Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#RPGaDAY - Day 12: Magic Concerned Citizens

This is a toughie. The prompt is 'old RPG you still play/read', but I don't actually play that many games these days, and I only really read on the train; a situation barely conducive to mass market hardbacks, let alone game books. That being the case, I'm going to reminisce about a campaign that I occasionally like to relive through the GM's game reports and still point out to people as that thing that I did that was awesome and actually, you should read this stuff.

Greg Stolze and John Tynes' (thanks for the catch, James) Unknown Armies is a game about power and consequences. It's set in a world of deep occult conspiracies, where power is achieved by embracing contradictions with insane dedication, or by pursuing one archetypal aspect of humanity to the exception of all others. It has probably the best system for modelling dramatic psychological breakdown ever published, and if there are places where the elegant 'one-roll' mechanics break down and get weird (specialist combat characters, we're looking at you here), it's not the end of the world.

My first real introduction to Unknown Armies was a game that James 'Gonzo History' Holloway ran way back in '04-'05 (fuck me; this November is the 10th anniversary of this game's kick off). It was set in and around the Rose Crescent, Cambridge branch of McDonald's, with the characters a chapter of the Occult Undergrounds most naively optimistic conspiracy, Mak Attax. The Rose Crescent McDonald's is an oddity in itself, a low-key place which you might not spot for a McDonald's at all, if not for the succession of miserable looking employees who stand at the Market Square end of the crescent mournfully displaying a sign which fails to convince anyone that they are, in fact, lovin' it.

They didn't have that in '04, or I would have played the fuck out of that character.

As it was, I played Roland McDonald, an avatar of the Listener whose aversion to violence had been dangerously eroded by an abusive and hardcore Weird upbringing. His best mate was the crew's wizard, Jack, an American student whose practice of Personomancy was both an expression of and cover for her fundamental lack of self-identity (from the first, she was Jack as an employee and Jill as a student, since Cambridge students aren't allowed to work in term). Nigel was an avatar of the Merchant, but Tim could only make one game. Eventually we added Simon to the mix, a former city banker who screwed up and ended up working at McDonald's and who didn't believe to start with.

The game was a blast. We battled self-actualising adepts who were pioneering a school of magic based on manipulating others into self-harming behaviours (man, we really hated her), evil fathers possessing their sons (pushing most of Roland's buttons) and time-locked Nazis, and ultimately participated in a contest to redefine reality which played like a mixture of the Grail Quest and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

The game reports are still on LJ, and I think are public.

http://jholloway.livejournal.com/tag/rosecrescent

Why do I hark back to this game with such fondness? Well, lots of reasons.

First, it was a chance to get back to gaming with James, which I have always enjoyed (I could also have talked about his World of Darkness: Mortals live game, but that lacks the re-readability), and I think the first real chance I had to game with Allison - James's other half, and a good friend - and with Jon, whom I didn't know before, but who is now also a close friend.

It was a game in which the characters were competent and effectual, not by being some sort of badasses, but by getting their heads into the right game. The different characters, with their varied approaches, clicked beautifully as a unit with no pre-planning and the interplay between them - and the back and forth with James's NPCs - was quick, light and somehow real. As a group, we were on fire - in terms of plot and memorable badinage - and James just kept on passing us charcoal briquettes. We found ourselves in the US at the end of a ritual and instead of going home we went on a road trip, and James ran with it; we never went back to Cambridge again.

It was also one of the first long-running games I'd been in that meant something, in that it had overarching themes and an endgame, in which we won, but kind of died, or not, but won! (Go us.) We were the kind of slackers who held power-meetings at the Baker's Oven over sausage rolls and coffee, but we made it, ma! Top of the world!

Overall though, it was just a game that clicked into place and was a thing of joy at a time when, frankly, I really needed one. Sometimes, I find gaming to be a stressful hobby, when really it shouldn't be. In particular, I find that large-scale LARP can mediate the needs of its various players poorly, with the result that most weeks someone isn't feeling it.

Looking back over Rose Crescent's run reminds me of why I roleplay.