Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - Bloody Mad Dougal

I had originally planned to continue my odyssey through my early days of gaming, but I figure it might be a nice change of pace to have an update on the game I'm currently playing, just because I'm having so much fun with it. I've mentioned Mr. Smeaton before, but didn't actually speak much about the game itself.

So, a very brief background: the game takes place in Atlantis during the late 1800's (we think; Atlantis can only be reached through some sort of dimensional portal that may be an entrance to an alternate universe, or perhaps a gateway to the distant past). Britain has established a colony in Atlantis and jealously guards the secret of the Rift. Because in Atlantis, magic and alchemy actually work, producing wonders that can transform modern civilization, and Britain wants to make sure that the resulting power and wealth are hers alone.

Enter Dougal Smeaton, a gigantic Scotsman, son of a whisky maker, former artilleryman, and now an engineer designing steamships powered by Atlantean alchemy. Smeaton has fallen in with a rather bloodthirsty noblewoman named Victoria Sterling-Drake, who is on a mission from the Crown to find a close family friend, Sir Walter Graves. Graves was an archaeologist on the trail of a legendary treasure. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

So Smeaton has suddenly found himself being dragged along on a series of adventures with Miss Sterling-Drake, along with her mysterious manservant, a sorceress, and a doctor. They've battled cultists and assassins and sorcerers and monsters on the trail of a mysterious statue which holds the secret of a legendary island under the sea. Along the way, they lost the doctor and gained a native hunter/tracker. And quite recently, Smeaton went rather mad.

Here's why that last bit's important:

At one time, I apparently told the members of my gaming group that all my previous player-characters had seemed to go crazy at some point or another. I don't remember saying that, but they assure me I did. But it isn't really true. Not every character has gone mad, just... several. And you know, there were mitigating circumstances and shit.

There was Matrix, but she was crazy by design and got to die a really heroic death. And there was that chaplain in that Morrow Project game, who just snapped and began preaching to a forest fire. But really, it was a one-shot game, and everybody else in the party had already killed each other or themselves, so in a sense, my character was the sanest one in the game. And, yes, Stim the thief in Chuck's D&D game had gotten really paranoid and went totally round the bend. And then there was that ninja in Bushido who concocted an elaborate scheme to kill the young samurai he was assigned to protect, but that wasn't so much crazy as evil.

And so, my character in our recent futuristic superhero campaign, Cole "Metalord" Chen, got an unjust reputation for being "insane." He wasn't, really. Or not entirely. The Joker has a great line in "The Dark Knight" where he says...
"I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just... do things."
I'll be talking more on Monday about how you can't take the Joker at his word on things like that, but it's a perfect description of Cole.

Part of it may have just been frustration with a new game world and a different gaming style; I would try to figure out a plan--gather evidence, establish a headquarters, whatever--but it didn't seem to make much difference to the overall plot. Whatever I tried to do, it would a) not work, and b) be made totally irrelevant by some new plot development. Nothing I did mattered.

So at some point, I just started... doing things, random things, which had consequences, and that was Step One. And then, when I got mind-controlled by the evil Red Queen, I had to play Cole as evil for a while, and had entirely too much fun doing it, and that was Step Two and game over. The verdict was in: Cole is random and unstable and enjoys the dark side way too much, ergo crazy.

So okay, I accept that, and yeah, I even played into it quite a bit once the rep was established. And I had fun doing it (my favorite "crazy Chen" moment came when I pretended to lose my powers for a while, prompting another member of our group to try to get them for himself, which didn't turn out quite the way he wanted). But now the campaign's over and we're starting the Atlantis story, and I was determined not to do the same things with Smeaton that I did with Cole. Smeaton was going to be stalwart and heroic, a dependable rock, an island of calm unmoved by the storms whirling around him.

And for a while, it worked. Turns out, the doctor took the role of the crazy one there for a while, and Smeaton could be the dependable rock I wanted him to be. Yeah, he did have a really bizarre ambition to sell whisky which he would brew in the belly of a giant steam automaton, and he did deny the existence of magic even when it was performed right in front of him. But bad business plans don't equal insanity, necessarily, and as an engineer, it makes sense that he would only believe in what's measurable, repeatable, buildable with your own two hands (plus there was another reason that he still hasn't discussed with anyone--I wrote a speech, but I've never had a good opportunity to give it).

But once Lady Sterling-Drake entered his life, Smeaton had a run of bad luck. He has been stabbed and shot. He had his throat slit by an assassin, and on another occasion had his guts slashed open by the same fellow. And more recently, he was nearly burned to death by a fire-breathing chimera. And in every instance, he was healed, completely and instantly, by Lady Sterling-Drake's extraordinary empathic powers.

So what is a rational-minded engineer--who believes firmly in mundane explanations for seemingly miraculous events--to conclude when confronted with fire-breathing monsters of legend and multiple instances of being brought back from the brink of what seemed like certain death, with not even a scar to show for it?

The only thing he can conclude, really. Mr. Smeaton has decided that he is in Hell, and that Lady Sterling-Drake is the demon assigned to torment him. He is obviously doomed to an eternity of being pushed by her into situations where he will be grievously wounded unto death, only to have her put him back together good as new so that he can do it all over again, forever.

Or to put it another way, Mr. Smeaton has gone quite barking mad. Which is a shame, really, because I don't want this reputation to become some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I can play a character who stays sane. I can. I'm almost totally certain of it.

Pretty much.

Next week: Villains and Vigilantes, 1st Edition, and the worst GM ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now we have the most interesting role-playing challenge of them all: putting Smeaton back together again.