While involved in a live-action role-playing game that had chapters all across the world, with each character playing in the same continuity, our local game had a special event that drew in players from all across the western USA: an in-character casino night where some fairly major players were offering some big incentives as prizes.
The organization which ran this international game had a strong focus on charity, and so in addition to the base casino chips every character received when they arrived, there would be extra allotted to those players who brought food or clothes to be donated to local homeless shelters. All in all it was a great cause and we had nearly 100 players showing up.
My character—Johannesburg Wülfric Jägerman—was not a nice person. He was highly competitive and cruel to the core. If his large (and equally brutal) family told him to jump, he’d be three feet in the air before thinking to respond. He was their enforcer, their progenitor’s bodyguard, and the mailed fist which offset the matron’s more velvet touch. It was a fun character, and I genuinely liked scheming with all the varied players who made up our very extended family.
Everyone began the night with the aforementioned chips, and while there were many games and prizes, raffles and events, our entire group was focused on winning the main prize: a “plot-proof” house. The person who ended the night with the most chips would walk away with this very valuable opportunity.
It has long been a custom of some storytellers and game masters to, as a way to spur characters to action, have events or antagonists target them directly. This prize would be a specific piece of land and dwelling that was completely immune to storyteller-driven plot or story, making it a safe refuge from their machinations.
Note the bolder words above. While the property was safe from anything the game runners could throw at us, there were no such provisions against other players doing whatever they wanted to the house. Some people didn’t realize this rather glaring loophole, but we not only fully recognized it but also made plans to counteract anything that would come our way.
If, that was, we were to win.
Like most “casinos,” the floor was arrayed with roulette, craps, and other table games. To my delight, I saw a single large table at the far end of the hall set up for Texas Hold’em. This was in the middle of the mid-aughts when online poker was really exploding into the mainstream, and I had hosted my fair share of poker nights.
My entire family pooled their chips and the patriarch gave my character one command: “Johannes, win.”
For the next three or so hours I sat at the poker table, folding many more hands than I played, seizing opportunity when the situation was right. While there were talented card players around, they didn’t start with the large bankroll I did, and so couldn’t last. By the end of the night, there was no question in the storytellers’ minds who held the most chips.
After the raffle was drawn, where various players offered in-character scenes with their high-profile characters or other non-mechanical perks, it was time to announce the winner of the house. To few peoples’ surprise—many having at least stopped by the power table during the night—I presented a virtual avalanche of chips, and was declared the evening’s victor.
One thing about having a large and well-known in-character family in a global yet tight-knot game is that there are always enemies. The more high-profile you are, the more people want to topple you, if for no other reason than to say they were the ones to do so. That said, I always think of the quote from Omar in the fantastic show the Wire: “if you take a shot at the king, you best not miss.”
Most players assumed that we would use this new home as a secretive base of operations. A secure enclave from whence our characters could plan their meticulous schemes in peace and harmony, away from the rather heavy hands of the storytellers. We easily saw in some peoples’ eyes that they would wait for us to grow complacent and then strike—they had thought of the same loophole we did.
Instead, we turned the home into a public meeting place; it became well-known that if one wanted to speak to our characters, they need only visit the house, the address of which we circulated quite freely among our allies and enemies alike. We didn’t try to squirrel it away somewhere, the hiding of which would only serve to further incentivize bloodthirsty players, we instead made it public and visible.
True to their word the storytellers never besieged, meddled with, or affected the house in any way. True to our plans, no hostile characters did, either. By removing the mystique and mystery from this fantastical prize, we quashed any interest or attempt for players to strike at us for it.
I carry a number of bad role-playing and game-management memories of that worldwide chronicle, but I’ll never forget the great evening of winning the plot-proof house while the rest of my family circled the casino, wheeling and dealing while I fought to get the grand prize. I like to think it was that night, and the shrewdness with which we used it, that cemented our characters’ legacy in the game.
Header image taken from the movie Edward Scissorhands.