Friday, 24 of March of 2017

Nonfiction Monday: Questions and Desires

If one were to construct a profile of me from just what’s appeared on this site so far, there would be some glaring gaps. This is to be expected, of course, and it’s equally to be expected that as the content of the site grows, the gaps in that picture will asymptotically approach zero.

(See? Now you know I like to throw in big mathy words for no reason. Learning is fun!)

In particular, today I’m bringing an anecdote that relates to an important hobby of mine that hasn’t seen much screen time on Digital Busker so far: tabletop roleplaying games. Currently, in any given two week period, I play in two games and run one. This is way down from my lifetime max, which was something like six played and two run every two weeks (I was single then, and not particularly ambitious), but still a time commitment comparable to, say, the amount of time the “average American” spends watching TV in four days.

So back at the turn of the century, I ran a Wheel of Time campaign for a couple years. For those who a) care, and b) don’t already know, which is probably three people in the world, the Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game was a standalone d20-based game published by Wizards of the Coast, using a version of the then current Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition rules (what would later be referred to as 3.0) and based on the then-nine-book-long unfinished eponymous fantasy epic by the now-late Robert Jordan.

(Wow that was a terrible sentence. Good thing only three people in the world need to read it.)

There were a lot of problems with that campaign, both rules issues and things that I as the gamemaster should have done differently, but I remember it as being a lot of fun, and I tried some things back then that I might, from a position of additional experience, shy from now.

For instance: the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn. A little background: In the Wheel of Time books there are a pair of doorways that can each take you into another world, once. One door takes you to the Aelfinn, or colloquially “Snakes,” who will give you true answers to three questions and then send you home. The other door takes you to the Eelfinn, or colloquially “Foxes,” who will grant you three wishes (to the best of their ability) in exchange for a price that you must negotiate. Note that I didn’t say “and then send you home” this time. You generally have to use a wish for that. In the books, these two doorways are in wildly different parts of the world, and only one viewpoint character has related experiences through both. He went through the Snake door first and was unsatisfied with his answers. Later, upon encountering the Fox door, he went through hoping to get some more questions answered. He wound up making three wishes mostly by accident and without negotiating a price, and was hung for his trouble. Only the intervention of another character and some maybe-anachronistic CPR kept him alive to enjoy his boons.

So naturally I wanted to let my characters play around with these things, but I didn’t want to take them to the canonical location of either doorway. So I used another Wheel of Time MacGuffin, the World of Dreams, to get them to a doorway that could go to either place. We ended the session after they had all gone through, and I asked each player to think about whether “questions” or “desires” were more important to their character at that moment.

I wasn’t too worried about the… three? I think it was three, people who chose Questions and went to the Snakes. They might ask questions that would be difficult to turn into cryptic yet true answers, but at least their safe return to the world was guaranteed. So I handled them first, and sure enough, one of them managed to almost kill himself with a question. What was this question? “What is the Dark One currently planning?” The Dark One is a pandimensional being of… I’d say “pure evil,” but really He/She/It is so far beyond humanity that I’m not sure that label really applies. So the Snakes gave this character a glimpse of the view from that particular spot, which should by rights have burned his brain out faster than Lovecraftian slashfic. Only a very lucky die roll saved him from the looney bin. That wasn’t my favorite question, though. My favorite question, another character’s fourth of the agreed-upon three, was “Can I keep asking questions?” They answered that one on the house.

The Foxes, on the other hand, were somewhat more concerning. The only in-text example we have of their interactions with mortals paints them as tricky, not very nice, and unwilling to consider “but I didn’t know that” as a mitigating circumstance. So I started with my one player who was actually a fan of the series and had read all the books, figuring that I could count on him, at least, knowing how to get out of their world safely.

Such was not the case. He barged on through, made his requests, and never thought to negotiate a price or safe passage back home. So they, pretty much as they did in the book, called him an idiot and knocked him out. I was pretty sure that was it for him.

The second character to go through to the Foxes did manage to pick up on the hints I dropped and negotiate a price–he traded away his sense of smell. The third character, on the other hand, basically saved the day. His first wish was safe passage home for himself, his party, and their horses. Yes, he actually remembered the horses. That alone is amazing in an rpg. When it got around to haggling time, the Foxes were feeling a little cocky and tried to rattle him.

What should we take?
Let us take his ears!
Let us take his memories of home!
Let us take his sense of sight!

At this point, frustrated, the character broke in with “You’re about to get my sense of humor.”

Agreed!
It is done.

On paper, that character lost the least of any that went to the Foxes–the character who didn’t negotiate wound up losing his dark side, a la The Enemy Within, complete with evil doppleganger–but he roleplayed it so well that we all felt his loss.

And that’s why, seven or eight years later, I don’t remember what they actually wished for, and I certainly don’t remember what the other characters asked, but I remember taking Gavril’s sense of humor, because that informed his character for the rest of the game.


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