What was your most impactful RPG session?
I hadn’t done much gaming for a long time before I went to Furnace, my first roleplaying convention, back in 2007. It’s a human-scale con that’s “all about the games” based in Sheffield UK. It’s an established fixture in the gaming calendar now, and has spawned a host of others at the same venue throughout the year.
I don’t remember what game I was looking for when I rocked up for the muster, but the first game I ended up in was something of an unknown quantity.
For a start it had the longest name – Lacuna Part One: The Creation of the Mystery and The Girl from Blue City. What the heck does that mean? Compare – Dungeons & Dragons? What it says on the tin. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay? I can get on board with that idea. GURPS? Obviously clunky acronymic gibberish – ironically abbreviated.
To be honest, Lacuna didn’t need any further description than that. I wanted to try something different because … well, different. So, why not?
This was my first exposure to ‘story games’ and a huge departure from the GM- and prepared plot-driven play that I had previously known.
Character generation was done at the table. It was a simple setup, and supported emergent character design. (It was a blessing compared to a recent BRP game I was involved in: two weeks sweating over inventory, race and class tables, only for the character to die in their first scene of play at the start of week 3 – though that was scaled back to only critically injured by GM fiat.)
Facilitation by Graham Walmsley (now of Cthulhu Dark fame) was masterful and a revelation at the time. He did a phenomenal job of improvising the scenario, folding in the players random speculations to create a frighteningly exciting and fun game.
The game relies on a rising tension mechanic which was made tangible with a wine glass borrowed from the bar and some fuzzy white beads. The players didn’t know what it represented exactly, just that there was a connection to our characters’ experience of the world as presented, and the level of peril they would face. While it was very much theatre-of-the-mind stuff (certainly no miniatures or floor plans), that innocuous device was enough to focus us collectively on the gameplay, the horrors of the scenario and the trade-offs that the characters increasingly had to choose whether to make.
It was the perfect start to convention gaming for me. I became hooked straight away onto narrative, improvised and player-led games. I enjoyed many more that weekend, thanks to the Collective Endeavour and their array of indie game titles. That session remains an exemplar for me of how to not just run a game, but to create an immersive and impactful play experience.
I should also mention, at Continuum a few years later, Scott Dorward ran his Lamp Posts in Bloom scenario. It was one of the most emotionally intense games I’ve played with a phenomenal group of gamers. I’ve had a soft spot for Unknown Armies ever since.