Thursday, June 17, 2010

Willow & Tara: The Dragon and the Phoenix

Note: Work still keeping me busy.  Here is one I have been meaning to post for a while. Enjoy!

A lot of what I put up here is based on my playtest of Buffy and Ghosts of Albion.  Those playtests were part of a larger series I ran featuring the characters Willow & Tara.  I started them out in a WitchCraft game back in 2001 which led to Buffy and then to Ghosts.  But I thought I'd post the game summaries, playtest notes and actual play reports here to give context to the crunch I have posted and for the crunch I'll continue to post.

These games ran between 2001 and 2006 and reflect a lot of what was going on in my life and in my own RPG freelance career.   I hope you enjoy.

Willow and Tara: The Dragon and the Phoenix

The Dragon and the Phoenix originally began as the means for my Buffy playtest group to tell a Willow & Tara centric story in a new way. Originally titled "Road Stories", it began with the death of Tara's father and then followed Willow and Tara in their cross-country trip across the Southern US in Robert Maclay's (Tara's father) old 67' Thunderbird.

There would be some strangeness along the way. That is of course till March 2002 came around and we heard that Tara was going to be murdered. Now I was (and still am) a huge Willow and Tara fan, but most of my playtesters were even bigger fans than I was. We were angry as all hell, so we changed course rather quickly. Road Stories was scrapped, and we worked to come up with a new idea. In our talks (and we were less concerned now with playtesting and more with providing ourselves with something we had lost) The Dragon and the Phoenix was born. We were going to bring Tara back. We decided rather early that there were not going to be any of the issues that plagued Buffy herself the season before. As Lisa, one of my playtesters and the brain behind the episode Heaven Bleeds, stated "without Willow even Heaven would have seemed like Hell to Tara".

The ideas flowed in pretty quickly. The name of the series, the "past episodes" of the demonic army and Yoln came from an AD&D game I had played in the 80s just before going off to college. One of my characters, Morgan, had been a character that I had set up to die and have regretted it nearly the instant it happened and ever since. So to bring her into this and make her death parallel to Tara's (and to some extent Buffy's) was poignant on a personal level but also because I felt I could do a much better job of it. In AD&D Morgan had been a Bard (1st Edition) with a particular hatred for vampires. In The Buffy game I retconned her into a Slayer.  The death Morgan was something that had bugged me forever.  I can even recall a time walking to class in 1994 thinking I had done her wrong and that had been 7 years ago at that point.

The choice of Leviathan as the big bad was also pretty easy. I loved old Godzilla movies and had this vision in my head of the Cast standing, looking up and facing a giant monster like that. I was also using the Armageddon Playtest docs in my game, so it seemed an obvious choice. Adding that Willow and Tara are the only ones to stop it was also my snarky remark that anyone playing in a world without a resurrected Tara was doomed to be consumed by the Mad God.

My playtest group was also watching a lot of Charmed, so quite a bit of those mythos entered into our games as well. The Demonic Wasteland influenced Leviathan's plane. Warlocks became more Charmed like with their quasi-demon heritage (and thus ok to kill by characters taking a Geas never to take a human life) and witches were given other choices as a secondary power other than just TK. As development in the Buffy game progressed, so did the Dragon and the Phoenix. Each adventure was designed to take advantage of the new rules in the books. Want to play the next adventure, well you'll need to pick up the next book. But we moved from that when Buffy development slowed down. Eventually we moved all moved on to Ghosts of Albion where we were joined by the kindred spirits of Amber Benson and Chris Golden. There are a number of new rules and things we wrote for Willow and Tara that later were tweaked for William and Tamara. Given the parallels, we all felt that this was very appropriate. Did we make Willow and Tara Protectors? No, that was never considered, plus given the Anamchara casting rules there was no need. Once Ghosts got into full swing The Dragon and the Phoenix had to take a back seat but when the core of the rules were laid out we went back to it. We dropped Willow and Tara into the Ghosts of Albion world and used their current stats with the magic-richer world of Ghosts. To quote my co-author of Ghosts and Dragon Garner Johnson the amount of power they could summon up was "just sick". We knew we had done good.

We tried out the other adventures with a mix of unpublished Buffy books and Ghosts rules. In "Enemy Within" we compared Thom Marion's revised Werewolves with the Ferals of Ghosts of Albion. We used Army of Darkness' mass combat rules to detail how an army of demons and angels could fight an army of tainted demonic dragonmen. Magics were mixed and matched. The episode Silent Lucidity added cinematic Bast, but while they were nice the rules for them never gelled for us.  A lot of things worked and they ended up in the Ghosts of Albion book and some I have posted here.  Other things didn't.

We decided to "release" the adventures for people to play since there was quite a bit of controversy over Tara's death and most of the people we knew gave up watching the show at this point (myself included), so this was our replacement. Outside of Garner and myself none of playtesters had ever gamed before, but all had written fan-fiction. I grabbed them for a few reasons, first if the Buffy game was going to work it had to appeal to non-gaming fans. The fact that they learned to play the game and even get to a point to where they were working on adventures is a testament to the game. Secondly I wanted fan-fic authors, and good ones at that, because they understood dialog and plot. Most RPG adventures make good dungeon crawls but terrible "books". I wanted people to feel like they were IN the show that the adventure and drama was now indeed their own. How well did this work? I was driving home one day after going to the store and I had just been given the first draft of "Identity Crisis". The main author, Sass, had pitched to me as an excuse for Tara to do a strip tease for Willow and the two of them get caught. I had read it and of course I was amused, the dialog was great the B-plot was snappy as hell and I was building up the A-Plot (the Buffy part) and then it dawned on me. Tara was alive and well and I soon could care less what was going on in the "canon", the Dragon and the Phoenix was the only thing that was "real", anything else was just a rumor.

We also had some surprising help. Amber Benson  remarked that Garner and I now knew Tara better than anyone (except maybe for Chris). We even had a writer on the show that was sending us scripts long before the shows would film. So we worked spoilers for the other Season 7 into the narrative and mocked them. The writer has asked to remain anonymous and that is the way it will stay. This person agreed with us but was powerless to do anything. We were also hearing about how toxic the set had become and how most people were counting down the days till the show was over.

Similar to the authors I got Willow & Tara fans (collectively known as "Kittens") to do the covers for the adventures, you can see them all here.

There are a lot references to music and songs in the episodes. I do my best work to music. I wrote my dissertation while listening to the Ramones and "Ghosts of Albion" was written on a steady diet of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden when I needed horror elements and Sinéad O'Connor, Enya and Máire Ní Bhraonáin (I guess we are distantly related), and Lorrena McKinnett for when I needed to write about the fae or ancient history. Dragon had a lot of influences, but mostly I listened to a lot of Linkin Park.

The Dragon and the Phoenix was a great success in my mind. Of the adventures we released, 1 through 5, it has been translated into German, French and Spanish. There are two "unauthorized" fan-fics by authors not related to the project set in the same universe not to mention the works of the authors involved from the dramatic ("Unexpected Consequences") to the silly (Willow and Tara's drunken adventures in a adult book store by Sass) to Lovecraftian inspired horror (Garner's "Those that Feed"). Plus two more series and a mini-series that comprise what we call "Willow & Tara the Series". "Road Stories" was later revived as "Season of the Witch" and the ghost of Robert Maclay is added to the cast. "Mid Semester's Night Dream" was a mini-series featuring a semi-retired (from monster hunting) Willow & Tara being asked to investigate a suspected vampire at a private boarding school. This lead to "Generation Hex" where Tara is still teaching at the school and they have help the next generation of hunters of the supernatural.

Series Details
The Dragon and the Phoenix - Buffy game with original cast set in an alternate season 7. Tara comes back to help the Cast defeat Leviathan. A mix of "Buffy" and "Armageddon". (2002 to 2003).

This Season is designed with the idea of bringing back the character of Tara Maclay who was murdered near the end of Season 6. This Season takes place in a different Sunnydale, though the history is the same, the future is new. The Cast must deal with the notion of what love is and what it means to be a family. Other issues are of course, working together and the handling or mishandling of power.

The following information is for all the episodes.

Special Guest Stars
Though the character of Cordelia Chase should be played as an NPC. Notes will also be given for playing Giles and/or Anya as NPCs.
Tony Foster. A rookie officer on the SD Police force who stumbles into the Slayer's world. Knows a little bit about what goes on in Sunnydale (ie not a dumb cop). Is attracted to Buffy.
Luna. A Seraphim that may be aiding the cast.
Kara Maclay. Tara's "twin sister".

Little Bads
The Knights of Elohim. These three fallen angels provide most of the problems for the cast in the first episode and reoccur in a later one. They seek to return the Earth to the demons so that they may be first in the eyes of God again.

Strawberry Switchblade. She was a friend of Dawns (introduced early) and was killed by the Vampire Chicas. Now she is pissed off at Dawn and Buffy for letting her get killed. Wants to kill or turn Dawn.

Yoln. The Hand of Leviathan. Yoln was a human general in the armies of Hell. He was part demon himself. During the Dark Ages he attempted to seize control of Earth, but during a pivotal able battle in Gaul (France) he met a girl. This girl was the only person who ever bested him in battle. They fought, but Yoln ran her through with his sword, Pillager. Though she knew she was dying, she took his sword from her body and she fought him back to his dimensional portal with his own sword. She even managed to wound him, cutting off his right hand and broke his sword in the process. This girl, Morgan, died after defeating Yoln. She was also a Slayer.

Big Bad Leviathan. Ancient. Colossal. Primordial. Leviathan is a dead god. But dead does not mean the same to gods as it does to mortals. "He" is being drawn into this world. Doing so destroys everything. The world, the cosmos, everything. He has cultists spanning the globe and there is a prophecy that he will reawaken and his birth will be heralded by the death of the Slayers. (Same Leviathan from Armageddon.)

Important Items
The Codex Albius - The White Codex. The spellbook Tara returns from Heaven with. Provides all the new spells in the series. Normally in exile Tara would have had to give this up along with her healing power, but the fact she still has both leads to Cast to believe that Tara's exile may not be exactly what they think it is. This sets up the tension of will Tara need to return when the adventure is over.

The Ankh - Given to Willow by Isis. This prevents her from feeling the effects of the dark magic. Believed to have been influenced by Set, it is learned in time that the "Dark Magic" is in fact Taint and set up by Leviathan centuries ago to use Willow as his portal into this realm. The Ankh can be later used to stop Nox in episode 11 (cast choice).

Pillager - Yoln's Hellforged Sword. His first task in the series is to find the pieces he needs to reforge it. Once he has this he goes on a killing spree, killing every demon (who he feels betrayed him in the 7th Century) and supernatural creature he can find.

The Hand of Yoln - A gauntlet from Yoln's battle with the Slayer Morgan. She had cut off his lower arm with his own sword before knocking him into a portal to the Astral. The gauntlet has been protected by an order of Witch Knights, an order blending both Christian and Pagan beliefs. The gauntlet appears as a clawed hand and may be used to kill Yoln (cast believes), in fact it is the last piece Yoln needs to fully manifest into reality.

The Spear of Destiny - Also known and The Spear of Cúchulainn or the Gáe Bolg. This is the weapon the cast must find to kill Yoln. Buffy, Willow and Tara's first quest for it takes them to 7th Century Gaul were it is being protected by members of the Church and the Ban-Drui. Yoln was leading an army of demons to take it by force but is defeated by the Slayer of that time. She dies, but passes a bit of her soul on to Tara (who tires to heal her).

I will give episode summaries and actual play reports in the future.

1 comment:

Tim Knight said...

Amazing, simply amazing. I am so envious of you that you had/have this active group of gamers around you all intent on creating a shared mythology and all so "into" the game world. This is the definition of roleplaying.

Can't wait to read more (are the elements that you said were available at the time still available somewhere in the dark recesses of the internet?)