Wednesday, January 7

Returning to My Other NYC, Ten Years Later: A Story of Roleplaying

As mentioned before, I was once involved in a massive and glorious World of Darkness roleplaying game campaign. (If the words “World of Darkness,” “roleplaying game” and “campaign” confuses and scares you, you might consider stopping now. This is a lengthy post (approaches essay or article length) and I'm not going to spend much time explaining things. I am going to assume you are a pen-and-paper rpg nerd. If it confused but intrigued you, continue reading. You might need to look things up on Wikipedia. Or roll your INT + Lore: Nerd vs a difficulty of 7.)

Let's start again.

As mentioned before, I was once involved in a massive and glorious World of Darkness roleplaying game campaign. It started shortly after White Wolf published Vampire: The Masquerade. Set in the here-and-now (just a here-and-now with vampire, werewolves, mages, ghost, faeries, etc. existing barely hidden from the eyes of “normals”), it was the ideal game to play as an Avatar campaign. “Avatar” campaign was a term someone coined for a game where you play yourself as your character. Since Vampire was the first game out, many people started out playing as Vampires. As Werewolf: The Apocalypse game out, some folks played themselves as werewolves (which I still think of as Garou).

Avatar campaigns have a lot of danger. You want to play yourself truthfully but also balance it with having fun. Sometimes you have to stretch “truth” for the game. This isn't always possible. For example, my first character was “Christopher Scott, newly embraced Sabbat vampire. I believe I decide to be from the Malkavian clan as being a little insane was the only way I could conceive of my self as a vamp. Turned out I could only envision myself as totally bat-shit psychotic. I had fun exploring what I would be as literally blood thirsty killer... but I wouldn't be able to survive long... nor was I interested it playing him for long. Less than four hours after making my character, he/I was dead.

In addition you can be placing a lot of yourself in the hand of the gamemaster. The World of Darkness is just that – dark. It is one thing to have your friend (the GM ) put your computer hack elf from a 2050 cyberpunk Seattle through the ringer. Having your friend delve into your own deepest fears and flaws is a whole other kettle of fish. World of Darkness has very adult themes and I gamed with people with insight, subtly and a touch of evil in their souls.

But they were also sensitive and smart and caring. Avatar campaigns can be hugely rewarding. On the simplest level, it is pure fantasy fulfillment. Turn into a nine foot tall wolfman and fight evil. It also lets you explore aspects of yourself you rarely get to, both idealized and dark. In a safe environment with good people who know you extremely well, the stories can be incredibly rich. It can be emotionally rewarding on a level that is very hard to achieve in a game where you are playing someone else.

We all played many characters beyond ourselves. And many of us GMed, often at the same time (not on the same night of course). Most often there were two or three stories happening on different nights. We had characters scattered across the globe in stories of horror and adventure and romance and politics. Amazingly, with all of that going on, it was rare we totally screwed continuity. (I eventually had to fix the appearance of a Christopher Scott vampire in Minneapolis who only lived for one night. My fix was a mater piece of convolution involving an ancient vamp with a eleven year old body, prophecy, a massive macabre performance art piece... and “clone.” Yes, clones.)

I didn't play myself again until shortly before Mage: The Ascension came out. If I was anything supernatural, it was a mage. Crafting magic. Knowledge of things best left unknown. Tomes. Just the would “tomes” makes me all atwitter. We had no idea what the game was going to be like (I seem to remember White Wolf being particularly closed lipped before release), but we ended up going with the traditional medieval European magic. Seemed like a safe bet.

Matt was the GM with me as the only player. Since Matt's werewolf character (Matt) was in New York, we set it there. He started from just before my move to Minneapolis. Instead of driving from L.A. to the Twin Cities, I, in a haze, drove into NYC. I forget exactly what happened but within hours of entering the city, I pissed off a pack of vamps (realize hat my character had no idea they existed). Trying to escape they chased me in my Nissan Sentra, straight into Central Park. The residents of the park were none too pleased. That was the first of many incidents caused by the alternate world Christopher Scott.

Son I was found by the ancient mage that would be my mentor. Slowly, I began to learn to be a magic user. I remember the first time in the game I created fire. It was just a candle flicker and yet it was thrilling in a way that seems insane when it is just two men telling a story sitting across from each other at a dining room table. But it was. Because it was me. The first time I cast fire in anger, casting a small flame (all that I was able to at the time) into the gas tank of a car. And I felt guilt and fear (and excitement).

The first “story” involved an ex-girlfriend from college (who was living in Minneapolis at the time and playing herself). She'd been made into a vampire and I was trying to save her. I was out of my league and it went somewhat poorly. Although I got her out, she was the first of many people I felt I failed (“I” being the alternate world me... it all gets very confusing). That ended up being a theme. Make of that what you will.

When Mage finally came out, we realized that (1) we did pretty good setting it up and (2) White Wolf had created something larger and richer than we could have predicted. It is a game HEAVY on meta-physics. The fight for reality itself. Balancing ones ego when you know you can (or one day could at least) do anything. It was an incredible world with fascinating ideas,. And extremely hard to balance. The themes were huge. Mat and I dived in. And (together, I like to think) created something special.

Christopher Scott, Order of Hermes mage went on to do many things over the years, most of which pissed someone off. Helping the Garou. Often Matt and I would, in our character, have lengthy metaphysical discussions. Trying to redeem a Nephandus. Being the reluctant leader of a house of teenager mages. The tragic and poetic death of Shane MacGowan. Saving the start of BH90210 by pretending to be David Austin Green. I married a Verbena and had a child. I remember the emotional impact when my mentor died. Friendships formed and friendships fell apart. I traveled to realms unimaginable. I found my self struggling against the stubbornness of the Council, trying to change millennium of thought.

I GMed a few games. The story of The Many, a old demon once given purview over shapeshifters (who was somehow connect to the Philadelphia Experiment), who eventually end up trapped in the body of a girl in the deep Umbra, only to be “rescued” by a vampire and a spaceship. (Man, that was a weird tale.) I ran Matt in his quest to cleanse his Black Spiral heritage (a very dark and personal idea) by re-raising the White Howler tribe. The last time I really gamed Christopher Scott in NYC was Gming Jake's vampire in a madhouse story involving the Technocracy, the first Artificers, a woman who was a key, faeries, complicated mechanical traps, terrorism and a nuclear bomb.

The stories went of for years. But life, real life happens. It became harder to find time to game, other interests intruded. Eventually, I moved to the real New York. I have no regrets about stopping gaming those characters. They were too powerful and too influential to play anymore. But their stories weren't done.

Ten years later, I have started to GM that NYC again. I fell into it a bit backyard and I hope I am crafting it in such away that will (1) not become a burden and (2) have some legs. New mages are Awaking in the streets of New York. Part of what intrigues me is that I get to see how I impact this made-up world. Coming back after all this time, the world has changed (both the real world and the alternate one). I am returning to the themes of the student and the mentor.

Ten years ago we spent a long time on this world. It is extremely deep and rich. Coming back and seeing others in it is fun. But last night was a bit special. Just an Order of Hermes mage explaining to an Awakening mage how reality works. And I was returned to the magic of those old game. Especially near the end of the night, when the player, excited and clearly involved in the world, let one world slip. That one word enabled me (in the character of the older mage) to react in a way that reflected some much of what I am trying to do. And seeing the player's response to that is what can make roleplaying so special.

I hope I can layer the emotions of all the players so that when I get them together their internal rich lives will come close to what I used to experience. I hope when they thing back on this game in ten years, they see the world in their memories, and not just us sitting in an apartment with pencils and dice.

Failing that, I'll settle for having them be entertained.