Saturday, April 13, 2013

No One's Been Poisoned and Nothing's On Fire: Strange Tales on the Road (ZenKaiKon 2013) Pt. 2

When we last left our hero, he was trapped in the mind of a soul-eating sociopath and tweaking like there was no tomorrow...

                    Saturday began with another scramble for me to set up plans. I scrambled a lot during this, partially because Johan is an active character, not a reactive one. When you're the one setting up the plans, it's a lot harder to keep them all spinning, especially with about thirty or forty other people running their plans both concurrently and counter to your own. Despite the conversation of the previous night, I had found out that Abby had once again been flung headlong into a plot with me, one more sign that someone, be it GMs or the universe or whatever it is has a sense of humor. So now Abby's character, Kallen, who had been thrown into the same fairy tale as I/Johan was and cast as the Princess, now had a creepy sociopath looming over her and offering his "help" to finish the story she hadn't wanted to be part of in the first place. I'd say I didn't have fun stalking Abby and the players in her plot around. I would really like to. 

I would be lying straight through my teeth. 

                   It was at this time that I'd also started to think on something. During my brief time playing him, I was aware that my three-day shotgunning of the entire series of Monster was perhaps the wrong approach. I was also kind of aware that at times, I'd gone...a little off-model. Occasionally, people had noticed. But that got me thinking of why the character might make a few out-of-character actions, just to maintain consistency. And there was something I realized.

                  There was a mechanic for the LARP that was a bit new...each person had a "title" card, representing their identity. So one person's might say "King of Thieves", another might say "World-famous Gambler", and so on and so forth. They were each tied to one power that more or less embodied the character. Johan's title was "Nameless Monster", and was tied to the power that basically made him the remorseless sociopath he is throughout his own series*. When he'd got his new soul-eating powers, Johan had given up his "Nameless Monster" identity. So what if, I thought, what if it's not being off-model? What if the cracks are starting to show? And that was when I found the hook I needed. I dropped right there. If Johan was no longer the monster he knew, he'd have to decide what he was without the crazier aspects. He'd be able to feel. By becoming an actual monster instead of simply a monstrous human, he'd somehow managed to gain a soul in the bargain.

                      So I swerved. Johan would discover his feelings again, and he'd be willing to help the good guys. This in no way meant he was a good person, as the centuries of therapy needed to make him a good person were not included with the identity switch. In particular, to preserve his plan, he once emptied a clip of bullets at a child in a ballet costume. It made sense in context. Barely. But Johan had developed a new plan:

  1. Aid the Princess in getting to the end of the fairy tale and making sure she rescued the Prince from the dastardly Raven (Which would, of course, be our ol' soul-sucking friend Johan)
  2. Take someone with him on the way out, possibly one of the more expendable characters in the overall fairy tale plot. (No one likes a villain who goes out like a punk, after all)
  3. Die spectacularly to end the story and have the Raven defeated, and also fulfill his goal of wiping himself from existence. Specifically by getting the Princess to shoot him in the head, a gesture that mimicked Johan's own relationship in-backstory with his twin sister (I think I mentioned the centuries of therapy earlier). 

           I'd decided he still wanted erasure from existence-- no amount of good could ever wipe away all the stuff he'd done, and now that he felt remorse, he wasn't going to look back on his previous crimes as "innocent, harmless fun". If anything, he'd want to erase himself more-- get rid of all the terrible things he'd done. And so, the plan kicked into action. Johan outlined his plan to the other characters, and was immediately met with "Are you sure someone else has to die for this to work?" I responded "Well, not really, but I wasn't planning on dying alone..."

           After some dickering over the preciousness of a human life, Johan's plan was altered away from taking someone with him as he went. He became sort of a silent partner in the larger plot, a group of people trying to stem a massive tide of magical energy that powered up the main villains of the LARP. This was mainly because Kallen, Abby's character, happened to get a magic upgrade due to her being the Princess. The plan was part of a larger effort coordinating three groups into taking down both villains simultaneously, put forth by a Mr. Feldman. Feldman, a seasoned LARPer and one with a well-deserved reputation, was playing a thief character, and like many thieves in anime, his character was more interested in pulling off grand heists for concepts and aesthetics. His character, the Kaitou Kid, had decided he would steal the ending.

            As the Kid was going to steal the ending, this made Johan very nervous. He was going about doing the very same thing. In hindsight, I should have collaborated with Feldman more, but at the time, I was kind of absorbed in what I was doing, and while I was slowly-- very slowly-- thawing the character, it kinda felt like I was using other characters as pawns. Which fit nicely, but still had some unintended and uncomfortable consequences. Still, it played off of the detachment I felt nicely, as well as the driven qualities. Johan was capable of being nice to everyone, but he had his very specific goal in mind. So he'd help when he could, but for the most part, he was entrenched in his own plot. 

            This self-absorption wasn't helped when one of the GMs running the fairy tale plot came up to me and said, "Just so you know, we think it's awesome and we're gonna help you get it." "What?" I responded, taking a moment. Then it dawned on me. "Really? it's that good an idea?" The GM nodded and explained it to one of the other GMs. Sir, I am not sure if I am allowed to mention your name here and cannot think of an appropriate alias, so allow me to laud you with this, should you ever read this incredibly self-indulgent and kinda stupid work: Thank you for making my idea sound so much better and well thought-out than it was at the time. I have you to thank for later additions to the insane stunt that got pulled off on Sunday. And while I am at it, I should like to thank the other GMs for running with this. Because sweet hell

             But at the time, I had only two thoughts. First, "That is the best response to 'I'm gonna kamikaze my character in an attempt to moon your major villain' I have ever heard." and second, "Oh crap oh crap oh crap did I just hijack the plot I'm not sure if I hijacked the plot oh crap". Contrary to popular belief, and as per my catchphrase in LARP, I have no idea what I'm doing. I certainly didn't want to jack part of the plot, but if they were willing to go for it, cool. 

             A LARP does have a plot in mind. Usually a plot that's flexible enough to handle any number of insane player plots and stunts. There are also numerous side plots. This plot then gets refined in the time from when pre-registration for characters opens up until sometimes the very day before the start of play itself. I am probably either giving more or less credit than is actually deserved, but basic gist: Plot takes some work. Setting up plot takes some work. Player carelessly shooting said plot to Hell and back in any way shape or form makes at least this player very nervous, regardless of how awesome it is. 

              But I definitely had the groove I was going for. It felt odd to be playing such a heedlessly self-destructive person, but my own reserves of self-destructiveness came in handy. And I dropped. As it turned out, Johan with emotions played similarly to Izaya, the last careless and crazy sociopath I had played. With the difference that Johan has/had no self-preservation whatsoever. With my mind in a familiar position, I engaged a lot better with the plot, though I tried to keep my machinations out of some parts of the main plot. I'd learned before, getting tangled in certain parts of the main plot made it impossible to get into others (can't be in two places at once, after all), and in my more dastardly runs, I like to stay pretty loose. Not a lot of dungeons, not a lot of long events, things I can do but still check on my plans during. But this time? I was a huge part of the plot. 

             While not actually contributing much, I did manage to run interference and offer another brain on matters. This involved the aforementioned blazing away with a firearm (not a real firearm, or even a tangible one, obv.) at a little girl in a tutu. Twice. In Johan's defense and mine, the character was an evil little girl, and jeopardizing the plan.  And it was here where we met up with Mr. Ellis again. As it turns out, his character's skepticism powers mentioned in the first half of the review also functioned as an anti-magical detection field. Which meant we had to keep convincing him and finding rational explanations for him so that he wouldn't damage people in the setting and also us. He came up with his own explanations, which was a great help to us all, as we didn't want to have to deal with his powers. They were kind of used compulsively and impulsively. To the credit of Mr. Ellis, he did and does in fact play his characters well past the hilt, while I just rely on luck and more ham than could supply all the delis in Manhattan. 

               My plan went into action that evening. Kallen shot Johan in the head, practically forced to by Johan to keep him from killing the Prince, and Johan took the blow like a champ...only to find out that not only was he currently a ghost, but also still the Raven. His plan hadn't worked the way he needed it to. He spectated on the magic-sealing session until his spirit finally reattached to his body, and I had a fantastic scene with Kris, the player whose character had been cast as the Prince's knight in the fairytale. Johan promptly recruited her into his rewritten storyline, and got her into helping him topple the villain by way of aggressive rewrites, allowing the Knight to be maimed, but live. And so, by the end of Saturday, I had everything ready for a second go. Things were underway, the assaults on the villains were ready to go, and I retired to the rooms feeling like a badass. If only I had known what was in store for me...

- Caius's weakness revealed!
- A sacrifice is made!
- Caius realizes exactly how much help he got in setting this whole thing off
- And more! Or less! Or both!

*The kind of person who would tell an orphan their mother was down the road, if they keep walking they'd find her...and then would point down the road leading to the red-light district, a faint smile on his face the whole time. 

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