About 25 years ago, my gaming group in Toronto decided to try something that was unheard of: a roleplaying game in which the players didn’t handle any dice, never saw their character sheets, and didn’t even necessarily know the rules of the game they were playing. We called it “Zen roleplaying,” and it went on to be our standard approach for many years to follow. Recently, I wanted to go back to that style of playing, so I put out an invitation here in Halifax for players who would be interested in a character-heavy game of urban fantasy. On the 11th of February, we had our first session.
There are three players, who were asked to think of characters from the small fictional town of St. Collen’s, New Brunswick. The main requirements for the characters were that they be fairly ordinary, that they knew each other in some way, and that they would be willing to answer the call to adventure when it came. We ended up with:
Derek, a physically imposing, sensitive loner who dabbles in pottery when he’s not working as a check-out clerk at the local supermarket;
Joan, a restless and troubled teen looking for any way to get out of town;
and Odette, a former dancer who left St. Collen’s to pursue a career but was forced to return after an injury.
The first thing to arrange when we met was to establish how the characters knew each other. Joan, we decided, was dating Odette’s younger brother (Travis, a pot-smoking would-be musician seven years older than Joan). Joan had noticed Derek as someone who seemed just as out of place in town as she was, but probably hadn’t approached him yet. Derek had noticed the attractive Odette, but likewise hadn’t said or done anything to introduce himself.
I’d expected that most of the session would be taken up with getting the characters familiar with each other, but that part moved along so easily that we had time for opening scenes:
Joan, while smoking up at her boyfriend’s place, answered a knock at the door from a ragged-looking young man who asked for her specifically. He offered her a chance to leave town and do something exciting, and (despite Travis’s protests) she took him up on it without a second thought.
Derek was having a night at the local bingo hall when a woman in a Victorian nightgown sat down next to him, started chatting with him, and soon urged him to come away with her. She didn’t say why, and seemed so out of place that her presence was starting to raise some eyebrows among the bingo players, but he finally relented and went along.
Odette was picking up dinner (a pack of cigarettes) at the convenience store when a small man with a cane barred her exit and growled that she was coming with him. When she refused, he grew more threatening, and when she threw down her purse in the assumption he was there to rob her, he crouched down over it and started eating the money inside. That’s when she ran.
Outside the convenience store, and near Odette’s car, the three characters ran into each other. After the initial “what are you doing here and who are these people?” questions, they were interrupted by the sight of an impossibly huge figure barrelling out of the alley by the store. That’s where we ended our first session. We pick up again in early March.
While it’s still too early to say how things will progress, everyone in the group was comfortable enough with the game and each other that I think the story will roll along quite smoothly. Their characters are only lightly sketched out now, but they’ll have time to fill in more details during play; what’s important is that they all seem to have good, clear ideas of who they are and how they’re motivated.