A barn has caught fire and people are trapped inside– it was still unclear if this had anything to do with mystery man.

    Being half-dragon, and darn near invulnerable to fire, my ranger lept into action and ran into the burning barn. He saved the victims as the barn was collapsing around them. You can probably see where this is going. Unfortunately, I’d gotten so wrapped up in the hook and rescue that I forgot my ranger was still wearing his new clothes. Imagine my reaction when the DM pointed out that my expensive outfit was now a charged, soot-stain, tattered mess.

  2. Me Myself & I

    I often play characters with a high moral standard but occasioally make exceptions. This tale revolves around one of those exceptions. I was playing a halfling character in a D&D adventure who was a Ranger / Rouge from a very primitive tribe with a very unscrupulous culture.

    One of my companions was a prissy and conceipted elf. He had interfered in my characters plans a few to many times and I had warned him repeatedly that he should stop. Eventually my character had had enough so I snuck up on the elf and killed him. This wasn’t really that much of a surprise to the other players because my character had threatened to do it many times. What was a surprise was that my character then anounced that he was going to eat the elf. That dropped a few jaws.

    The funny part though was elf was eventually reimcarnated (I lhad left enough of the body) and came back as a half elf. Of course he came back for vengence so I killed and ate him again.

    I don’t play evil characters much any more. Their not really good for party unity.

  3. Of course he came back as a HALF elf — you’d EATEN the other half!

  4. I played a swashbuckler named Trace in a Spelljammer campaign once. Two things about the setting are particularly relevant here. The phlogiston you sail through between speres is highly flammable, and spelljammers carry a finite atmosphere around with them in the void.
    Over the course of play, the character seemed to live a charmed life. Big risks repeatedly payed off, and I ran with it. Trace (I) was a big fan of chaos and confusion, and my standard tactics were usually to generate as much as possible.
    Unfortunately, over the course of the campaign, I came across a Ring of Fire Resistance, and a Flametongue bastard sword. Can you see where this is going?
    After one too many incidents of panic runs for a planet with fresh air after what could have been a simple pirate hunt, my fellow players had had enough. They used a Dominate spell to turn me into a suicide bomber against an elven armada in the flow.
    To be fair, it was my fault they were after us. Classic elves aren’t really fond of pyros either. I surely had it coming, but it was a heck of a ride.

  5. I guess my comments might be a little mundane after reading what’s been posted, but here goes. Once, I played an Eladrin Wizard named Mindartis. I joined late in the campaign, so the party was already storming the dungeon that I entered, looking to buy literature off the previous wizard. So I snuck in, and caught no attention from the guards or the leader of the Zhentarim (to the people familiar with Forgotten Realms: did I spell that right?), then cast “Sound” to make it seem like one of the guards was insulting the leader, resulting in the death of the guard. The strange thing is, I wasn’t trained or very skilled in either stealth or bluff, so it was amazing I got away with that!
    Another instance with the same character involved preparing for a battle that had an Illithid (brain-sucking squid person, for those who don’t know). Time was conveniently stopped, so I made a few vials of Sovereign Glue. When the battle started, I was right in front of the Illithid, gluing his mouth-tentacles together so he wouldn’t suck anyone’s brains out. I was thereby named “Mindartic, wielder of the Caulking Gun.”
    Any more? One more. As “Avenging Bull,” my GURPS Minotaur Monk, I remember our pyromancer druid (odd combination; coincidentally, the player’s (not the character’s) actual name was Arson) tried to jump-jet himself out of a privately-owned orchard using a fire spell. Then, the rogue who likes to spread fire (he had the “pyromaniac” flaw) decided he wanted to pick up a stick and spread the fire to a nearby building, making it obvious we started the fire. Before he could, though, as I ran by him, I whammed him in the face with a punch, knocking him out with 3 critical successes on my “to hit” die.

  6. Sorry, it’s “Mindartis, Wielder of the Caulking Gun,” not Mindartic.

  7. I was playing in a recent AD&D 2nd edition game. Party came across what appeared to be a harmless little bunny rabbit. The party’s ranger went over to befriend it and it turned out to be a “Vorpal” bunny. The DM through in for giggles after finding its stats on the internet. This Rabbit tore our party apart Killing a couple of the character ( which got resurrected ). After that my character who is a Priest/Mage was throwing Lightning Bolts at every rabbit we came across for the next several “Game Days.”

  8. In one of the very earliest D&D games I played in, lo these many years ago, one of the other players was this kid who had a reputation as something of a bully and an all-around a$$hole. A couple of other players and I wondered what he was doing playing D&D when he could be out trying to steal some kid’s lunch money, but we gave him a chance.

    Oddly, he wanted to play a Paladin. And he played it the hilt. When he was in character, it was like watching a totally different person. To this day, he remains the ‘truest’ RPGer I’ve ever known. Anyway, he and I didn’t like each other much in real life, and so when my character had just taken a whole heap of hurtin’ from a lich, it completely shocked me when the Paladin came to my rescue, killed the lich (almost single-handedly), and healed my character.

    I think a lot of us enjoy RPGing, but it takes someone very rare to become that great of an actor, to really get into a role. After that series of games, that bully and me actually became friends, and still are today, almost 25 years later.

    All these years later, that campaign is one of my most cherished memories.

  9. We were laying a home-brew game, the setting had a mysterious entity granting wishes without explanation, which led to the rise of superheroes and supervillains. My character had wished to be a Superman, and I expected him to be immune to the pheremonal attack of the supervillainess we were trying to contain. I did not realize that her mind control was partially telepathic as well, and my Kryptonian biochemistry provided no protection. The GM informed me I was now in love withe the Queen Bee, so I naturally turned to protect her from the former friends who were chasing her. I had been in the lead at that point, behind me was the 100 Pointer who had wished for the abilities of The Great And Powerful turtle from Wild Cards. His flying shell afforded him protection from pheromones, but not from my heat vision which cut it in half…