Posts Tagged ‘roleplaying’

Chloe posted this blog yesterday. You may have seen it.

I’ll paraphrase myself from her blog to explain this. I played Vampire: the Masquerade at university and decided to play a character I’d created from an earlier game, a Malkavian called Summer. In life she was introverted, socially detached, curious in a child-like way, until she was kidnapped and killed by a Malkavian vampire. The ‘Malkavian’ clan are delegated thus for, in short, being insane. This vampire in question made a practice of inscribing this name onto the skin of his creations, but unlike most ‘sires’, he then abandoned Summer. She was found and taken in by another group of vampires, and one among their number was able to remove the scars from her arm. But she later became terrified that her unknown sire would discover this betrayal, and she inscribed the letters back into her arm.

While at university I also did myself a bit of drawing, and decided to draw the above scene, which I was planning for the game. Let me stop here to add, for anyone who has never played Vampire: The Masquerade before, that this is fairly light stuff for the World of Darkness series. I wasn’t trying to be edgy at this stage.

I liked the image in my head, but my drawing did it no justice. So a year or so later, after a few months of frolicking in front of Chloe’s camera, I shyly put forward the idea of creating the image as a photograph, then even more shyly showed her my drawing. Chloe is also a V:TM player, and she was very excited by the idea.

We had some chats on how to best portray the character outside of a game, roped in Hannah Lonergan for her outstanding blood effects and drove over to the abandoned nightclub. The rest of the shoot you can read about in Chloe’s blog.

A few months later Chloe sent me the final image before posting it anywhere to ask what I thought. That alone should have been a warning, because Chloe typically likes to keep things as surprises. I opened the picture on my phone and genuinely stared at it for a good few minutes. Normally I do this anyway in a “How amazing does Chloe make me look” sort of way. This time it was more, “…oh. Wow. That’s frightening.” I really wasn’t sure if I wanted it to go online. Without context (and of course I knew the context better than anyone) it seemed very stark and real. In a strange way, it made me see the character very differently. She was fun to play, cute and funny and a bit sad. But seeing it, even in my own face, was something else.

So I sat down with Chloe to discuss the image and whether we wanted to put it online.

My concerns were twofold. First up was that I know absolutely nothing about, and have no experience whatsoever with, the utterly massive world of self-harm. I’m very lucky. And the last thing I wanted was to either upset someone who was unfortunate enough to have experience, or make light of the concept in any way. My second concern was more selfish – despite breaking a few barriers with more dark and unusual shoots, everyone around me is also aware that I know nothing and have no experience in this world. Putting my face on it felt strange and self-conscious in a way that showing bare skin on camera had never done before.

But we are artists, and artists break genres and show skin and do things that scare them. We put the image online.

I asked for permission to publish a few comments from friends:

“Having known you for years, that final image is just… hard to look at? I don’t know. Amazing make up work, but, dammed. Your face to that image kind of shook me up.” 


It was this particular comment which made me realise something I had never been aware of about Summer before, not when playing her, nor when modelling her:

“That’s quite a troubling image that, rightly, or wrongly, or perhaps more accurately: fairly, or unfairly, requires a lot of context to understand.”

Chloe replied:

“Quite. We were so carried away and with the concept already clear in our heads, we didn’t actually consider at the time how it would look to other people.”

And I nearly wrote this on the Facebook thread, before I realised I was getting carried away in my own thoughts:

I think we always knew that it would need the context to work. What we didn’t think through was how that stupid cartoon version I drew would translate into real flesh, literally. But actually it doesn’t need vampires and a character situation to work. It’s about a child who was mistreated by someone whom she trusted, someone who should have been there for her, who tried to leave painful memories behind but just wasn’t ready to let go of them. That isn’t fantasy, not really. If anything maybe knowing the context just makes it easier to look at.

I don’t have a point to make with this. I’m just fascinated by how something has gone from a roleplaying character, to a concept shoot, to an image we never intended to create, to an insight on that roleplaying character that I never intended to have. I hope no one is offended by the image, or upset by it, and I hope Chloe and Hannah’s work is appreciated artistically as well as for its shock factor.

As further justification for my insistence that Summer was never meant to represent this, here is a response from my mate Ian, who played John alongside Summer in Vampire: The Masquerade:

“Ah, she was such a fun character…having a fairly good day by the looks of it. It’s only an arm!!!!”

There’s a discussion starting on Chloe’s blog about roleplaying characters and how they are perceived by people around them – jump in!

In the spirit of collaboration which I have been pursuing so vigilantly lately (and by ‘pursuing’ I mean ‘throwing things at my collaborators impatiently until they meet my demands’), I thought I would mention some of the recent postings and goings-on of avid gamer and fellow blogger Dave Thompson.

I’ve spoken about Dave before, as one of my main influences in starting a blog in the first place, and his blog features updates (far more regularly than mine) regarding fitness, dieting, martial arts and, most prominently, a sandbox-style tabletop game of epic proportions called 13th Age, played with the rules of the same name.

The game works like this: twice a week Dave emails us asking who is free to play, where we would like to go and what we would like to do. We all have a copy of the map of the game world, which is began blank and has been slowly filled in as we explore, discover, and choose to define things ourselves. Each week the party might be different, and the actions of one party might affect the situation of another in the same world.

Dave’s latest instalment to the enriching and expanding of the setting is a collaboration of world creation. He has posted a hex map of the land the game is set in, along with a Google Doc open for editing, and has invited anyone to take a hexagonal spec of the world and define it however they see fit. This can include adding buildings, locals, backstory or politics, with the intention of all of this content from so many people creating a vast, diverse and unexpected landscape for gaming in. I love how this method of combining the elements of GM-created plotlines vs. fully collaborative storytelling to give players that extra level of input over their own adventure.

I’d highly recommend following Dave’s blog, To Hit Arse Class 0, to keep up with his updates and insights. Other posts of his which are worth a read are on Dreamlining and Harajuku moments. On a vaguely-related note, a bit of link-clicking led me to this very cool article on how to cross anything off your bucket-list, which is worth a read for anyone trying to achieve something big and scary.

Since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (Edition 3.5, for those who are interested) at university I have struggled to create the same sense of enormousness and grandeur that roleplaying games can bring in my writing. Actually I’ve been trying to do this for much longer, right from when I used to belong to a little roleplay club with friends from school, back in 2004. Mainly, however, I started to do this following a year-and-a-half campaign in which I played a stereotypical chaotic/good rogue named Amber (not the first manifestation of this character), the classic hopeless-romantic save-the-world not-leaving-without-my-friends sort of character I think probably every girl plays sooner or later. The campaign stretched over three continents of the setting world, included more than ten players on-and-off and at least three times that many characters, and ultimately held true to a theme of love conquering all. That, and Ilithids. Because as we all know, nothing goes hand-in-hand with love quite like Ilithids. (Maybe that should read ‘hand-in-tentacle’.)

So I had a go at transferring the epic quests and tales of these characters into narrative-form, centred, of course, on my Amber (a point I’ll come back to). Immediately I began to run into problems: there was an argument at this point, but what was that awesome line Character X said? Ah well, I’ll rewrite it. Wait, was it Character X or Character Y who was on this side of the argument? Never mind, let’s get them back to the town so Event Z can happen. Shit, wait, Event Z happened before all this—In short, a lot of the events and conversations that take place only hold their intrigue and interest (and, in some cases, sense) when phrased exactly as they were at the tabletop, in the heat of the moment, and without the aid of a dictaphone they can never be perfectly recalled.

This isn’t the only problem. I said earlier that my attempts at writing the story all centred on Amber, my rogue. This, again, is something inherent in roleplaying writeups – the same thing happened, to a lesser extent, in my Fiasco! writeup. The obvious reason behind this is vanity, but it’s also a little to do with the characters, their creators and their motivations. I did not invent these characters: they are not mine to do with as I will. This makes it harder to play with them, to twist them to suit the situations (as they appear in the story differently to the sessions), and overall, to know precisely why they do what they do. I know my character’s motivations inside out – I made them up; they’re a just shade over from my own motivations. Why did the ranger just pick up a Halfling and hurl it at that cave troll? Amber doesn’t know, and nor do I. (For the record, however, I don’t think that ever happened.)

The final issue with this type of writing is more generic and a little more disheartening: reader interest. I said at the start that the events and scenes in a roleplaying game are rarely less than huge, grand, exciting and epic. They outscale any book, they are bigger and more fulfilling than movies, brighter, with better characters and fight scenes and special effects—that is, in the eyes of the player. The overall problem with writing what is essentially fanfiction of this type is that the writer, being the player, has seen all this from the very centre of the story: he was, for all intents and purposes, there, fighting those battles and crying for those characters. And other players from the campaign who read the resulting story are likely to be just as engaged: their characters might be less well-represented, or slightly altered or not as badass, but they were there, too, and reading about their characters is a bit like reading a newspaper story about how you saved a cat from a tree: you are the hero, the star. And no matter how convinced you are that the story is good, that it transcends the barrier between player and reader, that sense of grandeur and magnificence will never be present for a reader who was not there.

What I wrote of the aforementioned university campaign I never finished; I like a lot of the scenes I did write, but a lot of them simply never reflected how I felt when I played them out at the tabletop. I’ve written other pieces based on games, including Lorien Trust (but more for my own pleasure and linguistic practice than to show anyone), but I think my writeup of Fiasco!, which I recently put up on here, is the only one I’ve actively shared, and that is mainly due to the storytelling nature of the game itself. At the end of the day, sharing roleplaying fiction simply feels selfish, a demand for everyone to read about my character and how amazing she is, how awesome her actions, how heartfelt her story; and tabletop roleplaying is meant to be anything but selfish. Having said that, roleplaying writeups do share the same benefits of fanfiction: the chance to concentrate not on story, or character development, or even making much sense, but only on the writing itself, exercising the craft in the best way one can, so that maybe, just maybe, it might be a substitute for that feeling one can only get from being there.