Another entry that probably won’t make sense if you don’t play role-playing games…

The first session of the Outer Darkness playtest campaign went well. I had hoped for more than the two players who showed up, especially since both Evilpheemy and Craymore have been deeply involved in the creation of Outer Darkness since its very beginning. Since I’m looking at this playtest as a way to sort of test out the game’s overall setting and milieu, I had hoped for some fresh faces, but the two people who had contacted me who hadn’t been involved since the beginning didn’t show up for the playtest. Ah, well.

Still, I think this is going to work out well. Evilpheemy’s character is a spacer, working for the mining company to help shuttle workers and materiel back and forth to the surface of the planet. Craymore’s character, on the other hand, is a young priest working for the Inquisition, about to be assigned to work with Father Jeremiah Dako, an older Inquisitor, to solve a strange mystery on the planet: think Christian Slater’s character in the film version of The Name of the Rose. I’m hoping to get some more people involved; it would be annoying to have just two player characters throughout the entire campaign.

Meanwhile, every other Saturday night, I’m playing in Craymore’s Live Action Changeling game, Book of Dreams, the latest offshoot from the Vampire LARP I ran a couple of years ago (I think of it as the Enterprise to my Star Trek: The Next Generation). In Changeling, the characters you play are modern representations of fairy tale archetypes: redcaps, knockers, and so on. The creators of the game, White Wolf, have devised a complicated, nearly Byzantine political and social structure for these mythical folks who live in our modern world. What can be even more confusing is that the Changeling characters that you play live not just in "our" world, but also in a "Chimerical" world, where dragons and castles and magic is real. So, as you play the game, you must constantly remind yourself, "Okay, the human half of my character sees that as a particularly ugly structure on the UC Davis campus, but the changeling half sees it as a beautiful castle." Yes, it gets confusing.

As long as I’ve been playing and running role-playing games, I’ve always believed that the characters one plays embody some aspect of you as a person, or some aspect of the person that you want to be. My character in Book of Dreams is a Sidhe (pronounced "shee"), descended from the noble race of beautiful fairy folk from Celtic mythology (since this is a Live Action game, I usually just say that my character shares the same incredible rugged good looks that I have). His name is Gilbert Clooney, and he was modeled, in some ways, after the character Ulysses that George Clooney played in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?. I invented a fictional town called Galway in Kentucky that Gilbert comes from, and made him a wanderer. Gilbert is intelligent, diplomatic, well-read, inquisitve, and generally just about everything else that I’d like to be. In the game’s storyline, Gilbert showed up in the city of Davis a few months ago, wound up helping the Changeling inhabitants of that city to kill an evil Changeling called "The Iron Duke", and wound up being the military advisor to the new ruler of the Changeling court of Davis. This fact surprises Gilbert as much as it surprises me.

While pondering Gilbert’s past recently, I realized that it’s a bit too sanitary. There was something a bit darker that was itching to be put into his background; something that wanted to come out. I thought about it for awhile, and realized that I needed to put something very dark in his background. Now, when I was running Underground Puppeteers, I had created a villain named "Buddy", a being who had been created by a group of other villains to be powerful, destructive, a nearly mindless killing machine with the ability to destroy just about anyone who came into his path. I decided that Gilbert had been involved in the creation of Buddy. I don’t think he quite knew what he was doing, or what he was involved in, but I think Gilbert probably knows very well what the consequences were. I haven’t ironed out the details yet.

I believe that stories have lives of their own, that in some way they probably exist independently of the minds that tell them (I blame that on an ill-advised course in Aesthetics that I took in college). Novelists will often talk about how the characters in their stories take on lives of their own; Stephen King, in On Writing, says that he often doesn’t know where a story is going until he writes it, until the characters tell him.

Telling a story, including the story of your character in a role-playing game, is more a process of discovery than a process of invention, in my view. My "discovery" that Gilbert has a dark, sinister, and deeply misguided element to his generally competent and friendly past came as a sort of surprise, but it makes sense to me: especially considering that how I’ve been playing him and emphasizing his somewhat brutal dedication to the order of the court and near-paranoid watchfulness for word of a possible return of the Iron Duke.

I’m enjoying Gilbert immensely. I may turn his story into a book at some point (while eliminating as much as possible about the "White Wolf" or "Book of Dreams" specific stuff to avoid potential lawsuits — and to avoid the universal law which states that all fiction based on role-playing games sucks). But without delving deeply too much into the realm of Jung, Campbell, and Bly-esque mythopoeticism, I have to wonder what to make of the fact that Gilbert, the character which I’ve largely based on what I think are some of the better aspects of my own personality, has such a dark and sinister part of his past?

I just hope that I haven’t created any supernatural, cross-dimensional supervillains that are out there, even now slaughtering innocent vampires, werewolves, and elves even as I write these words.

Ah, well. Food for thought.

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