GM Workshop III – Scion

This is probably the most irritating of all to include in a list of failed games because it failed the most, the hardest, and the quickest. The background goes as such. Thursday is our gaming night because it’s the only night everyone has free, and we routinely travel to other peoples’ houses to eat, game, and be merry. Originally the Thursday game was a rotating night, where a different person ran a different game every week, but after most of the original crew left, the replacements (read: Matt, Kevin and I) only had a Werewolf game running. After a long, long time, another game was brought in to act as a breather, with the GM being the guy whose house we went to every Thursday. While a decent all-around guy, immediately falling into the role of leader in Werewolf, he had been acting touchier as the weeks went on. We figured it had to do with some poor choices in Werewolf.

The game chosen was Scion, where the mortal children of mythic deities battle the minions of the Titans for control of the earth. Eventually, the characters will become demigods, and then replace their parents, who either die or “retire” after judgment day. We all immediately came up with some interesting characters—some more interesting than others—only to discover that the GM wanted everyone to start out as a non-epic mortal, something the rules don’t even cover. Ok, we can deal with that, though it would have been good to know earlier. It could be interesting. So, we started the game with a workaholic doctor, a computer engineer, a bureaucrat, and a sharky lawyer. The GM was not amused. Things started to go farther downhill after Kevin started to ask the GM when we’d “get to the scion parts of the game;” this joke was taken poorly. Matt and I, easily bored with the seminars and such, began to roleplay breakfast, which was likewise taken poorly. The GM was quickly growing frazzled with our lack of action—lack of action taken, in part, because our characters were, well, dull.

The crux of the game had our characters learning about our divine heritage by finding clues in Las Vegas, where we’d all arrived for an “Emerging Leaders Retreat” hosted by the umbrella company we worked for. The culmination of this meant we’d made an enemy, some really huge guy who worked as a mining foreman, and discovered enough hints so that we as players knew what was going on. We were then called into a meeting with the umbrella company’s VP, only to find him bound, gagged, and held hostage. Doing the only thing he could think of, the sharky lawyer made an ad-hoc Molotov behind the bar and chucked it at the big huge guy. Hilarity ensued, he killed the VP and tossed fireballs at us, a lot of cock-punching led to failure, and my bureaucrat improvised his own Benny Hill sketch, flailing around with a bottle of Cuervo, trying to hit one of the thugs with it.

From that point onward, the game went quickly downhill. We were ambushed by ninjas on several occasions, enemies who came out of nowhere, who couldn’t be hit, and who vanished as soon as it looked like we might not die. After a while, Loki came down to get us out of the country, who then (six sessions into the game) decided to let us in on the fact that the VP was a plant, and that our goal was to take down the umbrella company, and that now all the deities thought we were on the side of the enemy.

Normally I’d continue on describing the rest of the game, but let’s stop here and think for a moment. The GM plants an NPC who is of critical, plot-bearing importance, an NPC who cannot die for any reason whatsoever, and makes it so the only way to get him to safety is to follow one very specific path. Then, when we fail to see the path and thus avoid it completely, the GM kills off the character in one fell swoop, leaving the rest of the game to have the characters flail around trying to save themselves as they’re beset upon by high-end thugs, and into the mix throws plenty of NPC’s who berate them (e.g. Loki). First of all, if the NPC is so critical to the plot, Don’t Kill Him. Characters screw up all the time—it’s what makes the game fun, to some degree. The baddie could have started shooting at us instead of decapitating the NPC, thus saving the plot. Second of all, if the NPC who is attached to the load-bearing-plot gets waxed, you can always change the plot. In hindsight, the game was probably about taking down the company from the inside, but we didn’t really know this—yet, every NPC acted as if the characters did. Instead of switching the plot in this instance, the game devolved quickly because the players, to be honest, hated being treated like crap. Every “ally” verbally abused them for screwing up, every enemy was a nigh-invulnerable superman, and there was no real way out of the mess.

Which leads to point two. The players had already irritated the GM through a string of bad jokes, which weren’t meant to offend but did. For the most part, everyone apologized, or had made jokes so non-offensive that they didn’t know the GM was irked by them. This started a train of pushes and shoves: the GM bit back, the players sulked because they thought they were being treated unfairly, the GM felt they didn’t respect his game, the players started getting more pissy and sulky because of it. No matter what the characters did, they couldn’t succeed; even an amazing level of success meant that nothing happened. The GM became so embittered that he skipped a week, because he was so pissed about his friends being downsized at work that the first thing he thought of was punching some of his players. Once again, a lack of investment on behalf of the players, plus a percieved lack of investment which was larger than reality. Point three, don’t game when you’re mad.

The game constantly went on a state of hiatus and off-weeks, gaming once a month, though mostly because players weren’t showing up. The game saw the players getting bagged on by Loki, and the sharky lawyer become a rapist because Loki had drained all his willpower, with even more enmity from this—when several players emailed the GM asking for a serious hiatus until everyone mellowed, to which came a ‘from my cold dead hands’ response. Most of the characters’ roleplaying—feeling trapped in a gulag, with no escape—was seen by the GM as non-respect for the game. Disillusion quickly set in, with lots of infighting taking the place of earlier banter. The last game itself had the GM explode and stalk off, informing everyone that they shouldn’t be there when he got back. Despite several emails to save the game, the GM instead decided to quit gaming—his only hobby—because it was getting as stressful as work. When people called him on his outside life interfering with the game, the GM refuted the point, saying nothing was wrong, then going on to start every game by telling us how miserable it was. Nothing is wrong with that. What’s wrong with that is taking it out on your players, consciously or not, and even the slowest players were able to connect the dots for this game.

Hence, don’t game when you’re mad. The downward spiral created too much of a gap between GM and player, and kept going—despite several calls for a hiatus or for Kevin to run his McWoD game. This player-based call for closure was seen as disrespect for the game, to which the GM responded in kind; the whole rapist incident was taken very poorly by all involved. Reuben kept in character for his lawyer, which was seen as (yet again) hostility towards the GM, while Reuben saw the GM picking on him for fucking up. It could easily have been avoided by some communication, or some down time, but the GM reacted strongly any time someone brought up the idea of a hiatus, seeing it as a personal attack.

The main thing to gain from this, besides don’t game when you’re mad, is that players aren’t infallible. They don’t see the big picture, have no idea where the game is going, and generally don’t go there without clues. Let’s face it, players are dumb. Riddles and secrets are not something that everyone gets; I’ve learned that the hard way in my own games. Some groups need more prodding than others. And just because they don’t follow the plot doesn’t mean they don’t respect the game, it just means they’re playing their characters instead of mindlessly following an abstract. In this case, Kevin loved the Scion game, and everyone else had fun in it, though the GM was sure everyone hated it.

The overall problem with the Scion game was that it wasn’t a bad game—not a great game, but definitely not the worst game I’d ever played in. The problem was that it died such a vainglorious death without really becoming either a good or a bad game—sort of Schrodinger’s game, stillborn halfway up a slow incline towards greatness.

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