So you think you know how to play a dragon?
Those who have seen some of Joy Mudd's Federation Council writings might have wondered where I learned political gaming. I learned under a Master, Glenn Blacow, with the MIT Strategic Game Society.
For about five years, Glenn ran the Defender's campaign. In some ways you might have to call it a failure. You really had to get very involved in the game to follow it's complexities. In the end, the majority of the players asked for a simpler game format. Still, Glenn and I played through the prime conflict, and drew it to near it's logical conclusion. Alas, Glenn died just as Cthulhu and his minions were about to rise to challenge the combined might of Dardan's alliance.
The following article was originally written for The Wild Hunt, a an amateur role playing magazine written by game masters, for game masters, giving hints and methods for improving one's game. While Dragon Friend is written as fiction, it gives as best I can Glenn's methods for high fantasy complex politics on a grand scale, plus his complex and potent dragons.
My own first fantasy campaign was called Ivutar, after Ivutar Blackheart, the most potent dragon on her planet. Until I met Glenn's Imyr the Holocaust, I thought myself quite capable of playing a right proper dragon. After several encounters between Talora and Imyr, I resolved to myself never to attempt to play a dragon again. Glenn was simply that good at portraying dragonkind.
You see, when Talora first thought she might encounter Imyr, she assumed that he would be the most powerful and intelligent being on the planet, and treated him accordingly. Unfortunately, after the first three times she met him, upon sober reflection, she decided that the had underestimated him... badly...
What follows is the original introduction to Dragon Friend, from it's hardcopy presentation in The Wild Hunt...
Over the last several years, Glenn Blacow's Defenders campaign received much ink in The Wild Hunt. At one point, most players in the campaign were contributing police logs, diaries, character sketches and/or flame zines based on the campaign. More recently, the Defenders were 'put to bed' with a few fatal flaw articles put out by myself and Glenn. Too much detective and role playing work was required to resolve major plot threads. NPCs &endash; especially the non-humans &endash; were hard to know and work with. The politics was at best exotic, at worst wrong. My character Zephyr dominated the action too much. Glenn 'corrected' these mistakes, and moved on to a new campaign. I should be happy, running in the 'new and improved' game. And yet...
The following short story was put together as one last try at putting on paper what the high fantasy element of the game was all about. Zephyr, Imyr the Holocaust, Gwydion Warmaster, and Dardan Eltarin deserve one last go at the light of day. I'm not going to deny the complaints. They are all too real. The readers of the following story will no doubt be able to sympathize with and understand the players who made them. At the same time, I hope to show what Glenn was trying to do for players willing to accept his premises and put in the necessary time and effort. Why would Glenn and I make all those terrible mistakes?
If one had to describe the Defenders campaign in two words, it would have to be 'modern superhero.' In the late 1980s, "Project Safety" released a substance into the environment which created classic four color mutant superheroes. High tech advances made cyberpunk style paranormals possible. In addition, a series of enchantments which had suppressed magic since Elizabeth I's time were destructured, resulting in magicians, elves, trolls, dragons, demons and the like. If the campaign core was superhero, it was truly mixed genera. There were elements of horror, police procedurals, action-adventure, romantic comedy, techno-thriller, and much else mixed in. While the main campaign centered on the PCs solving street crime in and about the city of Boston, the combined shocks from the mutant-cyber-magic transitions built into a world crisis that might be called "The War of Magic's Return", or more simply "World War III."
The following short story centers on the high fantasy elements of the campaign. I want most to portray Glenn's dragons, and The Masters. To a lesser extent, you will see hints of the elves, trolls and Keys. As these subjects are complex enough, all other elements of the campaign have been pushed well into the background to protect the sanity of the reader.
The Masters are the major players of the Great Game, of whom only seven are active at any given time. The object of the Great Game is to shape the world into a desired form. Every hundred or so years, one of the Masters will forge a Key - a major magic artifact - designed to change the world. Six and only six other Masters will rise to modify or stop the forging Master's plans. Examples of 'Keys' include the Arc of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, which redefined the relationship between Man and God. Excalibur was an attempt to unify Britain under a single king. Gorumthar's Scepter successfully united the trolls under a single king. The Defender Campaign ended before the Sword of Union was released, whose objective was to forge an understanding and balance among the major races sharing the Earth.
The Sword of Union was designed by the elf Dardan Eltarin, who in this story is called "The Dark Lord." It was forged by the elf Gwydion, called "Warmaster". The third clever master favoring the Sword of Union is the dragon Imyr the Holocaust. While these three had a rough agreement on the shape of the world to come, they also fought among themselves to 'fine tune' the Sword's mission. In addition, Odin of the Aesir, Kali "Death Dancer" of India, and Cthulhu of the Great Old Ones played less subtle direct games. The identity of the seventh Master was long a mystery, but the other Master's use of Death, War, Famine and Plague had been anticipated in God's Plan for millennia. The use of strategic magic during the war was not quite as devastating as a full nuclear exchange would have been, but massive loss of life and the destruction of the industrial base changed human society significantly.
The following story is set in New Hampshire of 2160, almost two centuries after World War III and the Defender's campaign proper. The environment created for the story is a plausible extension of what might come after the campaign, but it is hardly the only possible outcome. Lady Talora Elafayin is my elfin character Zephyr, who has been trained to fill a Master's role since the war. The various Masters mentioned in the story were all alive and active during WW III, though not all were acting as Masters during the war.