Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Weekend 2011 Part 1: Steampunk Gypsies

Bee couldn't take me this time, nor join me, so I was as close to being "on my own" for this weekend as I ever was (She did have time to bring some of my stuff, bless her).  I showed up almost too late, forgot too many things, couldn't find other things, and barely made it... but I DID make it.  So after getting lost on the bike ride over there, I had finally arrived at my first KotK weekend alone.

After a quick dinner, we jumped straight into our first session, in this case, Desiree's Steampunk Gypsy game, mentioned in the previous blog post.  Desiree chose to use no system (though I introduced one halfway into the game that was well received ;) ), so our characters amounted to a description and a picture.  I arrived a touch late, so everyone had already picked their character, leaving me with Carlos, a very conservative gypsy concerned with the fading of his culture and owner of the last gypsy horse.  The others offered to trade with me, but I honestly thought he was a perfect fit for me, so everyone was happy.

As I said, Desiree used no system, but after watching people toy with cards and dice, I suddenly suggested that we should play it like Calvin Ball, but, and I'm not kidding here, they had no idea what I was talking about (and it's not like Dutch people have no exposure to Calvin and Hobbes: Raoul knew exactly what I was talking about when I described the situation to him later on).  So, after I explained the utterly arbitrary and ineffable and chaotic rules of Calvin Ball, they thought it was great fun, and our "system" devolved into people knocking over cans, drawing cards into weird patterns, rolling dice and then placing them on cards, connecting cards with forks, and positioning jewelry in odd configurations.  In short, fun was had by all while onlookers couldn't figure out what the hell we were doing.  Desiree declared it the most fun system she'd ever played with.  I like to think she was making a statement against the arbitrary cargo cults that follow many more complex games (especially D&D), but I suspect she might have simply enjoyed the purity of Calvin Ball ^_^

To return to the story, Desiree began the game by introducing us to the courtship rituals of Gypsies: If a boy Gypsy and a girl Gypsie liked one another very much and her parents agreed to the match, the boy Gypsie "kidnapped" the girl Gyspe.  And so, the tone was set: This was to be a game about romancing Gypsie girls!  And so, our Gypsie family set out for the grand meeting of all the Gypsies in the area which, because of cultural and actual attrition, consisted of one single other family, who was the rival of ours.  The other players had their own little stories, such as Erik playing Pedro as a dancing, womanizing fool, or Frank playing Gomez, a hunter and my younger brother who craved to be seen as my equal, Marco playing as Alejandro, a Gypsy inventor with a crazy steam car (and my rival), and Myrthe, playing Mariposa, an equally technologically-fascinated Gypsy girl from our rival family (they were a match made in heaven).

I think Desiree really liked how I played Carlos.  I instantly had a connection with Allegria, the dancing daughter of the rival family (She found my storm-grey horse, Dancer fascinating.  When she reached up to touch his nose, I asked if she knew how to ride.  When she shyly confessed she didn't, I told her all Gypsies should know how to ride.  She commented on the impracticality of this, but I only scowled, unwilling to admit she was right, and took her for a ride), but I never admitted it, never came out and said it. In my opinion, that's rule #1 about a good romance: Imply all feelings, don't state them outright until the climax or until they impossible to fulfill, if you state them at all (I think the Taming of the Shrew is a better romance than Romeo and Juliet).  Instead, he played his guitar and tried to arrange marriages for the rest of his family, while struggling to pretend that Allegria's sensuous dance with Gomez didn't affect him, or that he was willing to give up everything to keep her safe.

At some point, I made the "mistake" of telling Allegria that I had a dream of finding a mare for Dancer, my horse, and breeding a new herd that I would use to rekindle the horse population of (wherever we were).  Desiree instantly hit upon the idea of making me choose between Dancer and Allegria. I don't think she expected the choice I made, but was pleased with it nonetheless.  First, Dancer wandered off, so I went looking for him while a storm brewed.  I found him across a river eating some tasty but highly poisonous plants.  I was able to force him to vomit up the plants, but problems mounted as I brought him back to the river.  Before I could cross with Dancer, I saw Allegria (who had followed after me, worried about why I was gone for so long) falling into the river.  Now, the storm grew close, and Desiree made it clear that if I chose to move my horse across the river first, that Allegria would die, but if I rescued Allegria, I might miss my chance to get my sick horse across the river.  Of course, I saved Allegria.

After a tense scene where we worked to save Allegria's life, I was assured that she would be safe.  Rain poured down outside, and still, I gathered my coat and left.  The river had swollen too large for me to safely cross, and my horse stood shivering on the other side.  By then, Gomez and Pedro had arrived and, Gomez being an excellent outdoorsman, had rope with them.  So, I tied the rope to myself and struggled to cross the river (in retrospect, it probably would have made more sense to have Gomez cross, but I think Carlos was the kind of guy who took the weight of the world on his shoulders), where I covered my horse with my coat, intending to wait out the storm.  However, Desiree stated that he looked very ill and probably wouldn't make it through the storm.  So I tied the rope to the horse and tried to cross with him, swimming beside Dancer.  I was, of course, going for broke: Rescue BOTH the girl AND the horse, because heroes don't quit just because of a little rain!  However, I could tell Desiree wanted to exact a price: I couldn't save everyone, I had to be willing to give up something, and so she told me that I could tell that Pedro and Gomez were losing strength and that they couldn't draw us both across... and so I did the only thing I really could do (especially with the horse tied to the rope): I let go.

And so, long story short, Carlos died, but Dancer lived on.

The story ended, I believe, with Allegria wearing black and becoming a very conservative Gypsy herself who, nonetheless helped raise an entire herd of horses.  Alejandro and Mariposa married, I believe, Gomez sort of took over as leader of the family, and I don't remember what happened to Pedro (it's possible he married Adelyne, the other, shy, young sister, but I'm not sure it worked out between them).

The death of my character provoked a discussion.  I suggested two alternative paths: if she had intended to make me choose between my horse and Allegria, she could have simply taken Dancer from me when I chose Allegria.  Alternatively, my arm had been mangled during my rescue attempts, so if she simply wanted to exact a price, she could have taken my arm.  However, especially given it's one-shot nature, I didn't feel the death of Carlos was inappropriate.  The only thing it cut short was the romance with Allegria, which was left unresolved, but I think Desiree wanted and/or enjoyed that ending, and I felt it was very in character for Carlos, who was willing to sacrifice everything for the safety of his culture and ideals.  Raoul, upon observing the entire situation, commented on how GMing by fiat as Desiree was doing opened on up to criticism for "killing off a PC," and that chance-based systems provided a GM with cover.  If we had been playing D&D, for example, then Desiree would have simply called for a Fortitude save, and if I failed my roll, well, it was out of her hands.  I thought that was an interesting observation.

All in all, a very good game.  A very different game from what you generally see the knights run.  It was very laid back and reminded me of playing House with girls when I was a little boy, but it wasn't slow, it wasn't boring.  Personally, I found it a much more satisfying game than Grimm (it certainly had better chemistry among the players_, and it gave me a lot to think about.  All in all, I would call it a success, and a good one at that.
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