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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, June 19, 2009
Friday Fiction, Sorta...
I was an avid role player, and quickly moved from player to "Dungeon Master". I didn't care so much for canned (store bought) Dungeons, but preferred to create my own, and over the years I put together several campaigns where the same players would play once or twice a week for years on end. As I aged, the campaigns became far more intricate. medieval politics, poverty, and the elusive dangling carrot of possible magic, or world influence were powerful tools for motivating characters. I was entertaining or competent enough to keep people coming back for years to play characters in a story I was making up as we went along.

Part of what made my campaigns entertaining was that my pretend medieval world was consistent - there was a known king, and the chances of you even seeing him in your lifetime was pretty much non existant, unless you were born into nobility - and if you were, you probably wouldn't hang around with anyone who wasn't of at least a suitably elevated station. Yet, such a caste system is made to provide a springboard to the unlikely - for nothing is so entertaining as the Cinderella story - and almost every role playing campaign borrows heavily from the genre.

In my "world" there was a very important, and wealthy Duke. The land itself was heavily taxed, at war with another land, and poverty was everywhere, and even the nobles were counting their silvers - but this Duke was wealthier than the King himself, and was feared, admired, and respected by the kingdom subjects. When a character played by one of my players would meet an untimely (usually violent) death that player would "roll up" a new character. Death was not overly common, but it was a real possibility. I liked to "keep it real" - so that characters would lose fingers, toes, arms, legs, and die at intervals appropriate to a medieval fantasy venue. It happened once that one player managed to roll the dice extremely well while creating a character, and was allowed to play a petty nobleman.

One of the joys of role playing is knitting incongruent chance into the fabric of a good story. How do you take a group of guys who have been travelling together exclusively for months, who suffer the loss of a cherished companion, and immediately replace that companion with a nobleman without making the whole thing seem ridiculous? That's right, you have your band of poverty stricken adventurers stumble across (and indavertantly foil) an assasination attempt, so that the lot of them become targets for some evil group bent on the demise of the noble and tying up loose ends.

No one said role playing had to be original.

In my world the criminal underground was being led by a sort of darker version of Robin hood. He was foremost a powerful and mysterious fellow. No one knew who he was, and people who inquired after him soon ended up missing or dead. As a story teller, I loved to play that up. He seemed at times to be a patriot, at other times a mercenary, and still again, sometimes something of a Robin Hood. Over the course of a couple of years of playing, details began to surface - he was clearly connected somehow. He was always one step ahead of the law, and his activities always seemed pointed at some greater purpose, but vague enough to make speculating on the idea seem paranoid. Yet in time, I say, the players pieced together enough information to realize that he must either have a noble protector, or be under the employ of some nobleman, for only a very highly placed, and strong arm could support such a one as this slippery criminal overlord.

That's where our nobleman came into the story. He was just some petty noble, but even a petty noble has access to court, and as our little group fled here and there, piecing together not only who was trying to kill them, but why - they realized that there was a connection between this petty noble and certain political initiatives affecting the whole kingdom, the king's army, and various factions within the domain.

I write all of this to bring the reader to something of an appreciation of a scene that we played out, and to this day I still think about. Eventually the group of players learned what I have all but made obvious in this writing - that the slippery criminal overlord was actually this wealthy Duke who was manipulating the criminal underworld to bring about social change that was nigh impossible to bring about politically in a real way when the king was more concerned with his own passions than the kingdom he was born into ruling.

It is noteworty to say that the Duke was a brilliant tactician and an unparalleled swordsman. He sat over several orders of knights, not the least of which were a group he trained personally who themselves had been used in my story telling to great advantage. They were legendary, and you didn't mess with them --- ever. Whenever I wanted to remind the players just how perilous life could be, I would pass along some rumor about these guys bringing down justice upon someone who looked like maybe, just maybe he might be big, bad, and tough enough to live through such an encounter. They all had names, and everyone knew who they were, and the Duke who trained them was most famous of all.

Yet the Duke's double life was perhaps the most well guarded secret in all the kingdom, and the players became, after a time allies, for of all the men in the kingdom, this Duke did not regard noble blood as any more precious than the blood of a commoner. He had a public image that was meticulously maintained, so much so that had the party dared to suggest that he was anything less than the Duke, they would have surely been set upon by the previous order of knights, and frankly, after years of playing in my world, the players knew better than to be dumb.

As the months rolled by, the role the Duke had been playing prior to the characters learning of his other identity, began to take shape. The man was a visionary, attempting to affect a change for the better for all the people in the nation, and doing so under the drunken king's nose, as it were. He was not a usurper, but a patriot. There was one wonderful scene played out where the players began to see just how badly the king's ruinous habits and court antics were destroying the kingdom, and were conspiring to try and put the Duke on the throne. When he learned of the plot he was enraged - and this was the last man in the kingdom you wanted angry at you. They fled for their lives, and nearly lost them, and it took weeks to try an broker some kind of reconciliation. The Duke, after all, and head of the criminal underworld, truly had no need for them, except that he knew something about the petty noble that they did not.

You see, the guy who rolled up the petty noble man, had rolled quite well. He didn't know what his rolls meant, but I did - he had been born to a lesser noble house, but born the son of a bachelor (if you take my meaning). His mother, though beautiful, was scorned when found to be with child out of wedlock, and even though she wed years later, she was wed to a petty noble. The father never acknowledged the son, but we rolled to see who the father was... That's right. The king. Hey - it was my story, and holding a gem like that back for a year or so, but dropping hints here and there that there was someone who wanted this guy dead, and someone else, slightly more powerful that wanted him alive, and not knowing why and who made for some nice plot advancement.

I have said it once, and I will say it again - I mention all this to help paint a picture of a scene from the game that I worked hard to play up.

It turns out that the Duke had known all along about the king's heir - the king's eldest, -male- heir. He had kept tabs on the boy all the boys life, and when it was elsewhere discovered that the young man was a contender to the throne, a plot to kill him was put in play, and the Duke set out to foil that plot, and that became the spine upon which much of the story played out. But I let the players play a little sloppy one day (on purpose) so that they could be overheard discussing issues of state that incriminated the Duke by identifying him as the boss of the criminal underworld. This in turn set into motion a chain of events that put the group on a roller coaster ride. There were knights in the Duke's service - noble men, friends of his family, bound by honor to stand down from their order. The Duke was excommunicated from the church - which in our middle age setting was not a small thing. His lands were seized, and when he was forced to flee, he was branded an outlaw, and all the good he had done for the nation was crumbling into nothing, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

I liked the drama of that - but the penultimate moment was when the Duke's enemy faced him down on the highway. The Duke was the finest swordsman in all the land, and his enemy sent the Duke's own men - his former elite order - against the Duke knowing that they would be honor bound to bring him down, and that he too would be honor bound to spare them. We played out the scene in our minds - the battle taking place near the setting of the sun, on some hill of no great importance. His men relentlessly attacking their Lord, and he, refusing to harm them, and growing weary for all his skill as the battle wore on.

Now, in my "world" we played up the honor thing. The Duke was a knight, and a member of the noble race. No matter his crimes, he deserved a noble's death. We all knew that. As difficult as story line was, everyone knew that at the very least, this man would have a death befitting his rank, nobility, and skill as a swordsman. It was an epic, glorious death, and I played the scene into their hearts like a virtuoso on a Stradivarius. No one wanted to see this character whom they had all come to really enjoy (like a favorite character in a book), come to his death, and even as we played, there was that sense you get when you are coming to the end of a book you really liked, and you know it is going to end sad, but you have to keep on reading it anyway.

The only thing that made the death of this Duke palatable was the shared certainty that it was, as I say, a good death.

Which is why I had his enemy, at the last minute, call the knights off him. They stepped away in the fading light of the dusk, as he staggered beneath the sudden shift from the greatest swordsman in the land, to a tired, and older looking man trying to catch his breath. There was a pause in the room as we played, everyone wondering what the Duke's enemy (a contemptible, conniving, and cowardly Marquis), was about when he pulled his sword from it's sheath.

Was this Marquis going to try and take down the Duke, now that he was exhausted? Hope sprang back into the room like electricity, for the whole group was certain that even exhausted, the Duke would surely take down the Marquis. There was a moment of hopeful irony - sure the Duke would die, but at least the Marquis was going to get his at the Duke's hand, and that made the whole thing poetic.

I still remember however, when I described what happened when the Marquis raised his sword - you could have heard a pin drop, everyone stopped breathing - that was a signal for the archers to step forward, and when the Marquis dropped the sword, they shot the finest swordsman down like a dog on the highway.

The room was chaos. I had never seen a group of people so riled up about a story we were making up as we went. It was wrong, it was horrible, it was just wrong, wrong, wrong. It was bad enough that the Duke was being put down, but not like this - not taken down by archers at the command of a coward.

I had a hard time breaking up the game that night - no one wanted to leave or sleep or do anything except charge this Marquis and make him pay for this. The whole lot of them were a chatty and buzzing for hours afterwards, unable to put it to rest, going over the thing again and again. Mulling over what a coward the Marquis was. Replaying in their minds again the scene, the greatest swordsman, refusing to kill his own, and struggling to the point of exhaustion, and when there was hope for a noble death, even that was taken away, and he was butchered ignobly at the hands of a coward.
posted by Daniel @ 3:50 PM  
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