Monday, July 23, 2012

On Role Playing yourself and Save or Die mechanics.

Recently my wife and I got some good old fashion game time with Viscount Eric from Gaming with the Gnomies fame. It was a super secret game day with a good friend of ours and since we get to spend time with him so infrequently we would be total jerks to say no to the man. Our games of the day was Call of Cthulhu and Munchkin: Axe Cop. This also marks our second time paying CoC under Eric's Keeper sensibilities as the characters he rolled up for us last year: JP Carson the hard boiled private investigator and Jessica his school teacher wife with a past.

Now I would usually recap the game at this point but Eric already did it for me right here.. And for those that read this blog know that I hate dislike playing characterized versions of myself.. So imagine how I feel playing myself, who is married in game to my real life wife, in a game setting that is designed to have your characters die or go insane...or both. The first game with these characters happened over a year ago and the recap was from the second game with our characters. And as Eric wrote about it....I got killed off. And it cemented a few things in my mind about playing myself in a game, save vs die and what I find fun.

 First playing myself as my PC, whether in a fantasy setting or not, is never fun to me. I loathed creating myself as a Pathfinder character that I never got to play(nor will I ever do so). So one can imagine my displeasure of seeing my CoC PC was myself and I didn't even create it. I will say that Eric did a fine job with it and didn't make my alter ego a mockery of any kind and I'll even say he handled it with a sense of respect for myself and my wife as friends. So its not the character sheet or stats that I find bizarre its the point that I'm playing myself. I am no hero/detective/barbarian/space marine/masked vigilante in real life so why in hell would I want to pretend to be one?

When I was child and was playing pretend with my friends I wasn't envisioning myself pretending to be me in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was Indiana Jones. I was never myself running around with the G.I. Joe's stopping COBRA, I was Flint or Shipwreck. I know you'll look at my Justice League casting and say I'm doing that but I'm casting them as the characters (i.e. Bruce Wayne/ Batman) and not replacing that character with the person.

So why don't I ever like to pretend that I am capable of doing those feats of heroics even in an imaginative sense? Because I don't believe that I am actually capable of it at all. Dropping any super heroics and let's look at just being a detective. I just do not feel that I am a capable detective with what little abilities I possess in life. However if I'm not JP Carson but Matches Malone I sure can pretend that I have that talent and can play on that. Perhaps it is just that I'm better acting as someone else not based on me and when it comes to playing myself all I know how to do is be me: an average guy.

So this leads me to to the most bizarre and surreal part of this all. In the game JP Carson is deceased, his wife Jessica is now widowed and with out him as "life" goes on sans him there. That he cannot be there for his wife anymore when she is being put in mortal danger yet can watch how the world moves on with out him there. Do you know just how fucking weird that feels? I never wanted to know how life would be without me there but I'll do all I can to prepare my loved ones for that day (to make it easier on them). I know its just a game but come on! Think about it for a moment; would you find morbid enjoyment playing on after you die just to see what goes on? I don't. Even after rolling up another character I just was out of it as it was Jessica going on without JP there. It was freaking weirding me out on a level that I just can't fully put into words effectively.

Again I'm going to say that this in no way was Eric's fault. It was just horrible horrible shitty rolls. Specifically one roll for a 'save or die' moment. This is just something in any game system that I look forward to playing/running/purchasing that has to go. D&D has been plagued for years with spells or effects that are 'save or die'. Disintegrate in 3.0 D&D  was Fort save or die (if saved then x dice of damage). I can remember horror stories from older editions of people dying versus spell or trap or something based off of one bad roll. There are other games that have similar mechanics as well but I'm not going to witch hunt them all. I just want to point out that, while games like this should have some danger, a one roll or die mechanic can kill the fun levels for the people playing it. It did for me and kind of made me not want to continue for the remainder of the evening role playing and just move onto Axe Cop. I play games for fun and entertainment, I want more chances at survival in a game than I do in real life. Save or die just removes that from the game. I realize that they are used in rather specific points and not just thrown around every two seconds but are they even needed?

Is it now just up to the GM to allow the player a moment or two to try to come up with something plausible to react to this threat and then allow them to act on it to save their PC? Or are these mechanics needed at all any more? I suppose it just goes into what my preferences are when playing a table top RPG. I try when running my games to take away the save or die mechanics when used on the players and some times keep them when the players use them against their adversaries. I do this because I want to run a heroic adventure for people. I want my players to succeed and I don't remove the challenge and peril from it I just include different ways to illicit the same sense of danger or dread. I don't want a one hit kill there that will wipe out someone suddenly and for really no good reason. Basically I don't want to pull a Whedon on my players.

In my very round about kind of way I'll end on saying that session was a perfect storm of what I don't care for in my gaming experience. The save or die wouldn't have been as impactful to me if I was just playing some random schmo gumshoe and, while I wouldn't have liked it, it wouldn't have effected me as much this particular time. After all of that I'd still happily play CoC under Eric's wing again if he will have me. Just next time......give me something I can truly act on and not someone based in reality. I play games to enjoy the time I have with my friends not to be reminded of just how little we all have left.