Friday, August 20, 2010

The End of the World

Yesterday morning, at about 8:00 AM, the series finale of The Masks of the Damned came to its long-awaited conclusion. The final episode clocked in at just under 12 hours. That's way too long for any TV show, even a long-running soap-opera, but it's not an unheard-of length for a tabletop role-playing game. Which is what it was.

For almost exactly one year, The Masks of the Damned has been a collaborative effort in group improvisational storytelling, and the brainchild of my good friend and former roommate Ian Murray. Ian will shortly be leaving for grad school in Buffalo, New York, which is why the series had to come to an end.

But what an end it was! Nothing else can come close to the nail-biting intensity of a long-running RPG's final session, partly because the viewer can't just sit back and watch how things will unfold. If you make the wrong move, it could spell doom for not just your beloved character, but all other viewers as well (and by extension, their characters, too). Audience-involvement is a must.

For those of you who don't know, The Masks of the Damned utilizes White Wolf's Dark Ages: Vampire setting, and takes place in medieval Krakow, in (roughly) the Year of Our Lord 1230. Not many people know this, but at that time, Krakow was something unheard-of in medieval Europe: a democracy. Granted, it was democratic only for a small group of powerful noblemen and landowners, but it was a step in the right direction.

Anyway, at the opening of the final night's chapter, the city had been under siege by Hungarians for about a week, taking heavy losses by night when the invaders' vampiric masters awoke, and laid their own siege with Tzimisce [chim-EET-see] war-ghouls. In the midst of a major battle, Nicodemus, the former ruler of vampiric Krakow, reappeared and announced that he had come to reclaim what was rightfully his. Instantly, the city began to tremble, and a titanic dragon erupted from beneath the royal palace: a dragon formed of thousands upon thousands of human corpses, bound together and given an unholy life by blasphemous magics. The beast raced with shocking speed to the Eastern Gate, preparing to smash the city walls and allow the Hungarians access to the defenseless, sleeping city.

I don't think I've ever heard of a more epic final battle, which took place on the dragon's freaking back as it raced through the city. Imagine the final battle in Army of Darkness, but instead of taking place in a castle, it takes place ON GODZILLA'S BACK, WHILE HE'S IN THE PROCESS OF DESTROYING TOKYO!!!

During said battle, the fighters held their own against a powerful Tzimisce named Lazarus, who wore a suit of armor made from his own skeleton, and dealt unhealable damage! Oh yeah, and he could fly. Meanwhile, the weak-armed mages (i.e., just me) attacked the beast's weak points with burning barrels of tar, trying to cripple its' legs before it could crush the rest of the city.

Oh, and did I mention that, for all intents and purposes, the dragon had INFINITE HIT POINTS!?!?!?! And that it was almost ONE-HUNDRED FEET TALL at the shoulder?!?!?! And that as you climbed us its body, the uncountable hands and mouths of all those corpses would bite and rake and claw at you?!?!?!?!

It was an epic battle to end all epic battles.

But then came the True Final Boss!

I believe I mentioned earlier that Nicodemus, Krakow's former ruler, had returned? Well, we had to fight him. Immediately. He made a brutally difficult boss: he was older than dirt, he could fly, cast tons of magic, turn himself into a gravity-defying puddle of blood, use telekinesis, fill entire rooms with nigh-impenetrable darkness, hold hundreds of gallons of blood in his body, and knew a spell that could collapse people's skeletons at will!!! For a mortal, having your ribcage collapsed would be instantly fatal. For us, it just made us loose half the blood in our bod-- Oh, wait. When you're fighting someone tougher than the fucking Antichrist, loosing half your ammo is pretty much fatal, too.

Normally, a boss like that would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. But do you remember how, mere minutes previous, Lazarus dealt most of us a ton of unhealable damage? Things were not looking good for the heroes of Krakow.

It was only in the last minutes, hemmed in, badly wounded, low on blood, and still unable to deal a single point of damage, that we came across a possible solution: Wolfgang (my character) still had a dagger on his person. A dagger with a spring-loaded poison chamber. A poison that had proved devastating to vampires in the past. I drew it from my pocket, and checked how much ammo it had.

It had one. dose. left.

Using my own limited flight powers, I took to the air and made a final desperate stab at the seemingly-invulnerable Elder Vampire. I rolled a seven. If that result had been one point lower, we all (probably) would have died then and there. (Which is not to say that I was the only one pulling my weight in the life-saving department; every character had more than a few brilliant ideas and close brushes with Final Death. This particular one just happened to be mine.)

With the successful application of the poison, Nicodemus was badly hurt, and we were eventually able to subdue him. The Page (an extremely powerful child-vampire of indeterminate gender) who had been sitting in his/her/its throne and watching the battle, congratulated us on our unlikely success, but reminded us that, in becoming the rulers, heroes, and villains of Krakow, we had nothing left to do but train our replacements, and know that one day, we too would be overthrown.

'Twas a very bittersweet ending, but what else can one expect from the chronicles of the Living Damned?

Heere endeth ye tale of Ye Masques of ye Damned.



  1. Well, you've cemented your spot in nerd hierarchy quite neatly. RPGs are great, but a lot of times what makes them great isn't translatable out of the time and place of its origination. See: Have you got 5 oft of rope about?

    Interestingly enough, the only other blog I read today had a title involving apocalypse. Are you ENCOURAGING the end of the world??

  2. So you're saying that it doesn't convey a sense of how awesome it was?