August 7, 2017
RPGaDay Question #7
Question #7: What was your most impactful RPG session?
My answer to this one lies oddly enough in a short campaign of Vampire: The Masquerade, one that took place while I was in college and thus in my early 20's.
In terms of RPGs, it was a heady time for me, with my getting to learn about and experience a great many different systems. Now those that know me also know that I don't have a very positive point of view towards White Wolf's World of Darkness, or as I've taken to calling it, the World of Over-Bearing Angst. But, there was a time, very early on in the setting's life cycle, where the angst level hadn't gotten overwhelming and the dark broodiness of the setting hadn't begun choking the fun out playing the RPG.
Admittedly, I was more a fan of Werewolf: the Apocalypse than the other settings for their World of Darkness, mostly as playing one of the Garou was a more visceral experience, where your character had the opportunity chance and the power to directly attack the ills of the world; yes, I'm aware that the system tends to catch a lot of derision for pretty much being superheroes for furries, but a lot of those same folks have a tendency to overlook the many problems that their beloved Vampire: the Masquerade had, where the players often ignored the struggle against their inner monster and instead embraced the inhumanity of being a vampire and used it as an excuse to do some pretty horrid things.
That said, I did agree to play in what one of my friends would be a semester-long mini-campaign of V:tM, and that one of the goals would be to explore the loss of one's humanity in the wake of becoming a monster. The characters were varied and with one exception (a Caitiff combat monster) rather intriguing individuals from a variety of clans, with an added wrinkle of two of the PCs, myself and one other, being ordinary Mortals, with the understanding that at some point, our characters would be Embraced (presumably by one or more of the vampire PCs). Another element of the campaign proposed was the dangers of power, of how it could corrupt and to what degree should one submit to authority?
Sounds pretty interesting, right? Yeah, it didn't quite work out that way. Of the seven players (five vamps, two mortals), four of the vampires decided they liked working for the local Prince, a truly Machiavellian creature that ruled the city with an iron fist; pretty much nothing happened in the city without his tacit approval. The fifth Vampire, a Ventrue that had been a crusading attorney prior to her Embrace, was the only one to seek to circumvent the Prince, but she was too useful to the Prince (plus he had an unhealthy fixation on her, even for a vampire), and so the other vampire PCs were instructed to "make an example" of the Ventrue's daughter, who was one of the two Mortal PCs. The other Mortal was my PC, a twenty-something aspiring rocker named Michael Cross from the wrong side the tracks (prime material to be vamp'd by either the Brujah or the Toreador), and who in the course of the campaign to that point had managed to convince the Ventrue's daughter that he wasn't a total lost cause, leading them to become friends before developing into romantic partners.
I think the GM's idea was that the four vamp PCs would reject this as a brutality too much, and turn against their inhumane master. Well, you know the saying about GM plans and what happens when they meet the players. Suffice to say, they went over the top with the ensuing carnage, with the four players reveling in their ability to be unabashed monsters. At the end of the session, my PC was left to bleed out after being horrifically beaten, the Ventrue's daughter was left barely alive but catatonic from the trauma both physical and mental, and the Ventrue herself was so horrified she nearly considered ending her undead existence in a final act of defiance. It was some scary stuff, with a couple players being uncomfortable afterwards with what their characters had wrought in the throes of their Frenzy.
So that's the set-up for what lead into what is my most impactful RPG session, which to be fair was something of a two-parter, occurring on consecutive nights. Pretty bleak, right?
Now, a couple weeks before the atrocity described above occurred, one that was bad enough for the GM to almost consider giving up gaming in general, I'd stumbled across a set of fan-created rules for a particular character type, one associated with what is probably one of my all-time favorite films. I'd handed them over as I'd found the fan supplement to be fairly amusing, and figured nothing more would come of it.
A couple nights after that session, the GM stops by my apartment and asks if we can talk. I agree, figuring at the very least he wanted a sounding board if he should continue or not, which made since as I was pretty much out of campaign. So imagine my surprise when he told me that he wanted me to rebuild my Mortal, only no longer was he Mortal, and to make use of a slightly-tweaked version of that fan supplement I'd stumbled across.
In short, Michael was coming back from the grave, but not in a way anybody would expect...
Now, this session in which Michael returned as a mime from Hell took place before Wraith: the Oblivion did their supplement for characters coming back from the dead, so there were no official rules for playing a Crow-style character. The returned version of Michael was truly monster in terms of game mechanics, and seeing an opportunity to play a character type from a film I still enjoy do this day, I through myself into the role of an artistic soul that's been driven to savagery by the evil done, not only to him but to those he cared for and for the countless innocents whom nobody mourned.
So come that next Saturday, with the GM having told the group that he would continue the campaign for at least one more session, though sans the Mortals given what had happened; after all, one of them was dead and the other was catatonic, states that aren't exactly conducive to a fun role-playing experience. I won't bore you the reader with the full grisly details (this post is getting pretty long already), but to say that it was a transformative experience for me on what it meant to truly get into character is an understatement. Michael didn't show up right away, but when he did, I stepped into the room having gone all in, dressed in black with a long coat and my face done up in the variation of the Comedy mask that Eric used in the film. In the end, the four vamps were dead, most of which by fairly creative and symbolically cruel ways, with only one of them truly repenting for her sins before receiving the Final Death, and the Prince of the city learned the hard way that vengeance cannot be forever denied. In it's own way, that two-part session was incredibly powerful, with one of the players even writing her term paper for her alt-psych class about my performance; she was one of the few students to get an A from a professor who was notoriously demanding.
So yeah, that experience was highly impactful in terms of my playing characters. Before then, I generally saw the characters I made as numbers, and will admit that while not a munchkin, I was something of a power-gamer and frequently sought out how to squeeze the most benefit out of the mechanics without much consideration for the character itself. Of course, I find this to be a bit amusing, since Crow!Michael was as power-gamed a character as it was possible to build, but being able to fully and completely step into that role, gave me the insight to fully understand and embrace the role-playing aspect of role-playing games. I may not get quite as in-depth with my character portrayals these days, but that short stint of playing Crow!Michael is one that still sticks with me, it still impacts how I approach role-playing, and it probably will stay with me for the rest of my life.
After all, it can't rain all the time.