The Captain and the Witch and What Happens Next

Sometimes, in games, things happen that come out of the just… nowhere… that is the process of play. And sometimes those things make a game really awesome because players pick up on them, run with them, and then all kinds of weird shit happens and the idea actually had some merit to begin with and it’s all a thing.

And then sometimes the players don’t pick up on an idea (or the idea was just terrible) and nothing happens. This was the case with the captain and the witch mentioned above. The party went somewhere I wasn’t expecting and I started improvising – just to have something to say, you know – and I ended up with the party in this little hunting/trapping town on the edge of a great wood and they had a river pirate captive (long story that) and they wanted to turn him over to the local authorities…

So I had them meet two fairly lax guardsmen who explained that their captain would disappear into the woods for days at a time and go “hunting.” Really though, everybody knew he was actually visiting the witch who lives in the woods (and well, they’ve got a thing going on) away from town. And as they spent a night in this town (they’re starting to be a little weirded out that the only place they meet halflings is as the owners of Inns) the owner of the inn tells them the same thing, in almost the same way. “The town’s fine, the captain just goes out every now and then and spends a few days with the witch.”

And the thing is – I was just trying to come up with something to make the town a little interesting. The party already had a goal they were working toward so this potential side-trek just sat there, totally made up on the spot because I needed something, anything, since I wasn’t prepared.

But since then I’ve been thinking about the Captain, the Witch, and this weird little town out beside the elf-wood. What the hell is really going on there? Is the captain just smitten with a lady who lives in the woods so everyone assumes she’s a witch? Is a witch actually controlling the town and is her lover, the captain, the mouthpiece through which she works? Something else entirely..?

It’s probably for the best the party didn’t pick up the trail at that point, I’m not really sure where it would have gone. But I can’t stop thinking about them.

And I think I know why. Adventurer Conqueror King System is a great game and it has a great “build your wilderness map” section which I followed. I placed dungeons, and settlements, and fixed lairs, and dynamic lairs, and it was fun. I’ve always enjoyed making maps and putting stuff on them. It was also amazingly creative – as some of the random rolls really forced me to consider the world from another angle and I made some crazy encounters from the beginnings of these placements. There is one placement on my map that the players have already shown interest in that I’m super-stoked for the time they get there and it all evolved out of rolling a ridiculous treasure hoard for a set of monsters I didn’t really have an explanation for and then it all came together. And it was pretty much the result of me needing to explain this set of random stuff in a way that made sense. I’m hoping they wait a few levels though because this area would mop the floor with them as they are right now.

But I got off on a tangent there… As much fun as stocking the map was, and as much fun as anticipating a preset encounter area that you really like is – nothing compares to the experience of just winging it. Some people hate winging it – my wife is that way – and you know, that’s okay. Some people are planners. But my greatest thrill – as a player or DM – is just shaking the boat, throwing stuff out there, making stuff happen, instigating, and then seeing what comes next.

That’s the part about RPGs that makes them so amazing, the thing that keeps me coming back for all these years, the reason I always find myself chasing the questing beast of a great game. In an RPG, you never really know what comes next. TV shows, novels, video games – they can surprise us, have twists and turns, but at the end of the day an author writes, a director directs, and a finished product gets delivered that ultimately shows the world one vision. RPGs are always unfinished art – even when a campaign ends you can still ask, “What happens next?”

The Amber RPG attempts to answer a question from the novel, “what would the next generation of Amberites have been like?” I got to have an amazing experience when I ran an amazing campaign with the best damn bunch of gamers that I’ve ever played with… And when that game ended we started a new one, where they played the children of their previous characters (those who wanted to, of course). So we got yet another generation of Amberites following in the footsteps of those who came after the elders. And it was glorious.

I’ve never lost that sense of wonder. I hope you haven’t either. I mean, sure, sometimes it’s been a little frayed around the edges. We all get burnt out from time to time. I always find it again though, because I always want to know just what is going on with the Captain and Witch…

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2 responses

  1. […] Traveller Effect (The Rhetorical Gamer) The Captain and the Witch and What Happens Next – ”There is one placement on my map that the players have already shown interest in […]

  2. I too find that winging it is the most fun. But I like doing it with some established knowledge. Possibilities. They may happen but you don’t know how.

    The concept of Fronts from Apocalypse (and Dungeon) World is a good foundation: find a common theme, name a few threats and their impulses, write a few names for a cast list, and – most importantly – write some stakes questions about what might happen that you refuse to answer unilaterally as GM.

    Even in a game as open as Amber, I think it’d helpful to have some arrows your quiver in the form of other people’s plans. But the stakes questions are key for me, as a GM, to keep my own sense of wonder and curiosity piqued and avoid forcing a plot.

    You’re absolutely right about wonder, and I’d go one step further: perfect foreknowledge causes GM burnout, no matter how awesome our plots.

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