Friday, June 24, 2011

"Rules? Where we're going, we don't NEED rules!"

If you don't know Axe Cop, you don't know Awesome!

Last night's game felt like one of the best sessions we have had in a long time and I felt it was largely because I played fast and loose with the rules, often ignoring them altogether. The bulk of last night consisted of a mass combat encounter. My players were tasked with delaying a charging horde of orcs for as long as possible to buy their allies, who were readying an airship for evacuation, time to make the necessary preparations.

Massive combat encounters like the one last night can quickly become unwieldy if too much emphasis is placed on game rules and rolling dice. So, I decided to take a much more narrative approach to the night and, judging by my players' post-game comments, the results were satisfying to all.

When I did need to crunch numbers, I used the Rule of Fives to speed things up, but if it wasn't necessary, I turned instead to the Rule of Cool (i.e. what would make this situation more awesome?) I should qualify that my interpretation of the Rule of Cool is not to use it to gloss over plot holes, but rather to allow my brain to emphasize storytelling over game rules. For example, last night I had several orc druids materialize on a cliff-side out of clouds of flies and begin hurling pillars of flame at the fleeing heroes. Could they have actually moved fast enough to get there in one round? Who cares!? The end-result added to the sense of danger in the scene and so was definitely worth it. On the flip side, my players were slinging area of effect spells into the path of the horde. Is it necessary to roll grapple checks for every orc when the ground beneath their feet erupts in 10 foot-long writhing tentacles? No! just describe how most of them are being hurled into the air, or slammed against the canyon walls.

The thing that was really clicking for me last night was the realization that players (or mine at least) don't play for the rules. They play for the stories, and as long as the story presents a level of excitement that makes them feel like badass heroes, everyone will come away happy.

On a more bittersweet note, I used last night's game as an opportunity to usher one of my story's main characters out of the game. A temporary hiatus by the character's player, who is in an uber-rigorous post-graduate program, became indefinite a couple months ago. Since then, I have been gradually working on an exit strategy so that the group is not burdened with a permanent non-player character drawing time and glory from the real people who are still attending game nights.

My strategy for working the character out was two-fold:
1. Make it Epic
2. Leave the exact nature of the exit open to some interpretation

I wrote a sort of cut scene for the game which came at the climax of the orc battle, and it couldn't have punctuated the event more perfectly. Here it is:

Dramatis Personae:
Lanna - A half-elf paladin of Ehlonna, the goddess of nature
Ceffyl - Lanna's unicorn mount (The unicorn is also a symbol of her goddess)
Ignus - Lanna's magic, flaming longsword
Steponas - The prince of Cydon, a traveling companion to our heroes
The press of orcs becomes more intense, threatening to overwhelm your defenses. It is clear that you will need to abandon your station soon.
Steponas calls out, "There are too many of them, we must return to the ship!"
Lanna shouts, "If we flee, they will overtake us! You go! I shall hold them as long as I can!
Do not argue, Ceffyl has the best chance of outrunning them. Now go!"
Lanna turns to face the sea of onrushing orcs. Ceffyl rears as she raises Ignus above her head and cries out, “I am the tempest over the sea. I am the quaking of the mountains, I am nature’s wrath! For the glory of Ehlonna!” and then she charges into the orcish ranks, her sword scattering bodies in all directions.
As the tide of orcs closes around her, a radiant light seems to cover Lanna and Ceffyl. Perhaps it’s a trick of the mind, but it seems to have the shape of a great celestial charger.

Anyway, game sessions like last night's always leave me feeling energized and ready to jump into the next phase of creative awesome. The dread of my previous post has faded and been replaced with an icy cool sense of determination to make the final act of this story arc super epic.

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