Baxil (baxil) wrote,
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Fireborn: State of the Campaign, Week 8

My first clue should have been when I overheard my players talking in the next room.

They were catching up with some friends during a LAN party in late December. Exchanging bon mots about the neat things happening in their life.

"-- awesome RPG. Everybody plays a reincarnated dragon," I heard as I walked within earshot. "It's got a really vivid and unique combat system. You describe everything that you're doing, string together those moves like in a fighting game, and your opponent does the same thing. Whoever rolls better gets to execute moves from their combo." He got more excited. "And you get to play both as your normal character and as your past-life dragon self ..."

Well, that's pretty neat, I thought. My players are talking up the system behind my back. I made a mental note to include it in my next state-of-the-game post and chalked it up to new campaign energy.

A week or two later -- seeking the weakest parts of the game for my ongoing "Fireborn GM tips" series -- I asked for their harshest criticisms of the system.

"Combat," it was immediately suggested. But then, almost immediately: "But I have to say, it's not as chunky as it seems. You'd think it's a hassle, but in practice it works."

If the toughest criticism they can level is "it works," I thought, maybe I really am onto something here.

Then the in-character journals started up.

maggiesmusing is accompanied by not-yet-scanned character art (and a sketch of Mr. Snuggles, the party mascot who is developing powers and a backstory all his own). And suti_bun is managing to keep the campaign chronicle flowing at a pace matching the campaign itself, which is the first time I have ever seen that happen. When players set out to journal the in-game happenings -- and I speak from personal experience here -- the first session or two come quickly, the next few take months, and the vast majority of it only gets written in that vast Maybe Time in the future.

And this week, when we wrapped up game and sat around for 15 minutes afterward going over the high points of the session and slinging ideas back and forth, the mood was high.

"It's amazing. Everyone's staying in character."

"Two characters," I pointed out.

"Yeah! It's an experience switching back and forth between them. My characters are such polar opposites."

"Yeah," {M} agreed, and hit me with the kicker: "This is my first character ever that I've been able to take to another level."

Now, I modestly believe myself to be a good GM*, but this is high praise.

The system is definitely a contributing factor. Combat is vivid. Everything the dragon characters do is tinged with awesome. The parallel structure of the game -- the ability to reimagine the supporting cast as their character archetypes skip between the game's two eras -- is an arresting story mechanic. The quest for self-discovery, as the characters come to grips with their past, makes for amazingly compelling roleplaying.

Of course, the system's not the whole explanation; I've been putting in a lot of effort above and beyond the call of GMing duty. My "Player Handouts" folder has two different London maps, conversation flowcharts, custom dice mats, custom character backgrounds, and a "State of the Plot" summary to help everyone keep track of unresolved questions (which I've since turned into a Google Doc). This doesn't even count the answering machine messages I've recorded or the flashback soundtrack I've assembled. With that amount of work, any game can be memorable.

But somewhere in there, the game crossed the line from "memorable" into "epic."

I was noting tonight how the mechanics are worming their way into the narrative -- I nicknamed the main political factions of the Atlanteans the "fire," "water," and "air" groups, and it has stuck; and when {a} had a chance in a flashback to design the symbol for the Guardians Eternal, he took one of the elemental runes the game sticks onto its character sheets.

But this is happening at a more meta level as well. Our four core players seem to be falling into the elemental archetypes the game itself defines; we have a cool and patient ice dragon (water), a mercurial lightning serpent (air), a primal, direct fire dragon (fire) and a subtle and diplomatic forest dragon (earth), and as we talked about this tonight we realized their players have subconsciously aligned themselves so that the interplay of the group pulls between the opposing elements. There's something deliciously mythic in it. And for a game whose narrative is about characters reconciling their modern lives with their mythic lives ... that sort of metanarrative synergy hits you like a sledgehammer.

Plus, Mr. Snuggles.**

So how's the Fireborn game doing? Damn well, and I'm not doing it justice here. (That's because every time I type out one of the monster RP posts I've been writing, it takes me literally a day or more.) The players say they're excited -- this is one of those rare campaigns that has the potential to go from starting characters to the epic-level climax. I'm certainly excited -- excited enough to be staying up for over an hour in the middle of the night typing this up after game.

We'll see where that energy takes us. I feel good about the exploration.

--
* It's not ego if you believe this because your players tell you so. And I think I've had enough players to judge this fairly.
** mew
Tags: fireborn, roleplaying
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