Sunday 15 April 2012

The 39 Steps

I had cause to be browsing The Independent’s website today and it highlighted an article from last year, where Sameul Muston produced a piece on the 10 Best Spy Novels. At number one I found John Buchan’s The 39 Steps. I confess I came to Buchan through the Hitchcock film but as regular readers here have doubtless picked up I’m rather a sucker for the 1930s, and no less for a little daring-do against agents of a foreign power. It was also a coincidence (and they’re lovely when they happen) because after a fulsome morning’s work I was browsing before turning to working up more notes for a game I’m running soon.
                          I love games, proper role-playing games. I’ve not used a commercial set for more than twenty years and the group I play with I’ve played with in some cases for thirty years now. We meet irregularly, not least because Tolly Maw is a long bloody way from anywhere – but also because my Q works half the weekend so it’s a rare and wonderful thing when we can play at all. Back in ’95 I started a game by the name of The Great And Secret Show (no real relation to the Clive Barker novel, I’ve just always liked the name). Since we don’t meet up for an evening we meet up for weekends – at least, and commonly two or so times a years over a Bank holiday. Often it’s been GASS, starting Friday and then nigh constant till late Sunday. It started in 1936 and over the last eleven sessions they’ve crossed the decades, mostly scuttling away from anything a bit frightening, crossed the world in pulp style, taking over countries and defeated old gods (well one, but it was particularly frightful fellow), ventured as far afield as Sommer Isle and even Mars. Every person they’ve met, every place they’ve been, has been from a novel or a film, from myth or history however remote or unnoticed. It’s drawn on Kim Newman, Michael Moorcock, and Christopher Fowler in style and everything for everything else – and it’s now the end of the century, and it’s the end of the world; and it’s the end of the game.
                          No really.
                          Whilst each session has been in normal terms three, four or more there was ever a finite limit. The century is that limit. Games tend to dribble out. I hate that. I have strong views on lot of things to do with games. I’ve been playing ‘em for decades and apart from a few weeks with the DHSS everything worky I’ve done has been in some way game-related. I’ve become tired mostly of being told what to do as a player. That sounds petulant and perhaps it is, but if the game is a story that tells people where to go, what to do, and how to do it – then roll a few dice, then there’s not much point in having player’s at all. It seems odd in games that characters mostly oppose, or destroy, and of course do what they’re told. Not so in GASS. They did as they wished and now all they did or did not do has come together with all worlds one, with night upon them, and curiously the last gasp of humanity living it up in tiny jazz clubs. One character having decreed that all he wants is for his children to be safe and outlive him begins the session with just that (and rather worried that’s all he’ll do). The characters have throughout been jolly nice chaps. They’ve pretty much killed no one – which is not the thing in rpg games, but after all – that would be murder!
                          And it’s a coincidence because that very first session in 1995 was the ’39 Steps’, with much the story intact although given the sort of slants and changes you’d expect. So it pleased me greatly to stumble across the article on this very day. When on their intent I’ve continued in an hour here, and hour there, to fill in and plot and wait ultimately to see what particular rabbit they pull out of the hat.
                          Because like a good novel I wait to be surprised!
                          Because that’s why you have players, else just write a novel. I do that too, so I know the differences.
                          And it’s the last session in a few weeks. That will be it for GASS. No more, the characters then if they see it out at all retired. The story closed, the shrouds pulled down and the door put on the latch – if not perhaps the lock. And it will be a little bit sad. But then there’ll be beers and doubtless a visit to a very nice Tai I’ve found locally.
                          For once no dribbling out, for once complete, for good or ill, and by their own hand.
                          Starting all those years ago, with the 39 Steps.    

1 comment:

  1. I've been looking forward to the last game for the last two years. And it has been epic. But not all for tag-line sentences ending with boom - most of the epic has been the interplay between the characters and the other characters - whether run by folk such as myself or by your story-teller here. And I guarantee that Christopher Fowler and Kim Newman and Alan Moore would have had fun playing at my Alan's table for this game (if they actually like rolegames, of course).