The last three and a half months have been full of funny, heartbreaking and just plain fun roleplaying (D&D 4e, Marvel Super Heroes, S/lay w/Me, and Sorcerer). I regret not having the bandwidth to post about these games in detail at present, because I owe so much of the quality of my recent roleplaying to Ron’s “People and Play” course and to fellow Adept Play participants.
However, I wanted to post about a realization I had in a recent session that may further an ongoing conversation here: “Slaying the The,” or disengaging from the toxic idea that the GM is responsible for making things happen.
It’s an idea that I’ve been dwelling on a lot, and I thought I’d internalized it pretty well, particularly through this gem from the Sorcerer annotations: “Bangs are everyone’s business. Anyone can deliver one.”
However, I realized that I had a long way to go in this direction while playing Marvel Super Heroes with David and James Nostack.
To make a long story short, my villainous protagonist Connie Bleak, a.k.a. $P3CTR has been plotting a data-center bombing attempt against an Amazon expy. Her plan hinges on tricking union activists to plant micro-explosives in multiple locations on the belief that they’re placing hacking devices that will exfiltrate data about corporate malfeasance. $P3CTR will take out one data center while triggering the explosives in the backup locations.
She ended up delivering the devices to the home of union rep Samantha Sol, who was in the middle of dinner with her husband. I handed the devices over, but realized that even $P3CTR didn’t want the blood of multiple labor activists on her hands. So I described Connie taking off her mask, setting it next to the salad bowl, and coming clean to Samantha. I showed her how to make the devices harmless, but I told her, “I’m not offering you justice. I’m offering you power. Think of the rich bastards who destroyed the planet. Did they pay any actual costs? Do you think these people will? When I strike in three days, I’ll do it with or without your help. The choice is yours.”
When I made this move, I saw both David and James’s eyes widen in surprise. The social validation of “delivering a Bang” as a player was hugely exciting. While reflecting on the session, I realized that this moment felt so rewarding because I still, on a gut/muscle-memory level, associate the role of narrative provocateur and driver with being the GM. Making my fellow player’s eyes widen is one of my favorite things about playing as GM. Noticing when ANOTHER player does it and honoring it (with a +2 in 4e or Bonus Dice in Sorcerer) is even better. But doing it myself, when I’m a player? I haven’t really considered it before. And I think I can see some subconscious passivity when I look back on playing The Whispering Vault.
Learning this has been the best kind of lesson: one I only could have learned in actual play, and one that’s made me so excited to play more.