Today, I will have a new player in my Planescape game. We've created a pretty rad character for him, and I think I have a way to slot him in. We're at an interesting point in the game today, and I think adding him into the mix while yanking another old PC out will shake up the game considerably.
It may be even cooler, though; his wife is coming over to watch. She's been burned by bad roleplaying games before, and wants to verify that my game is not some boring pool of tripe before she jumps in. If I pass the audition, I may have another new PC.
That's fair enough. Because I know what it's like to sit at a bad table... For I was witness to The World's Worst Roleplaying Game Ever.
Let me set the scene:
It was my first year at GenCon, and I discovered the bad part about attending the World's Largest Convention; all the games get sold out quick. Yeah, there are several hundred DMs hosting four-hour mini-adventures. Every two hours, you can find about seventy games starting up, many of them exciting... But most of the good adventures get sold out two days after the tickets go on sale.
I did not know this. Jim and Shannon, who had graciously brought me, did. Therefore, their GenCon experience consisted of going off to various games and coming back briefly to tell me what a great time they'd had before zooming off to their next engagement.
Me? I was stuck with The Generic Ticket.
The Generic Ticket is a ticket that can be used to play at any game... If the slots aren't full, or if the assigned players don't show up. This is pure hell, because it's like you're back in grade school, waiting to be picked for the dodgeball team. You know you're not the cool one, and if someone better (i.e., someone who did register in advance) showed up at any moment, you're not going to play.
I was the Negro on the back of the bus, and the players with preregistered tickets were the 1950s whites. And alas, Rosa Parks only plays HeroClix.
My GenCon experience consisted of standing there limply at the table, hanging around like a vulture, clutching that goddamned generic ticket in my hand as one by one the players trickled in. Six seats at this eight-player game filled! Seven! I'd sit down, afraid to make small talk, because at any moment, Player Number Eight could show up and I'd get booted.
I had no rights. They could kick me out at any moment, and most of the other players refused to make eye contact with me once they discovered I was a Generic, afraid to bond with someone so transient.
I waited. Everyone laughed. Eventually, the game started... And I was in! I sat down, laughing, joyous. The DM handed out the character sheets and I was a part of the group, so happy, I would have a game to play for the next six hours instead of aimlessly traipsing around the dealer room for one more time...
He explained the game. I looked at my sheet. What a cool background! I...
No, wait, Player Eight just showed up.
Off the bus, Generic.
This happened two or three times. Every two hours, I'd go stand next to a table with increasing despair, and every time some fucking registered player would show up at the last minute and boot me. Sometimes there would be clusters of us Generics at the good tables, waiting pathetically in the hopes that maybe three registered players wouldn't show up and we could fill that third slot.
But that trick never works, Bullwinkle. Maybe the first Generic might slip in, but me? I was always out.
(As I learned later on, don't even bother with Generics on the first night. Everyone's eager to play, and nobody's dropping out. Generic tickets work better as the weekend goes on and sleep deprivation takes its toll, but you're never going to get into a Thursday or Friday game. Sunday morning at 8:00? You're golden. You may not even need a ticket.)
So when I learned that Game Base 8 was holding a Planescape game, I was thrilled beyond words. I loved Planescape, and still do; it's a highly political game, with several factions warring for control of the city of Sigil. The adventures are weird, unlike normal D&D dungeon crawls, laced with dreamlike adventures and wild, Munchausenesque characters.
So the idea that I could get into a Planescape adventure? Unthinkable. But it was better than sitting in the room.
I went, and sat around... And lo and behold, there were slots available! (This should have been the first sign.) The DM made room for ten of us, since we were so great!
The first sign of error showed when he threw a bunch of sheets onto the table. "Here are your characters," he said. "Choose one."
I looked. They didn't even have names, or equipment - just stats, scrawled in pencil. All first-level characters, and obviously rolled up according to pure randomness; there was a first-level mage there who had one hit point.
"What about names?" I asked.
"Well... Choose one, I guess," he shrugged.
I chose the bariaur thief, though time has erased what cool name I gave him. The guy who got stuck with the one-hp mage, sensing his imminent doom, called his mage "Flapjack."
"Flapjack the mage."
We all giggled.
The adventure started. Now, keep in mind that at this point we're all hanging around with characters who are little more than names and occupations, and with absolutely no connections between each other. I myself am a big fan of developing character - maybe it's because a writer, but as we sat there and the DM prepared, I was thinking up quirks for my bariaur thief. What sort of person was he? He was a centaur, so how did he sneak? What accent did he have? Why was he here?
As it turned out, this was irrelevant. The DM sighed, and in a voice that sounded like a very bored computer, he read the opening portion:
"All right you guys are in a bar and a woman comes up to you and says 'Hey do you guys want a job?'"
We sat there, stunned. All ten of us were standing in a bar, and we didn't think that any of us knew each other, and this woman had just come up to a group of random people and offered a job?
We weren't sure what to do. Dare any of us speak for the group?
Eventually, one bold player spoke up. "Um... Sure?"
"Okay so you follow her down the street to the headquarters of the Faction of Order."
Apparently, there would be no opportunity to negotiate price, or to see if, y'know, everyone else wanted to go. Before we could stop ourselves, we were all standing - still complete strangers - in the Guvners hallway.
We were not players. We were a unit.
It was explained to us that we had to shepherd this high-ranking factor to a specific location, and that we would be paid for the privilege. The roleplayers among us, struggling valiantly, asked the right questions:
"How much gold? Why is this person so important? Why do you think that ten of us, who aren't really great shakes at fighting or anything, are fit to protect this woman when one Fireball spell could take us all out? And why did you choose us at random from a bar to act as bodyguards for this mission?"
"All good questions," said the DM, then went silent. There was an audible pause as we waited for him to answer those questions.
"So are you ready to go?" he asked, not having answered a damn thing.
"Sure!" said one member gamely.
And once again, as if pulled on strings, we all set off with this high-ranking person in tow before anyone could protest.
The roleplayers were beginning to bond with each other, since we were the ones asking questions. We began to discuss these troubling questions among ourselves, but the GM cut us off. It was time for him to develop the finely-tuned characters he had rolled up out of thin air an hour before this session.
"Okay, who's the tiefling?" The tiefling had demon blood in her. She raised her hand. "And who's the assimar?" The aasimar had angel blood.
"You guys hate each other," he said. "Who's the elf? And the dwarf? Yeah, you two are pretty suspicious of each other." He nodded sagely, having Carried Out His Duty as a DM.
We stood in awe at his ability to cut to the heart of our characters. Or maybe it was just gas. Sadly, none of this explained why, with all of this deep suspicion going on, that we had all decided to not only drink together, but to work in such a unit wherein when one member agreed to anything, the rest followed like dominos.
Eventually, we entered an alleyway that had walls festooned with razorvine. He whipped out a sheet of paper and intimated that it was Very Important that we told him where our characters were and how they were positioned. A half-hour argument ensued as all the characters jockeyed for position - which was far too long for a simple tactical decision, but it was better than talking with the GM.
Since I had a bow and good eyesight, I was up front along with another bow-toting character.
"You see a woman coming towards you," said the DM.
"I yell 'Stop'," I said.
"Yeah," agreed the other forward-facing guard.
"She keeps running towards you," said the DM.
We looked at each other. The other forward-facing character squinted and said, "So what's this woman like?"
"Well, she's running towards you."
"We know that!" he said. "What's she wearing? Does she have a weapon out? Does she look dangerous?"
"She has a robe on," the DM volunteered. "And no weapon."
We looked at each other. We knew what we should do - shoot her! - but we were still trapped in the world of good roleplaying, where just shooting women before they could provide an explanation just seemed wrong. We both imagined cops, guarding a politician, who just blew away anyone who got near them. "She was jogging near The President, your honor."
We decided to try diplomacy again. "Stop!" I yelled. "What's your business!"
"She keeps running," said the DM. "Okay, she's within melee distance. Um, lemme roll to see who she hits... Okay, it's you." He pointed at the other guy. "Lemme roll... Yep, okay. You're surprised."
"Surprised?" he yelped. "We've been yelling at her! We saw her running towards us! How could I be surprised?"
"That's the dice, man," said the DM. "Okay, you fall into the razorvine and take... Three damage."
"I'm dead," said the player sourly.
"Okay," I said. "Now that she's done that, I shoot her with my bow."
"She runs past you and vanishes," said the DM.
The rest of the players grumbled, finally brought to action. "We saw this!" they said. "Don't we get actions? Flapjack the mage has a magic missile ready for her, and Ferrett's character has a bow, and don't we get the chance to react? You're telling us that nine trained men are all so stunned by the appearance of a woman that none of us can do anything?"
"She's quick," the GM shrugged, as if that was all the explanation anyone needed. "Okay, roll for initiative."
We rolled. He said, "Okay, um, nine giant rats creep out of the vine here, and here, and here, and here. They go to attack."
He stopped, looking around dazedly, like a stoner looking for his Simpsons tapes. "Um... Does anyone have a copy of the Monster Manual?"
We were stunned.
"I need it for the stats," he said - not apologetically, but as if we just didn't understand why he needed it.
"No," I said curtly. "I kind of assumed that you would, y'know, bring the manual to the event."
He shrugged. We were getting used to that shrug. He left for fifteen minutes to go borrow one from another DM - an act that was made more complicated when it turned out the other Game Base 8 DM didn't have a Monster Manual, either.
I don't know why we stayed. Maybe the hilarity was getting to us.
Anyway, he came back and we got through the combat. Flapjack the Mage died. The big important woman we were shepherding did nothing during combat, but cheerfully raised all the casualties from the dead so that they could keep playing.
"If you could do that," I asked, "Why didn't you help out when the rats attacked?"
"Good question," said the DM.
After that, I decided that I wanted out of this game, so when the next stage involved breaking into someone's fortified apartment for reasons I don't remember, I just decided to play the bariaur thief like a ne-'er-do-well with a suicide complex. Life is short, I reasoned, but it can at least be exciting.
Flapjack the Mage, who was of a similar bent and realized he had nothing to lose because a hummingbird could cack his one-hp character, joined me.
"Okay you're at the entry of the apartment," he said. "There's a door in the front and an alleyway in back."
The other players began to debate tactics. How do we survive this? they asked. What's the best approach? The theories began to surface as they slowly hammered out the perfect plan....
"I kick in the door!" I shouted.
The DM almost awoke from his lethargy, but he had to go with his previous style of playing: The first character to respond acts for the whole group. "Okay the door goes in there are two guys inside and you start to fight..."
"Wait a minute!" said another player. "I'm not just rushing in there!" Everyone else nodded agreement.
"Well, I am!" I cried. "Roll initiative!"
"As am I!" cried Flapjack. "I will not be denied!"
Ironically, this approach seemed to work. We took down the two thieves thanks to a series of lucky rolls and while the other characters crept in our wake, slowly searching the rooms for traps and hidden doors and treasure, we just thundered through.
"Okay you open the door and see a ten-by-ten roo - "
"Screw that! Anyone in here?"
"We kick open the next door!"
Despite our best efforts, we actually survived. Flapjack the Mage came through unscathed, mostly because our "beat them before they beat us" tactic seemed to take the DM by surprise.
At the end of this two hours, which felt like four, the DM took a break. Everyone else scattered. I stayed long enough to write on a piece of paper, "THE BARIAUR THIEF IS DEAD!" before finally leaving The Worst Game I Ever Played.
So what was yours?