Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten Years Ago

I'm sure most of you have heard the constant discussion about the pending ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This discussion is everywhere. TV, radio, etc.

Well today is the ten year anniversary of something else for me. On Saturday September 8th 2001 I ran a twelve and a half hour special game session to sort of put an ending to a campaign.

The length of the session while extensive by the group's normal standards isn't what was so interesting for me about it. What to me is special was the chronological order of the events taking place and how the time shifting was handled.

The session began at the end, a funeral for someone who died during the events that would unfold during the next twelve hours. Nine months of thinking and planning went into trying to come up with a way to start a game at the end in a way that when everything was over would at least sort of make sense.

Putting this mega-episode together was a brain twister. It required making a time-line of intended encounters and role-playing points, changing when bits and pieces of them would happen, and then determining how to explain why spells or items or hit points wouldn't be available earlier and why they got spent later, when earlier happens after later during play.

I decided that each item, each spell, and each hit point needed a physical marker that would be traded in when expended and given out when healed or purchased. I bought a couple hundred small colored craft sticks (kind of like miniature popsicle sticks) for use as hit points. Index cards written on in different colors of Sharpie marker would serve for items and spells.

The physical tokens (cards and sticks, etc) served to remove some options from play. The explanation was that earlier they simply chose not to use that spell, or they had something else they used in a situation which is why they had it later. This worked quite well despite my reservations and concerns, and initial player confusion.

The funeral had most people there. I put on a CD playing Adagio for Strings (the one that was in the Homeworld PC game years ago) to set the somber mood. A few people were missing because despite stressing for 6 months that it was important for everyone to be there on time or people might get lost in understanding what was going on some folks scheduled something else and arrived 3 hours into the game, and promptly started asking questions that almost derailed the session because of how much info was involved (deep breath . . . that's better).

Immediately after the funeral I had the characters pick up as they were approaching the source of some chanting they had detected earlier. I put on a CD playing the Gyuto Monks, which is perfect for the sound of a large group conducting some sort of ritual summoning. This was the lead in for the major battle scene with a cast of hundreds.

Battle commenced and I allowed it to run for three rounds. During which the CD for Icewind Dale had a couple of good combat tracks on repeat. Because of the number of NPC cultists involved, I had painted up close to 100 soda bottle caps in different colors and then used a pre-rolled random battle order for the bottle cap mooks. Some broke and ran as soon as the attack commenced. Others milled about confused. Some stood briefly then took other actions. Yet others rushed to attack the interlopers. There was also a set of planned actions for the non-mook NPCs represented by miniatures, that were capable of bringing the hurt to the characters.

At the end of that three rounds during which many mooks perished, some at the claws and fangs of a wizard's cat familiar, I pulled the players into another room and threw them into a moment several hours earlier.

During each shift back and forward through the events of the day the PCs learned more about what was going on. They began to put together who they were up against, and eventually what was at stake. It wouldn't be till closer to the end of the session that they would encounter an arch-nemesis of the group during the campaign and end up joining forces to stop the summoned demon from getting loose in the city they were a couple hundred feet beneath.

At one point they were able, with the advantage now of foresight, to purchase some healing potions and other scrolls that would prove useful in the encounters, earlier lesser events, and the main battle.

Once the fighting was over, dozens of cultists including several high ranking ones, were dead and the party lost only two members, a thief who had snuck far behind enemy lines and was smote from a high position and fell to her death, and the brave and very dangerous familiar to one of the party wizards. And thus, the funeral.

I doubt I will ever attempt anything as involved as that session ever again. The time and effort involved paid off that day, but these days it is proving nearly impossible to bring players to the table for a regular session, let alone something that complex and drawn out. Even with as much notice as was given for that session it is unlikely it would succeed. Regardless it was fun and memorable.

Here's to those who lost their lives 10 years ago, both in game and in the sad tragedy three days later in reality.

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