Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Embracing the Darkness

There have been, unofficially, two eras that began in this blog. This entry marks the beginning of the third era.

The first era, let's call it "the D&Dsis Era," was my misguided idea of chronicling a year of playing D&D and writing it up as a graduate thesis for my MA program at Johns Hopkins. That period started in May of last year and ended about three months later. It was a good idea, and I'd still love to do it someday, but I probably never will (at least, not unless 5th edition D&D addresses the game-breaking issues I have with the current game, detailed in my post yesterday, "Not My Thing"). The good thing about that period, though, was that it inspired this blog. Even after I decided not to do the D&Dsis, I continued to update the blog with my gaming experiences. This marks the first time I have ever been able to keep up a consistent blog of any kind for any extended length of time!

The second era, the "Wandering Era," was when I embraced the fact that I am essentially an RPG whore, bouncing from one game to the next, running one-shots and shying away from any long-term campaigns or commitments. That era was long and great fun, but I have grown tired of the lack of lasting games, not to mention the potential friendships I have missed out on as a result. That era began around August and ended around December, when I formally expressed my intention to begin a persistent campaign.

Which now brings us to the current era, the "Campaign Era." This past month has been all about my desire to start something epic and substantial. Yesterday, it suffered what appeared to be a serious setback when I had my falling out with D&D. This morning, I canceled not only my D&D campaign, but the concurrent Warhammer campaign I was running, as well. I am burned out on fantasy. This marks two more failures to launch in an embarrsingly long list of false starts.

Is it embarrassing? A little. But this blog is called Failing Forward for a reason. With every failure, I learn something about myself. I try and build on that lesson, and make the next game better. Someone once said "Failure is just an opportunity," or something like that, and though I normally think that person is just trying to make themselves feel better, today, I get it. My failure to carry on in D&D has led to an opportunity to try the next thing. And I gotta say, I'm pretty damn excited about the next thing.

The next thing is Call of Cthulhu. I figure, since D&D didn't work out for me, I'll try out one of the other long-standing dynasties in role-playing. Here's a few reasons why I'm excited:

1. It's Not D&D. That's not meant to be snarky. I literally mean the playstyle of CoC is very different than D&D. D&D is more often than not about combat and exploring dungeons. CoC is about solving mysteries and surviving unspeakable horrors. D&D proved not to be my thing, so maybe CoC, with it's different emphasis, will prove to be more my speed. And there's evidence to back that up...

2. Love the Lovecraft. Outside of RPGs, I have had a slow-burning, high-duration/low intensity obsession with Lovecraft and the very ideas of Cosmic/Supernatural Horror for a very, very long time. CoC, obviously, is based on Lovecraftian horror. D&D, on the other hand, has its narrative roots in pulp fantasy fiction. Though the genres definitely share some roots, I have an affinity for the former, and decidely not so for the latter. I have read tons of Lovecraft & Poe, and loved it. I get a huge kick out of watching shows like The X-Files, Fringe, and most recently, True Detective. Even the bordering mystery/suspence genre is something I have a lot of fun involving myself with. Meanwhile, the only fantasy series I've ever been interested in is Game of Thrones, which has very little to do with the kind of high-fantasy embraced by D&D. Looking back, this probably should have been a very big red flag as to where my interests really lie.

3. Combat is not very important. Throughout my GMing "career", combat has often been my least favorite part of the game. Why? I like my action gaming to exist in those really intense, make-it-or-break-it moments. Combat, by necessity, has lots of buildup to those moments, but few of the actual moments themselves. As a result, I love Brockheimer-esque action sequences in my game, but a simple sword/fist fight is usually boring to me. I also love scenes of high tension, like, for example, the end of the film Seven. Combat is rarely that ambigous. Combat in RPGs, even horror RPGs, rarely leads to that kind of doubt, dread, or tension. Chaosium (publishers of CoC) gets that, and so CoC does not have the same kind of emphasis on combat that most RPGs do. Sure, there are detailed rules for when it does happen, but it's not meant to happen often. Put another way, combat in CoC are like skill challenges in D&D; an important enough part of the game to have rules, but clearly not the emphasis.

4. Survival is not a given; it's the reward. The drama inherent in the struggle to survive is extremely rewarding and fascinating to play out. To me, it's far more exciting and interesting than the struggle for power, which is often the emphasis of later editions of D&D and many of its contemporaries. In CoC, higher-level powers and magic items aren't the reward. Living to discover the truth is the reward. That, to me, is awesome. Again, moving outward from RPGs, I guess this is what my problem has always been with The Walking Dead. Despite my love for all things zombie, I haven't been able to get past the first few episodes of the show. The show (and the comics, kinda) have always been more about the people and their relationships, not necessarily on the struggle to survive.

An so, this Sunday, the third era continues, stronger and stranger than before. Will it work out? Or will this be the next "opportunity?" I guess we'll play to find out!


  1. Great post. We too are always looking for a good game. For RPG we still play AD&D, but we are going to be moving into the CRAZY world of TMNT and other Strangeness next, and then on to Rifts. I get story, and I get making about the Role Playing, but if I wanted to play a mini game like D&D4 I'd play WH40K. Keep us posted on the CoC game results. I have the book and have yet to actually play the game.

    1. Thanks! I have only played CoC once, a previous edition, well over 10 years ago! So we'll see how it plays out...

      ...and, yes, TMNT is a crazy world! Are you going to use the After the Bomb campaign setting? Look it up if you haven't already, it's pretty damn cool.


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