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Slaying the Dragon

May 15, 2010

Roll Dem Bones

by Alan Meranda

Just saying “Slaying the Dragon” is an evocative statement. Swords swung by soldiers in silver armor striking the serpentine neck. You get the picture, more importantly the feeling of that experience. Those of us that are of the gamer persuasion, ahem, role-playing gamer, quite possibly have entered into combat with a dragon in the past. The complicated part is the “slaying” portion of the encounter. Or is it?

I have been into gaming for over 30 years. Yesh, most of that was playing D&D. I have progressed from D&D into Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds is a simple and powerful gaming system with incredible flexibility at the core of the play. The fruits of my joining with the Savage Worlds gaming system is Pulp Nocturne 1930, a supernatural horror setting in 1930’s New York. Within Pulp Nocturne 1930 I have blended many of the elements found within Call of Cthulhu along with the atmosphere of film noir. Throw in some pulp heroics and you are feeling me dog.

Now the cartoon question mark over your head in a thought bubble is: “What does this have to do with Slaying Dragons?” It was important for me to develop the foundation for the whole concept of “Slaying the Dragon”. Let’s see, the “Dragon” portion of D&D has classically been the ending point of most role-playing adventures. It’s the last part of the journey, the destination. Shocker of shockers, it doesn’t always have to be a dragon. In Pulp Nocturne 1930, it could be one of many supernatural forces drawn to a gathering of immense cosmic repercussions. Heck, it could even be a waiflike girl in the vein of Wednesday Addams in stature.

Gaming wisdom ignored too often by the players: When dealing with dragons tis good to remember thou art tasty with ketchup. I asked one of the gamers in my Sunday gaming group, Matt Bielanski abut slaying dragons. Matt’s recollection was being able to overcome a green dragon that was younger. This is a way of looking at the whole gaming experience. Gamers will be able to tell you all kinds of stories about their gaming adventures: the conquests, the bone head stunts and everything in between. My friend John Jamieson relishes telling other gamers about a convention role-playing game where both of us killed off SG-1 of Stargate.

“Slaying the Dragon” is essentially a metaphor and also a euphemism. It’s the meaning of the game overall. You strive as the player to get to that finality. The game master also wants to get the players to that point. But in the games I run I try to make it a long difficult ordeal. It had better not be easy for the players. The efforts that any game master goes to make that happen are quite honestly Herculean. Its not finding a $50 dollar bill in the parking lot after having spent all your money and most of the night carousing. A solid gaming experience has to give everybody concerned, players and game master alike, an opportunity to discover, explore and grow. For the players, that can come from encounters that are not necessarily obvious regarding a course of action.

This metaphor from the Heroes TV show that I twisted around comes to mind:  “Slay the Dragon, Slay the GM”. Sometimes a game master has to gloat over a good roll that causes anguish to the players. By the same balance, in a past Pulp Nocturne 1930 game using the Savage Worlds rules, I had a player perpetrate 68 points of damage, with a whip no less, against a supernatural entity that was in the form of a clown. After deducting for all the benefits of being a supernatural entity it still caused seven wounds of damage! That killed off one of the sinister uber villains in the game. That villain was supposed to get the players via parlay to the answer behind the “mcguffin” hunt.

One thing that I would like to submit is that players are too often their own worst enemy. Not all encounters are intended to be solved by physical violence. In one of the recent adventures of Pulp Nocturne 1930, the players encountered somebody that was after one of there friends. Rather than discovering, exploring and investigating why their friend was targeted, the players took the “Chicago” approach and attacked the individual chasing after their friend. Let’s just say:  Supernatural Entity 10, players 0. One of the players took me to task for putting them up against something that had a Toughness of 18. Let’s change this encounter: Your trusty party of fantasy adventures enters a cavern. Its pitch black inside and you indirectly realize that something in here is rather big and bothered you are there. Do you draw a sword and strike at the only thing you have identified, its serpentine neck?

Nothing that I do in the role-playing games I run is ever a transitional adventure. Transitional adventures are predictable and too often lack imagination. Most plot elements need to have attachments to other plot elements. Sometimes you need to nudge the players in a particular direction; otherwise what happens is unexpected and far from boring. Doing things like this results in a gaming experience, regardless of genre, that takes on a seemingly natural atmosphere and allows everybody to enjoy things more.

“Slaying the Dragon” even takes on some lofty philosophical ideals. It’s the wisdom behind that ideal that players and the game master need to realize and apply to everything that matters and has meaning to them. One last aspect to consider is that ultimately having fun in whatever you do results in “Slaying the Dragon”.

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