“Feng Shui? We are going to play a game where we are all adept, perfectly-honed … interior designers?”
I was met with three equally perplexed looks, two blank stares and one devilish grin. The Grin handed me two six-sided dice, a pencil and a piece of paper. “You’ll need this,” he said, busily handing the same to the others.
Glancing at the piece of paper, I discover it’s a form with various character statistics and descriptions. I’ve played enough games on consoles and the PC to understand most of the attributes. My name is apparently “Natasha Steele.” I am also highly skilled in martial arts and super stealthy. I sneak a peek at my companions, who are all busily studying their own dossiers. I then marvel at the tiny, numbered cube in front of me, the tabletop, and Natasha Steele’s stats, wondering how in the world everything fits together. I was interrupted by The Grin.
“OK, because everyone is familiar with it, the setting is our office. You are all independent operators. Your objective: Brew each other up. Last man standing wins. Your starting locations are marked on your character sheet.”
Back to my paper – “by the coffee machine.” Yes, I am familiar with this area. I visit it hourly during the day. I mentally take stock of items nearby that may be useful to a stealthy martial artist: “Coffee machine, movable; drawer full of silverware to my right; snack machine to my left … hmmm Snickers …”
“OK, you’re first,” says The Grin, pointing at one of the players.
“Can I make an awareness check?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
“Crap. Double ones.”
“You are completely and totally alone in front of the elevators as you step out. You hear and see nothing.” More devilish grin. Everyone laughs. Well, everyone but Clueless. Instead something like “Oh no, not again,” issues forth. I hide complete and utter confusion behind a nervous chuckle.
“Natasha?” The Grin is pointing at me. What was it Clueless called it? Awareness?
“Umm, OK, awareness check?” I roll.
“You hear an elevator door open in the lobby. There also sounds like feet shifting on the other side of the wall behind the snack machine.”
Just as I was pondering this, all hell broke loose. An aged Kung Fu master flew out of the Server Room six feet in front and to the right of me and someone at the other end of the hall was shooting at Aged Master. In the mix was young Female Spy. Between Aged Master and “Both Guns Blazing” Cowboy down the hall, Female Spy didn’t stand a chance. She crumpled to the floor in front of me and Aged Master went running to the lobby, hobbled by Cowboy’s gunfire. I pop my head and pistol around the corner and begin blindly shooting at Cowboy. He jumps into the bathroom down the hall.
I steal another look around the group. Female Spy’s person is visibly pained. Cowboy’s is breathing heavier than any stationary person should, with a slight crazed gleam in his eye. Aged Master’s player looks worried. Clueless’ player is looking unnaturally calm, but as if he’s up to something. I ponder that my fellow players are so completely absorbed in a hastily drawn map on printer paper showing the office layout and exhibiting, to a minor degree, the emotions their characters would surely be feeling.
I am jarred out of my thoughts by a loud metal on metal scrapping and rumbling from down the hall where I last saw Cowboy. I step around my corner and see that Cowboy has ripped the door off a stall in the bathroom and is running down the hall with door in hand. He holds it in front of him as if to ram me with it and splat me against the wall. As he nears me I use my Willow Walk power to run up the wall, Fred Astaire-style, avoiding the steamroller that is Cowboy. I run down the hall and into an office for cover. Behind me, I hear multiple gunshots, no doubt involving Cowboy and some unseen person.
I note my own pulse and breathing has quickened. Huh.
“Shhhhhh!” A player appears in front of me out of nowhere. It is Clueless. Still on edge from nearly becoming a bathroom door pancake, I nod and Clueless moves on down the hall. I go the opposite direction.
Aged Master rushes at me, intent on smashing me to bits. I am no match for this guy, unarmed. I again take stock of my surroundings, but I’m in a hall and find nothing but ceiling, floor, walls and bad corporate art. Bad corporate art is certainly offensive. I grab a nearby piece entitled, “Large Orange Blob,” ponder simply showing it to Aged Master as an attack, then decide it is better to use it on his head, much like a hammer hits a nail.
My die roll apparently is successful. “Awwww!” chimes in The Grin, “Sorry, that’s it. Death by painting.” I take off down the hall toward the office in which I took refuge earlier.
I finally draw my first breath since I happened upon Aged Master in the hall. This is really getting to me. I look around the table at my companions. They all have a slightly bummed expression on their faces. It would seem they are all dead except…
Clueless! As I round the corner into the office, my eyes are met by He Who Notices Nothing. He grins wickedly and starts swinging his weapon, a computer monitor held by the power cable, in circles above his head. I grab a nearby coat stand.
“Natasha, you have the initiative,” laughs The Grin.
“Noooo!!” I look down at the double ones. My coat stand misses wildly. I am slammed by a computer monitor, and Clueless is proclaimed winner.
I am crestfallen. Natasha is killed by a whirling Monitor of Death. And after I had so carefully attacked when prudent and taken cover when outmatched. How odd that the feeling affected my real emotional state. For that matter, how odd that my companions and I all reacted so animatedly to the events of the game.
There is something special about the opportunity that a pen and paper game experience allows. I have played many electronic games for many years, but making the actual decision for my character against other people who were making actual decisions for their characters was intense. This intensity has been described to me by pen and paper gamers for years, but until I was actually involved, it didn’t make sense.
Coming from the rich and vibrant world of electronic games, I had expected to be under-whelmed by the offerings of pen and paper games. On the contrary, I have been quite taken in. Since this first foray into tabletop RPGs, I have explored Greyhawk in Dungeons and Dragons and been involved in lots of perfectly … ahhh … legal activities in Cyberpunk 2020. I’m always looking for a good, new game. If you’ve got one let me know. I’ll bring my dice.