I've written here about NOT FADE AWAY, our ongoing saga of reincarnated heroes played out against the vast canvas of thousands of years of history. It's a game that we went into rebuilding the group, rebuilding trust and creating a new social contract, and also taking on a project that was crazily big and ambitious. Of all the games I pitched, this was the biggest and most difficult, and that's usually a good thing - you break new ground by being ambitious and doing hard things - but it's also been challenging. We're about at the 2/3 mark of the game now, and we're just beginning to hit our stride as a group. I've been happy enough with the game as it stands, and I think the players are too, but until you have a really breakout session where you see how good a game can really get, it feels hard. It feels like you're working toward something, and you can almost see it, but you're still struggling to get there.
We finally had that breakout moment.
I've been reorganizing how I've been running the game the last couple of sessions, and things have finally started to come together. I think that's a happy confluence of striking the right note as a GM, story and character arcs beginning to come to a boil, and the overall level of group confidence and trust reaching exactly the right point where things start to happen. The players are pushing harder and reaching deeper, and it's glorious.
I think it helped that this most recent episode focused on a player character who has strong connections with all of the other player characters, so that putting that PC in the spotlight gave everybody meaty material to work with. I encouraged people, if they had a particularly important "moment" with that character, to get it "on screen" in this episode. And Rob, the player of the spotlight character, really pushed hard this episode.
- In the very first scene, Rob's character North visited Sand, an NPC immortal that had been rescued from the clutches of their enemies. Sand had ALS, and had protested the player characters using their resources to rescue him, lest he be a burden while they were on the run. North spoke with Sand briefly, and smothered him with a pillow.
- John's character Stone was tortured to death by the Spanish Inquisition while North looked on, and he got his payback during the French Revolution, sending North to the guillotine.
- Megan's character Torch almost talked North into running away with her in Egypt (not sure what the era was exactly, but it was post-Crusades, where they were lovers) only to be made "second prize" yet again when he ran off to help the leader of the immortals, Amanda's character Timber.
- North faced his nemesis, the Rakshasa Snow, in a final battle atop a German castle in 1945. Snow confessed that his people had lured the immortals to the castle so they could be destroyed by their enemies, rather than face a world that no longer needed monsters - human beings had mastered suffering on a level they could not equal. North and Snow battled to the death, plunging from the highest tower at each other's throats / in a final embrace.
- Timber confronted North about Sand's death, and was clearly not happy about the fact that North had taken such a brutal action, leading to Rob's killer line that this was what always happens: "I kill for you, Torch buries your broken bones, and you tell me it was right." WHOA.
- North announced, suddenly, that he wanted to run away with Torch in the present, that he didn't want to be the bloody-handed warrior of his past. Torch had been hurt by North many times, but ultimately couldn't say no, even though it probably meant abandoning her family.
- Just to be totally self-serving, I wrote a great speech for Snow in the introductory teaser at the beginning of the episode: "I was there the day you drove your sword into your patron, that skinny peasant child with the big, brown eyes. You wept. And you've spent the last thirty years of your life trying to atone for that bloody deed. To ease your conscience. It's always fucking theatre with you people."
The thing about having a really great session like that is that it energizes you. People feel that all their hard work has paid off, at last. Once you've had a session like that, it makes you push harder to get back there, setting the bar for great play to come. You are willing to dare a lot more when you remember the dizzy heights that a great session took you to.
My players are always terrific, but they really knocked it outta the park this time, especially Rob. That guy is a master of the devastating line, delivered at just the right moment. He threw down the gauntlet in that first scene and never let up with pushing scenes as far as possible all episode. That makes everybody play harder, take more chances, and go deeper. Commitment is contagious.
I was very, very happy with this session and I look forward to seeing where this game takes us next.