Wednesday, August 15, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 15

For my next trick...

A 'tricky' RPG experience?

There are a lot of ways this question can be interpreted...and perhaps that's part of the point of the question. 

What's tricky? By whose standards? 

I once ran a time travel game backwards, from climax to introduction. I've run Land of Og, wherein the PCs can only speak the two or three words they know with no guarantee their follows part members understand those same words. I've GM and co-GMed 24 hour long sessions with groups of a dozen or more players...

But I don't think that's what they're getting at here. No, I think that this year the questions try to go deeper and I for one applaud that. Therefore, in the interest of a deeper meaning, here is a tricky RPG experience that I enjoyed that focused on the RP part, and was tricky...

On the request and recommendation of a friend, I played in a one-shot he was running of a game called Steal Away Jordan.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it is a 47 page, rules-lite, indie RPG written by Julia Bond Ellingboe. It covers the subject of slavery in no uncertain terms, yet also has supernatural elements to it. As is noted in the game's subtitle, it enables one to tell 'Stories from America's Peculiar Institution'. 

In addition to asking me to play in this session of the game he'd wanted to run, he asked me to help him a bit with the particulars of world-building and tone. He had been reading the works of Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and others and knew what he wanted but not exactly how to pull it off. I was deeply moved that he thought I could help.

We spent an afternoon lunch at Harlem's famous Melba's restaurant going over how to make the session work. He had something to say, in a social political sense that is, but also wanted to tell a cool story and let the players play their characters, not some pre-scripted sermon that were his words alone. I remember saying what I say to myself when I want to run a game like this...

"Ask the questions you want to ask. Say what you want or need to say. Just don't give or expect your own answers."

The game itself told the tale of a post-Civil War freed African slave, a male from Tennessee who had traveled North just a few months after the end of the conflict. He was a cook, a chef, and a very talented one. A small but booming town had offered to hire him to feed miners and railroad workers. 

One his way he is visited by a ghost or spirit claiming he left something behind and pestering him to return. He refused, angry with himself for letting his fears over his new life create this hallucination. 

He eventually finds a home in the town, with friends, a girlfriend, and the respect of at least some of the townsfolk. He also experiences prejudice and hate, the continued haunting of his past, and becomes aware of a conspiracy in which the owner of the largest mine has falsified how well the mine is doing so he doesn't have to pay his workers or the government its due taxes. 

The former slave gets a weekend and a day off because his boss has a family tragedy - his nephew, a miner, has died in a tunnel collapse. A local gambler and conman, one of the man's 'friends' reveals to the chef that the accident was no accident. The slave turned chef takes the opportunity to head home and visit what remains of his family.

He finds them poor, almost destitute, struggling to survive. They do not ask for his help or for handouts, they aren't mad he left. They are happy he 'made it out'. He speaks with his Gran (the old woman who used to take care of him, not a blood relative) and tells he about the ghost. She says it is the spirit of a man who used to teach him and play with him when he was very young. It was this man who first taught him to cook. It was this man who made sure the opportunity to leave went to the former slave turned chef. The man had saved his life in many ways.

He was now a Guardian Spirit of sorts, watching over the young man. The chef was confused, we wasn't in danger any more. What did he need to be guarded from?

Gran said, "Boy, you are always in danger. Every last one of us are and will be for generations. But boy if you feel safe, if you feel good, I am happy. We all are. Maybe he isn't there to guard you, huh? Maybe he is telling you to guard someone else? Something else?"

The former slave remembered the ghost saying he had left something behind. He found, in the old shed he once lived in an old book. The first and only one he'd ever read. It had recipes. It was how he learned to cook. In it, folded against the back cover a very strange and special desert. 

Returning North he convinced his boss to invite the town's most important folks to a grand meal to try out his new recipe. Reluctantly at first his boss agreed and a special dinner party was arranged. There would be entertainment, music, and of course great food. The mayor, the sheriff, and yes the mine owner would be there.

The appetizers were enticing and delectable. The entrees delicious. Everyone was in such a good mood. Almost unnaturally happy and joyful. The chef's boss thanked him profusely because the meal had alleviated some of his sorrows over the death of his nephew. The chef hugged the boss, who had been like a father to him. And then...desert.

Upon tasting the desert many of the attendees wept openly. Tasty beyond anything anyone could dream. Through laughter, eating, and tears of joy, the mining company owner blurted out how he had cheated everyone, cheated the government, and murdered the boss's nephew and several others as they had discovered his scheming. He couldn't stop confessing, even as the boss went for his gun in the other room and the sheriff stood up to arrest the mine owner. Finally, the mining owner shoved more the desert into his mouth, and more, and more, anything to stop himself from talking. 

In moments he lay dead, having choked on his own greed, with the ghost of the chef's past - or was it an angel, or death itself - invisibly lifting the mining owner's spirit from it's body and then down a long, dark road into darkness, smoke, and fire. 

There was a bit more, but you get the gist. The chef made sure to return home from time to time, and always sent money back as well as food. Eventually he would become modestly successful, opening two restaurants of his own, marrying his love, and helping others as he had been helped. 

For the record, the GM was Black, 39 years old, as were half the other other PCs. The remainder were a mix of White and Latino players, all ages 28-39. There were two female players, the rest were male.

I played the Former Slave turn Chef on request of the GM. I am not Black, The GM was and he told me he wanted, needed, me to do it. He need to confuse expectations, maintain a certain level of distance. I am so glad he did. It was unlike any role I'd ever played and unlike any game experience I'd been part of. 

Looking forward to the next question.

Barking Alien

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