Monday, October 17, 2011

The Unreliable Word

My Friday night (once-a-month) gaming group is sometimes ten-players large, and focused on having an evening of relaxing fun. Their characters have names like “Bob the Bold”, “Gunga Din”, and “Damek the Unpleasant”. I found that a few of them were interested in some more in-depth role-playing, and I had a number of people I wanted to play with, but couldn’t fit into the big Friday group. So I started a Sunday group. Four players. With an emphasis on character development and role-playing. I employed a background questionnaire, and encouraged the players to take ownership of an area of my game world, with the understanding that we’d be starting in a big city environment.

I got some really creative responses. From those I developed five story arcs. I followed the guidelines articulated by Dave the Game over at Critical Hits for the 5x5 Method of campaign development. I left these arcs open and approachable so that my players were free to choose which story they wanted to engage with, and allowed them the flexibility to switch between them when “crossover” events piqued their interest.

These stories and others that have arisen from the choices the players made have driven the monthly campaign for nearly two years. None of that mattered as much as Cordroy, the simple Goliath that one of my players brought to the game as his character. His characterization was brilliant. He knew the game rules, and played well. The other players (and their characters) rallied around him.

One of my favorite interactions was between the party and a pair of guards at the gates of the Liosia Mansion. The party was investigating a series of grave robberies and wanted to speak with the scion of the Liosia family about what might have motivated the thieves to raid the family crypt. The party told the guards that they were with “Cordroy’s Security Services”, here to discuss business with Ano Liosia, head of the powerful  Golden Lion Trading Company. Looking at the party: two rogues, a Goliath, and a warlock from the hinterlands convinced he was a shaman, the guards were skeptical. But, they agreed to send word up to the manor. One of the guards departed the gate to do just that.

After a long delay, the party was told that Liosia was unavailable and would contact them if he needed their services.

Temporarily thwarted, they pressed on to their next lead. At another gate, in front of another mansion, they were told that “word would be sent” to the nobles of the house. Cordroy abruptly spoke up.

“Word? Just a minute. He went last time, and we didn’t get in. I don’t think this ‘Word’ is a very reliable fellow.” A moment of confusion passed for the guards and then Cordroy continued. “Why don’t you go up instead? Tell your boss that Cordroy’s Security Service is here.”

We all fell about the place laughing as these lines were delivered. Cordroy kept muttering about “that fellow, Word”. An instant and lasting gag was added to our gaming group. I still laugh when I think about it.

Unfortunately, Cordroy’s player has not been able to continue with us. Parenthood, entrepreneurial aspirations, and other conflicts have drawn him away. Cordroy however lives on as a non-player character. He’s the beloved core of the party, and has become an integral part of the character development for at least one of the original PCs. Cordroy’s Security Service owns an Inn, and is responsible for the safety and well-being of the halflings that work there.

As a GM, I can plot and plan as much as I like. But the true magic of the story is in the actions, choices, and ‘words’ of the players and their characters. Leaving room for characters like Cordroy and conversations like those at the gates of the mansions of the city’s nobility is as big a part of the game as any well-crafted combat encounter.

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