End of an era
Yesterday saw the end of a group of fictional characters who have been together since 2007.
The last few years, I get to roleplay roughly once every three weeks. I have a group of keen and loyal players (one of them since 1994) who willingly sacrifice an entire Saturday to the game; they make the journey to my house on a hill, here in Bristol, and subject themselves to whatever corporate menace of cyberpunk fantasy plot comes their way; or endure the nerve-biting, skin-crawling dread of a Cthulhu Mythos nightmare unfolding around them.
I’ve been into RPGs since 1981, age 11, when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. Come 1985 I got into Call of Cthulhu and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. 1989 it was Shadowrun and Cyberpunk. In 1996 I put together my own system – a rough blend of CoC and Cyberpunk and in 2006 I started writing my own commercial RPG, Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur; which launched early 2008.
Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur, first published in 2007, is an RPG written by sci-fi & dark fantasy author David J Rodger – it blends the Cthulhu Mythos and cyberpunk genres in a post-apocalyptic setting. It also now has two novels set within it, Dog Eat Dog and The Black Lake.
During 2007, I had a beta version of Yellow Dawn in my hands and I started running it with my group. I was nervous as hell but after the first session knew I had a winner. Although overall considered post-apocalyptic, the setting is polymorphic – enabling GMs to dig out their favourite old campaign books and scenarios, and adjust them with minimal effort to work in the Yellow Dawn universe. Cyberpunk adventure. Cthulhu Mythos horror. Mad Max mayhem. Gun-slinging anti heroics of the Westerns. Swords and sorcery. Ghost hunting and Wilderness survival.
My group created a bunch of characters. Skint. Barely surviving. They came together at a Living City desperate for cash and willing to sign-up to a tour with the CRC (City Recovery Corps) heading out as a unit into the nearest Dead City to scavenge and bring back resources essential to the Living City’s daily grind. Hard work. Risky business. The Infected crowd the abandoned roads and buildings. And the Influence of Hastur is an invisible, pervasive threat to sanity and soul alike.
They did well. In fact, they managed to beat off a random attack by a bunch of aggressive Changed (Warrior Orcs), capturing the truck these things were using harass a remote wilderness road.
The characters used the truck to scout nearby wilderness, found an abandoned mini business park; a few corporate buildings. They took it over. Stripped it clean and repaired damage from 10 years of neglect and weathering. They built a base. And it was perfect.
From there they became involved in a wild range of scenarios and campaigns, including Shadows of the Quantinex – heading off-world into Deep Space at one point – to discover the truth behind what caused the apocalyptic event known as Yellow Dawn to occur. And to stop an even worse catastrophe from hammering the few million survivors of that event into dust.
It was all thrilling stuff.
Throughout this, the characters increased their hero rank and wealth. They gained superheroic bonuses and increased skills beyond levels of normal mastery.
And then, yesterday, 16th February 2013 (real date) or in the world of Yellow Dawn, 27th September YD+1 (11 years after Yellow Dawn event rocked the planet), that group of characters came to an end. Some of them at least. One died (throat hacked open at the climax of a brutal ceremonial orgy); one of them vanished – taken by a mysterious golden figure, an Elder God, which had been haunting his dreams for weeks; one of them changed into sub-human creature of the forest, associated with the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath and finding a sort of perfect ending after weeks of torment since a traumatic encounter in the mountains of Belgrade, in Europe (Horror on the Orient Express). And one of them survived, barely, after an epic struggle to beat off madness and death – but was so exhausted and traumatized, he has decided to depart back into orbit and then Deep Space.
So the character group that is known as Little Boston has come to an end. Not all dead. Not over forever. The settlement they build is there, as are some secondary characters and a whole bunch of NPCs who run the farm and small bio-fuel facility. But it will be a long time before any of us see them again. New characters are going to be created. A new starting point, possibly Aigues-Morte on the coast of the South of France.
So like the players, I’m going through a profound moment of reflection. When I was packing away all the stuff from the dining room table this morning; the folders crammed with character sheets and player notes; I flicked through the thick slab of GM notes I’ve built up since 2007… most of them I threw away after reading, but I’ve decided to keep some of the early ones. It might seem strange to an non-RPG player, but reading those notes brings back memories and emotions that are as vivid (and valid) as anything you or I might experience in actual reality.
At the end of the session last night several of us wandered over to the local pub and knocked back a couple pints of real ale in quick succession, calming nerves, soothing brains and then easing into smiles of nostalgia and fond recollection. We could have talked for hours about the “shared memories” of these game sessions.
I think for me that is the enduring appeal of roleplaying. Sitting around a table, effectively carrying on the tradition of oral storytelling, but one where the participants get to interact with the story and influence its path through dice rolls. Real memories from fictional moments.
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Primary Rulebook (2.5) This book is crammed with everything you will need to create characters and run scenarios.  Features narrative examples of key themes • The Influence of Hastur • Medical theories on the Infection • Zombie surges • Dead Cities • Wilderness survival • Comprehensive scavenging system and how to repair or build things with resources • Backgrounds and motivations of government bodies and corporations • Computer hacking and drug abuse • High-tech immortality options • Non-human characters • Enhancements through cyberware and bioware • Weaponry, equipment and armour • Complete character generation and development system • Complex political, corporate and quasi-religious tensions • Schools of Elemental Magick, occultism, demonology, and the alien horrors of the Outer Chaos – the Cthulhu Mythos.
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