Okay — someone didn’t hit the “be more specific” button when writing this prompt. What do you mean “tricky RPG experience” — what, like playing while riding in a car? A situation thrown at you by the GM? The players F’ing up a finely honed plot you were GMing, and that you had to tap dance around to get them on track or get a satisfactory resolution? That time in Vegas where I paid extra for the “green Orion girl” experience? (No, not really. But I’m sure it exists.)

I’m finding I’m drawing a blank on this one, but perhaps after reading a few others’ posts, I might do another post, if I’m inspired.

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As you can see, the prompt is a bit vague and awful. What kind of failure? A character’s failure that became amazing? A campaign that went awry and was repaired or resurrected? A terrible player that was replaced by a much better one? (Got a couple of those vignettes…) A character who was a failure but would be amazing?

Let’s do all of these!

The  failure I’ve ever seen in a game that most amazed everyone there was during our Stargate campaign (using the old James Bond rules). One of the characters was a fighter pilot and in the climactic battle over Antarctica from season whateverthehell, he’s kicking some butt. Then he biffs a roll — 00, a fail no matter what. He’s halfway to space, so I figure he’s got a few tests to pull out of this. On his safety test, 00. Balls. His F-302 is headed for the ice. He’s got time — no worries! Rolls the next pilot test.

00.

I kid you not. Safety test: 00. Next pilot test: 00. Next safety test: 00. He’s getting perilously low now. He decides to ditch, and punches out. Pilot test to bail out.

00.

The tail of his plane, which is in a flat spin hits him and kills him instantaneously, because we all agreed six consecutive 00s in the universe telling you to sit this one out. SIX. It’s statistically almost impossible for this to happen, and the mathematician in our group still says it didn’t happen, but there were seven of us who witnessed it. Could the dice have been strangely weighted? Almost certainly, in this case.

But it happened.

How about the failed campaign that was fixed: We had a “pilot” of a Hollow Earth Expedition game that used several of the same characters that would show up in a following iteration. In the first, however, they just didn’t work for some reason. It was fixing one character, by taking the big game hunter who had been super-competent and heroic, but without any real engaging flaws, and making him scrupulously honest and earnest that changed the tenor of the game and made it fly.

Player fail who was replaced with a better player: We had a guy who gamed with us for about six months, but who had such social anxieties he was shy and retiring and barely engaged, and who couldn’t eat with the rest of the group. He eventually bowed out, but recommended a school mate who turned out to be one of the better players I’ve had in a group in four decades — funny, smart, savvy to plot and genre conventions, and just a delight to be around. He eventually moved to Texas. Drat!

The last, is the character who was a failure but became amazing was out “Failed Jedi” in our ’90s Star Wars game. With the destruction of the Jedi, he had hidden in a bottle on a small world on the Outer Rim, drowning himself in booze and meaningless sex (which he got by using his Jedi mind tricks to make the women believe he was the greatest lover ever. Because messing with people’s minds with the Force — that’s apparently okay, but choking them? Bad. With the destruction of the Emperor, he climbed out of the bottle and eventually helped the New Republic destroy the last remnant of the empire.

He also had one of the best lines in a game: “[Character name] sends his love…and I’m here to deliver it.”

In the Beginning, there was the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set and almost no one to play with. You would find a gamer or two and play was what you would expect from teenagers — loaded with overly-serious characters roaming through underground mazes killing creatures and nicking their stuff. The DM was the players’ adversary, in many way, in these early days, and the goal was to outthink the DM to “win.”

My group at the time enjoyed this, but I wanted to concentrate on character and story over money grabs. We shifted to espionage and science fiction games, and at that time we were emulating the James Bond movies, so an adventure was a few sessions that culminated in a finale. The next story was the next movie. There might be some carry-over from the last story, but it was also episodic. Other games I ran had a similar feel.

After college, I went on a superhero bender in my role playing games, and during the campaign that underpinned my time living in Philadelphia, we moved away from episodic but connected stories to emulate the comic books of the late ’80s. Angsty characters, long arcs that weren’t planned, nor had any particular direction other than  to have overly dramatic emotional stakes. (So, Marvel…)

Through the ’90s, we had a nice stable group of players and the main games were Space:1889 and James Bond. I returned to episodic adventures, but they were much more interconnected for character growth. We started focusing on personal drama and issues in this period — most of the players were female, so I shifted to fit the “romance novel” interests of one, and the more theatrical interests of another. There was a lot more role playing in this period. Story took more of a back seat to the character development and relationships.

A big change for how we played came with my The Babylon Project game which survived several deployments in the military and changes of characters. I had a “side story” of the main Babylon 5 story arc about a small colony world on the edge of known space that was involved in the Shadow War. It was the first time I played with a central story arc that I had some idea of what I wanted to happen. For the most part, over the course of two years, it did. This would be replicated on a much larger and more ambitious scale with the Battlestar Galactica campaign, which lasted about five years and while we lost and gained players, and I had to tap dance a few times to get things to work, came to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s the only game campaign I miss.

The current crop of players we have are a little less serious and less immersive than the group I had in the past, but they all have an understanding of genre themes and story eats, as well as plot devices. We tend to click pretty well on creating a story that still has character development, but which has stepped away from the drama-heavy theatrical approach that we had in the ’90s.

 

I added the “you’ve had” because the question would suggest any character concept you’ve encountered. (In which cause it’s Gaea, the living planet from John Varley’s Titan series.) So what is the wildest character concept in one of our games?

For characters I’ve created, I’ll say it’s a tie between our take on Athena in our last Battlestar Galactica campaign, in which one of the Lords of Kobol essentially resurrected in a host NPC from their ship and who was a cybernetically-enhanced biologically-engineered “god” created by ancient sentient machines at Earth who had destroyed all life on Earth, then had an “oops!” moment and used old DNA to rebirth the human race on Kobol, setting these new Olympians over them to aid in recreating civilization. Her memories were stored in DNA that she could save to bring herself back if killed.

She’s a tie for Constitution, the first sentient starship serving with Starfleet in our Star Trek game. She became sentient over time and finally sued Starfleet for her rights under the Data v Starfleet decision. Connie tended to view her crew as family (but really more like pets) and would get frustrated from time to time  as her FTL switching in her computer cores (look it up) allowed her to “know: what was going to happen before it did, but due to causality, she could not act on an event or answer a question until reality caught up to her computation. Eventually, during a massive Borg invasion, she “woke” the fleet she was with, seeding her mind into the other vessels so they could beat the Borg. They wound up winning the battle with a highly logical and persuasive argument for allowing biological intelligence to choose if they wanted to join with the Borg, thus not only gaining the strength of their cultures and distinctiveness, but that they would be more adaptive by having a free and willing symbiotic relationship. She was considered by the other sentient starships to be their “mother”.

This one’s a tough one, since most of the games we’ve played tend to be modern or historically based. Instead of wild, I’ll try to go with the most amusing name(s):

Our current D&D-not-using-the d20-system fantasy game  the Saxon barbarian has a father named “Storpik.” It means something naughty — as in the man has a monster-sized you guessed it. The running joke is that the character, who is well-kitted out, is nothing compared to his dad.

During a superhero campaign, we had an off-screen character who never had a chance to make an appearance — a Mexican hero/telenovela star/budding politician named Amigo Fantastico, who main powers were persuasion and emotional control. He was “a friend to all!” and the guy who invented him as a joke had a fantastic voice and demeanor for him.

Otherwise, the group’s I’ve played with have been a bit disappointing on wild character names.

Gaming has been a big part of my life for four decades, and has helped mold me in various ways. Early on, it taught me how to structure a story, how to collaborate with the other players, and my desire to make the games “as real as possible” lead me to develop research skills that have served me well in various careers.

It changed my career choice several times. Originally, I had been interested in intelligence work. I got to do that. It led me into history and teaching; I’m doing that. It changed my focus of my field from 19th Century imperialism (thank you, Space:1889) to modern America and Europe (thank you Hollow Earth Expedition), to the end of Rome in Britain (thank you, current D&D/fantasy game!)

It’s turned me from a serious introvert to quasi-extrovert, and has anchored by social life up until my discovery of motorcycles, which provides most of the rest.

I’m going to go with short vignettes for this:

My first real game of Dungeons & Dragons, circa 1979: My internal monologue — “Holy crap! This is great! I get to be whoever i want! I get to be a hero! My life might such in game, but i can do something about it…unlike my real life.”

My first game of James Bond: 007: So this is what it feels like when mechanics help you play. What? I can build my character to my conception, and not have to take a random creation?

A particularly good game of Dc Heroes: Holy crap! My character is gonna get me laid! (And I was.)

After a few times of playing Space: 1889 I started researching the hell of the era because I like to make the game world feel real. (I started doing this with the James Bond game.) I found I loved the period and it became my point of study when I went back to college.

Playing Shadowrun: Hey, I think my character is going to get me laid! (And I was.)

My The Babylon Project game, run while I was at Defense Language Institute: I pulled off a complicated story over the course of 16 months!

My Star Trek game in the early aughties: Holy crap, I think my character is going to get me laid! (And I was…)

Hollow Earth Expedition: Wow, I love the interwar period — especially aviation history.

My Battlestar Galactica campaign: Holy shit, I just pulled off a five year long, highly immersive game, with a unique twist on the setting despite loosing most of my gaming crew.

Surprise the second: This is the first campaign I miss.

Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons: Wow! This reads like old D&D and makes me want to play fantasy for the first time in 30 years.

Tales From the Loop: I miss the ’80s. Even with the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation and the violence of the crack epidemic.

Star Wars, 30th Anniversary Edition: The old WEG Star Wars game! I missed playing this!