Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Immortals

I would guess that I am not alone in this corner of the bloggyverse in how deeply I was influenced by the *original* Highlander movie (there can be only one, natch).  The movie opened at the exact time that I was forming my high-school gaming group and it seemed to me that most of my conversations with those guys were peppered with direct quotes from the movie. Friends to this day, that is still the case. Not bad for a B-movie featuring a French actor playing a 400-year-old Scottish swordsman and a real Scottish cinema icon playing his ancient Egyptian-turned-Spaniard mentor.

So, quoting the movie aside, it is perhaps inevitable that Highlander-style Immortals would creep into my gaming. While still in high-school, I remember creating an Immortal hero for a friend's Gurps Supers game. When I moved to the DC-area, one of the other players did the exact same thing in a different Gurps Supers campaign (a character that would eventually end up beheaded). Another friend's AD&D 2e campaign allowed recently slain human characters a remote chance to rise again as Immortals, though it never happened while I was a part of the group. Finally, in my long running Gurps Voodoo/Vampire: The Masquerade mash-up, I had several of my players discover Highlander-style Immortality during extended preludes (I was all about secret mystical origins in the 90's). Even today, there are Immortals lurking in the background of my ongoing campaigns, though I've made some effort to tone done the connection to the movie mythology.

Why the fascination with Immortals? I mean, does it really matter if a character will live indefinitely beyond a campaign's limited time scope? Other than a few monster attacks or spell effects in AD&D, I've never heard of a campaign where characters aged more than a year or so.

For me, I am fascinated with Immortal characters for the simple reason that they have experienced so much history first hand. I love imagining how the weight of years might affect a character's personality. And I love exploring the price of immortality and dramatic situations that result when this price starts to seem too high. At first glance, immortality would be something that many folks would wish for without a second thought. Thinking through the ramifications of such a wish is something that never gets old. I guess that's why I was so smitten by Vampire: The Masquerade when it first appeared on the scene. At its best, that was a game that really milked the dramatic potential of the high cost of immortality.

Flashbacks
Eventually, having Immortal characters with centuries in their past and potential ages in their future wasn't enough for me. I wanted to emulate that style of story telling that seemed to be a natural by-product of movies and TV shows about Immortals (and vampires). In the often excellent Highlander TV show (and similar shows featuring vampires), there was a kind of episode template where something that happens in the present reminds the viewpoint character of an event in the past. The episode flashes back to illuminate the back-story and there would be two or three more flashbacks before the final act, at which point the plot thread is resolved in a dramatic fashion in the present day.

I'm amazed that I still haven't attempted this. I've thought about for over a decade and I've always run up against the two obvious problems. First, there is the matter of handling the flashbacks in such a way that preserves the modern continuity without railroading the players. Second, there is matter of character experience and the fact that power levels are going to be drastically different in flashback. I never did solve these two problems to my satisfaction.

Now, I'm starting to think that I could pull it off. Even though it explicitly advises against immortal characters, Microscope has demonstrated that these non-linear, time-jumping games are possible. The past is a mystery until you play it out and it doesn't have to be a railroad. Maintaining the present continuity doesn't seem like such a big deal any more. I can imagine that *anything* can happen to the Immortal characters short of continuity violations. And even then, some events that would seems to violate continuity could be explained in other ways (I'd leave that to the player character question to decide).

As for character level or point total... again, I'm not so concerned anymore. I think the baseline "level" for the group would be set in the present day. For flashbacks, characters already have plot immunity. There's less reason to worry so much about "balance" issues.

Anyway, I'm not running an Immortals game anytime soon due to current commitments. But I am going to give the idea more thought and hopefully I'll have some ideas that I can share.

18 comments:

Trey said...

Highlander is indeed awesome. I like your idea of an immortals game. I've though about the problems of flashbacks myself, but never came to any final conclusions. I do think it can be done though.

Oh, and welcome to Punditry. :)

Greg said...

You've never heard of a a campaign where players aged more than a year or so? Really? 'Cause I've been in two -- both with you. In fact, last I checked, you were running one of them. :-)

And speaking of Buffy, you may not be running an Immortals campaign anytime soon, but you do have a current campaign with an immortal in it (a few, actually, but only one PC... or, at least, only one PC who's outlived a normal lifespan). So, it is doable.

Risus Monkey said...

@Greg: sometimes you can't see the nose on your own damn face. :)

I guess I wasn't thinking of maturing teenagers when I thought of aging. And even then, it's only 6 years.

But I haven't really done the Highlander flashback story structure, even with Michael. I know we've flashed back, but never to the degree that I'm talking about. (The Quantum Leap episode was more time travel)

Now, the other game... Voyagers? Hard to know how much time has passed I'n that one.

As for the other

Karen Peterson said...

I've never seen Highlander. Maybe I should for kicks.

I haven't really ever thought about incorporating an immortal character, but it could be kind of fun.

Risus Monkey said...

@Karen: If you like fun action/fantasy B-movies with a dash of historical romance then you'd probably like it. Whatever you do, however, stay away from the sequels. They are among the worst movies ever produced.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Re, Gigacrawler game:

It might be possible to move things around a bit, schedule-wise. When would be good for you?http://www.blogger.com/captcha?token=AM2hDkB2MwQ5rlbzAXBqlTxae22DfXBqb40Vi1dXGiHAk7Bb3rBJ28B1x8AtJSiix8obMMkqGju0AB9BU%2FyqXLITOe8gw0auCS%2FMTpgTqVYoJ6CmZQha7w54zLlvxHD74lablpb7Q8PV

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Argh! Sorry about that "capcha token" thing. I didn't mean to do that...

gamer-geek said...

I ran a (brief) World of Darkness game where two of the characters were Immortals (Achilles and a runaway teen girl who's first death occurred in our first session), with the others being a vampire and a werewolf. Ran one flashback where the werewolf's past lives kept intersecting with Achilles. I bound highlander-style immortals into the old WoD and the Gehenna myths. Immortals are the "true" humans, the spark of life and immortality traced back to the Garden of Eden. With the end times coming, this made the runaway girl "the last Daughter of Eve" from the Book of Nod prophecies. Her recurring line was "Why does everyone keep calling me the Chosen One?"

Risus Monkey said...

@Gamer Geek: That WoD game idea sounds awesome. I love how you spun the whole Immortal as true humans thing and worked it into the prophesies of Gehenna.

Greg said...

I was thinking of John's D&D game as the other. Granted, *we* weren't in it long enough for aging to matter, but I believe the campaign itself spanned decades. As I recall, the ruler of at least one of the kingdoms we adventured in was an elderly former PC, Zephyr was the daughter of a couple other PCs, and one of Kim's old characters was my character's deity. It wasn't a continuous set of adventures with the same PCs start to finish, but it was a continuous world, the ex-PCs were still around and available, and some of the players were there from start to finish.

As for Highlander-style flashbacks in Buffy, I know we *haven't,* but we *could.* I've toyed with the idea myself, if I could figure out how to make the continuity work.

Risus Monkey said...

@Greg: I mentioned that John's game had Highlander-style Immortals but it didn't occur to me to mention the aged characters that came before us. I always kind of treated them like NPCs.

And yeah, the flashback thing would work well for a Michael-focused episode. We would just need to find something for the other characters to do while he's reliving the past.

GeneD said...

Don't forget "Moon Dancer," who made appearances in both GURPS 3e Supers: "Twilight" and GURPS Space: "Vortex" games! Speaking of "StormHawk" and other Immortal characters, "Lar/Doug McDonnell/Visor" (a character from a pre-GURPS version of the superhero game) recently made a cameo in my FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures: "Vortex" space opera -- about 200 years later in "game time" and 20 years later in real time!

Risus Monkey said...

@Gene: Actually, I had MoonDancer in mind when writing this. I would have loved to have done some flashback time with her. I had her back-story sketched out and totally imagine some pretty cool Highlander-style scenes.

GeneD5 said...

If you're ever in the Boston area while I'm still running "Vortex," we should have "Moon Dancer" make a cameo and have a flashback to her days with "Twilight" (the GURPS Supers team, not the teen vampire romance series)!

GeneD5 said...

@Greg, I've been fortunate to have Player Characters in both John's "Gwynedd in Greyhawk" and my own "Vanished Lands" campaigns span decades, but we haven't done as much with flashbacks as I'd like. Now that I've been looking at Leverage, though, I might revisit the plot device!

Craig A. Glesner said...

Ah, you kooky kids with your killable Immortals and sparkly and/or emo Vampires.

*shakes head sadly*

The definition of being Immortal is that you can not be killed. Doctor Manhattan is a bloody Immortal.

The Highlanders and Vampires are merely long lived.

Risus Monkey said...

Can Doc Manhattan be killed? I wonder... if so, how?

Craig A. Glesner said...

I don't think so, remember he got vampomised, not once but twice and came back from it.