From a group email:
As roleplayers, we attend games each week, hoping that the GM has cooked up something that will inspire us to care, to get involved, to investigate, to test what our characters are made of. And, nearly every week, we leave disappointed in some way. Let’s look at a time that wasn’t disappointing, and ask: What happy accidents happened to bring this about – and how can we become more accident prone?
Consider the strange case of Lance Bruce, gay linebacker. In our recent game of The Roach, I played Max Born, a gay psychology professor. In one of the first scenes, I was faced with the task of crafting a conflict that would involve someone else’s character. Since The Roach does not feature extensive character backgrounds, I had very little information to work with. Luckily, Steve had drawn the card “Expose,” which required him to publicize indiscretions related to another character, and his character already hated mine.
So, I outlined my vision for the scene: Max Born was attending convocation with his lover. Before the speeches, the faculty was chatting with the university administration, including the Chancellor. Professor Feebs, having come across evidence of Max’s sexuality, would seek to expose Max’s intimate relationship with his convocation guest in front of the assembled dignitaries. Max’s lover would help him keep their relationship secret. I asked Chris to play the Chancellor, Bruce to play Max’s lover who we named him Lance Bruce after a Simpson’s quote, and we started the scene.
The scene opened with “Good to meet you. Lance Bruce, linebacker, Ohio State University” and we were surprised. This macho, alpha male was exactly the opposite of what we had expected. “Get me a drink, woman…I mean, professor.” We all laughed. The scene built smoothly to a conflict – would the Chancellor believe Prof. Feebs’ accusations, despite Lance Bruce’s manly personality? Each of the characters involved in the scene, PC and NPC alike, had motivation for their actions, and when the dice were rolled, the result had a real impact on the outcome of the story for all of us. Without this scene, almost none of the future conflicts would have worked: Lance Bruce would not have been strip searched for microfiche at a football game, we wouldn’t have elected a new (kilt wearing schizophrenic) Faculty Senate Chair, and there wouldn’t have been a Lance Bruce Ass. Hall of Acoustics/Judgement. In short, our game wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or filled with laughter.
The players were so immensely satisfied with this scene that you’ve heard several renditions of it by now. For those of us who were there, it’s a gaming memory that we’ll never forget. So what went right? I knew that Steve needed to expose someone. Steve knew what to expose. Bruce knew that he somehow needed to help me keep my identity under wraps. Chris knew to keep the chancellor reasonably neutral until we reached the conflict. We all knew our functions in the scene, because we’d communicated beforehand what was expected. Notice though that the results were still surprising, engaging, and also more fun than usual.
So how can we become more prone to happy accidents in our scenes, plot lines, and sessions? This story suggests that, in order to accomplish this, we should talk Before Rather Than After.