BLOG: Of Dice and Pens: Ends Lead to Beginnings

It has been a long while since I posted on here, life can get in the way sometimes.

I wanted to continue looking at how a long-term tabletop RPG impacts my writing. I find I want to talk about my players choices, and my regrets.

We ended a long running game not long ago (roughly 8 months) The challenges that the players faced and the world they discovered along the way were almost always influenced by the choices they made at the table. One characters death early on was felt keenly for the rest of the campaign, with the remaining characters carrying his memory with them, and one determined to bring them back regardless of the cost. Survivors guilt you could say.

That death wasn’t predetermined as it often is in a story or novel. It was not my choice, and because of that it was so much more organic. It left everyone a little dumbfounded, myself included, frantically wracking my brain trying to come up with a route for the story to follow. People die, and they often die at the most seemingly random times. Not all of us get to fulfil our goals or potential. A sad moment, but one I’m glad for as it taught us all something.

One character returned home to a city she had lived in her entire life, the people she knew and how she interacted with them grew so naturally from the player, I was incredibly impressed. It is a special kind of storytelling when two people fall in sync and can have a conversation as two entirely made up characters without missing a beat. Her choices, and how she interpreted what I placed before her led to the creation of several criminal organisations, something I had not intended. She lost a leg in a daring dungeon escape for the betterment of others, up to that point I was always curious about her morality.

Another character left a lifetime of indentured servitude to a government body, to find out if he was truly more than a weapon, to find out if he had a place in the world. Another choice I had not accounted for. A character who delighted in the small mundane things but was shackled with blunt mentality on how to solve his problems. One could say that he became the defacto leader of the group, but his naive view of the world often led to more heartache than it helped.

This was my first pitfall.

Each character became so incredibly integral to the story that without those characters, the campaign faltered.

The early death in the campaign was not felt as keenly as we had not progressed as far. Over time the three adventurers managed to make a little light in the world, though the methods to their madness sometimes caused concern (such is D&D) Seemingly throwaway NPC’s I used to fill out the world became important to them, they created personal and business relationships where I had seen none possible.

The actions of a third player all but insured a war I had not planned. Again, how the players chose to interpret what was put in front of them drastically changed what I had pencilled in behind the screen. While the campaign did not always flow in the way I thought it would, I would not have changed a single thing. It was a wonderful experience of collaborative storytelling from everyone involved.

Four people at a table breathing life into a world, something humans have done since before written language.

Then came the last session. That was a rough one. A new player had joined the session before, a longtime friend who was keen to join the campaign. Fate it would seem had different ideas, and I would just like to apologise that he never got to see his character flourish.

We played to the climax of an unfolding war and invasion that had seen the northern tribes unite and strike south under the banner of a fanatic. The party had operated as a spearhead in the Northland, often questioning the reasoning and choices they had made that led them to this, but their choices they were. They worked behind the invaders to secure allies and destabilise the support of the raiding northerners. At a point they made the decision to return south, to confront the leader of this army. At the Battle of Brennan Bridge they secured the city and cut off the head of the snake, but at a cost. Two of the party lay dead.

I run a low fantasy setting and resurrection is rare. Both the players whose characters died decided not to seek a way to bring them back, both for different reasons. One had decided to retire the character anyway, this was to be their last session before sending the character off into the sunset and exploring other characters open to them. The other is adamantly against resurrection for the same reason I am, we feel it cheapens a death. That death may be heroic or through folly, but it should still mean something, and the ease with which the game treats resurrection tarnishes that.

Ending the session I had some thinking to do. I touched base with the players. The longtime surviving player felt her character would not want to continue without her companions. A valid choice and one true to the characters. This was my problem. We had crafted such a close and personal story that without the characters it was simply impossible to roll new ones and continue. We found the natural end to our first campaign, our first story, though we were not looking for it.

Now however we take steps into our second campaign, and the toll and experiences of the first can be seen in the character creation of the players. I can’t say too much as it is very early days, but I am very much looking forward to a new adventure and the story we all will tell together.

This experience has taught me that characters do not make the obvious choices. We are all so much more fragile and imperfect than we like to think, and that ‘sub optimal’ choices create the best tales. I find myself having to actively suspend my disbelief in some cases now as I read. Pieces fall together too well in most cases and there is non of the organic chaos present we find in life. That is something I want to try to replicate in my writing, but outside of this medium, I think that will be difficult indeed.

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