Monday, January 29, 2007

Learn By Doing

Last night our D6 Fantasy campaign continued, and much righteousness ensued. The players met a creepy Oracle, were betrayed by an NPC, fought like hell to survive a nasty monster and made plans for revenge. Sweetness.

One of my players, Phil, doesn't know when his character's mouth should stay shut.

This is an utter and delicious delight.

The party has embarked on a quest to save some unicorns from the evil wizard Bargle (yup, him). Of course unicorns are rare and secretive and not everyone knows where to find them, so they went to ask an Oracle where they might be. Upon meeting the Oracle (more on that in a bit, by the way), she asked them what price they'd pay for her services.

Phil's character, a young, optimistic lad who sees everything in romantic terms of Good and Evil, immediately proclaimed, "I would gladly give my life."

Sold American! The Oracle told him, in no uncertain terms, to bring his butt back to her alive in 10 years and 10 days, and she'll claim her pay then. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Lesson to be learned: Players Will Dig Their Own Graves. So that you, O Gamemaster, may rest your weary bones upon thy kneeling chair and let 'em have it their way.

Anyway, my wife has been trying to convince me for a long time that it's totally OK for me to trust myself to improvise. far too often have I stressed myself under the weight of supposedly (but not truly) necessary planning and preparation, resulting in disappointment and loss of enthusiasm. Last night, though, I took out the safety net.

Last night I knew that 3 things had to happen:

  1. They'd meet the Oracle, who was spooky and weird, and receive from her direction to the next part of their quest;
  2. Their NPC patron would betray them, revealing himself to be the wizard Bargle and not the aging adventurer they thought him to be*; and
  3. Bargle would sic a monster on 'em, and it'd hurt.
I went in with almost no details. What monster? When does Bargle pop the surprise? What's the Oracle look like?

In days past I'd've worried about these details thinking that, if they were not precisely calculated to be awesome, the whole house of cards would crumble. But i'm tired of that, so I just improvised my way through the game.

The Oracle became a spooky-ass masked figure, who seemed to be part of the cavern itself. There was a crackling green fire in the cavern, and I decided it emanated from a man-sized crystal embedded in the floor. Her method of scrying, upon which I had not decided at all, involved her taking off her mask ("The wise would close their eyes", she warned) at which point -- well, no one saw it, but they heard a column of flame erupt in the cave, between her and the crystal.

What The hell? Where did I come up with that craziness?

I don't know.

I don't care.

It just flowed, and I think sincerely that it's better than anything over which I might've agonized in planning and detailing. It was magic.

After that, the scene where Bargle reveals himself, and the subsequent attack from a hydra (I' originally thought of a fire elemental, but nixed that when I thought No, dude, a hydra!) were cake. Then it was just describing the combat as luridly as possible, scarring one PC's face just as another PC was starting to act attracted to her, and interpreting another player's huge, huge roll to simply pull the hydra's jaws open as a mighty wrestling match commensurate with the size of his roll, resulting in utter unshakable badassitude.

Learn by doing. Just get in there and play.

I learned one other thing: Putting Tabasco sauce on Lay's Sour Cream & Cheddar potato chips makes them come alive to a truly Framptonian degree.

*Actually, one of the PCs rolled to see if he'd ever heard of the adventurer...and got a 1 on the Wild Die, which can mean that something goes awry. "Yeah, you've heard of him," I told Kyle. "You hear he's a murderer, killed some kids on a farm, whole families. Real bastard." And the hilarity sprouted wings.