Holy CRAP!!

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!