If someone asks me why my hobby is role-playing games my stock answer is “they are fun.” It was not until last Saturday night’s game that I experienced an epiphany. In one encounter I finally understood why I enjoy role-playing games so very much. I play the game for the little moments.
My RPG sessions usually run several hours and excitement rises and falls as the campaign unfolds. Of course a good game master wants every moment of the adventure burned into the player collective memory, but sadly some encounters just do not work out as planned. The game continues but no one talks about that encounter the following week.
That said, there are occasions when the game master’s dark schemes, player creativity and PC capabilities coalesce into a moment that is memorable across games and campaigns. In six months the player still chat about “that night” when it all went right.
Saturday night I ran my “Nightbane” game and experienced two such moments. Forget everything else that happened that night, those two moments were worth all the preparation time and running a game for six hours. I promise brevity in my tale. Rehashed game sessions are not that interesting unless you were in the room.
Our four heroes leave a café and head towards their vehicles in Santa Monica, California. After several weeks of near-constant encounters with bad guys, street gangs, mysterious black helicopters and American Indian magical traps they had a new mission to “terminate with extreme prejudice” a local thrall of the dark forces.
Peacefully walking down the street, Templeton Peck (yes, it is an homage to “Face”), the spy PC takes a direct hit from an energy weapon. 70% of his hit points disappear in an instant. Sniper!
One PC runs across the street towards a likely sniper location, Templeton heads towards his car and the other PCs run down an alley where a strange odor greets them. The first PC is a mystic with the wrong skills and has no idea about the odor. The second is a soldier with some demolition skills. He hesitantly asks the following question,” What does it smell like?”
PC: “Is there a dumpster nearby?”
GM: “Yes. It looks new and is very large.”
Of course the dumpster has a car bomb’s worth of explosives set to go off by remote control. I know it, the player knows it and this is the moment: The “ohmygodwearescrewed” moment. Priceless.
Better start testing out those demolition skills.
Nearly simultaneously, various PCs make rolls looking for the sniper with the particle beam rifle and get lucky. He lurks on the ninth floor, fourth window from the left. One PC already charged the building and heads for the stairs. Everyone else is more concerned with the 500 pounds of high explosives in the dumpster. Templeton coolly describes his actions.
Templeton: I take cover behind the car, open the back door and take out the LAW.
Dumbfounded GM: A what?
Templeton: A LAW rocket
GM: Hmmm. Forgot you had that.
The moment: Behold Templeton Peck in an impeccable suit, a spy with no concept of subtlety, unlimbering a LAW in middle of a crowded street in broad daylight with security cameras everywhere. If you are going to drop your pants in public after months of playing a campaign based on stealth and intrigue, you might as well go big.
Templeton takes aim and launches the rocket. I planned a careful escape for the sniper. Instead he became flesh confetti in one painful instant. Of course, this took out most of the ninth floor and the power pack for the particle rifle detonated and took out another floor.
An internet star is born. The “Rocketman” terrorist is the new Internet meme. T-Shirt vendors already have his dramatic shot on cheap cotton hanging on street corner racks right next to Che Guevara. Che is for posers. Rocketman outsells the dead commie 5 to 1.
I do not know of any other hobby that produces such moments. Sure, sports allow the occasional heroics and computer games let you make the high score, but RPG moments are better than those moments and I will spend a great deal of my life chasing these moments. They are well worth the effort.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer