Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Christopher Reeve's Penny

In the classic time-travel romance movie Somewhere in Time, the protagonist, played by Christopher Reeve, hypnotizes himself so he can travel backwards in time to 1912, the period in which an actress he is obsessed with lives. All is well until at one point late in the film, he breaks the hypnotic spell that allows him to exist in the past by accidentally glimpsing a penny from his own time: as synopsized on Wikipedia,

[Reeve's character Richard Collier] reaches into [his pocket] and finds a shiny new Lincoln penny with a mint date of 1979. Seeing an item from his real present wrenches him out of his hypnotically-induced time trip, and Richard feels himself rushing backwards with Elise screaming his name in horror as he is pulled inexorably out of 1912.

I think that certain game mechanics act like that penny for me: they obtrude into my immersive game experience and pull me out of the game world as I want to inhabit it. The particular concepts or mechanics that create this effect are purely idiosyncratic to me, and are admittedly based upon my own early experiences with the RPG'ing hobby. They may even designate me as a curmudgeon. If so, so be it.

I raise this issue because I am doing my best to motivate myself to return to the regular teen gaming group I first visited a few weeks ago, but I am having trouble. And I admit that my reticence is in large part because the group plays D&D IV. This is NOT a rant against that system in general, and believe me when I say that I really do wish that I could be as mature as Christian and simply "be quiet and play the [4e] game to my best ability and to do my best to be a good participant, even though it lacks many structural and thematic events that I prefer." But I struggle, because for me, simply hearing the words "healing surge" or "daily power" at a game session does to me what that penny did to poor Christopher Reeve: it sends me "rushing backwards, pulled inexorably" out of the world of the game. I want to rise above such pettiness, but I am finding it quite difficult -- as The Happy Whisk asks in Christian's comments, "Why are you playing a game you don't enjoy?"*

Why indeed?

Of course, I have an answer to that question: because I want to convert said D&D group to the Old Ways, to get them playing Labyrinth Lord. And I may be able to get back in there and stick it out long enough to accomplish that goal, assuming the group is willing to go there. But right now I am really struggling. I am not proud of this, but there it is.

And for the Joesky tax:

Penny of Retrieval
The Penny of Retrieval is a very rare item thought to have been created by insane wizard Alaxxx Leprongo Kulikkx. This unassuming-looking copper coin (worth 1 cp if not recognized as magical) automatically returns one teleported or gated being to its point of origin. All the being must do is look at the coin, and s/he or it is instantaneously transported back to the place from which s/he or it was first gated or teleported. The coin works equally well within one dimension or interdimensionally, and functions whether or not the user is aware of its presence or function. In fact, the Penny of Retrieval is often slipped into a dimensional traveler's pockets without his/her/its prior knowledge.

* Just so you don't think I am picking on D&D IV exclusively here, allow me to mention that ascending AC is another such "penny" for me -- the penny that has so far kept me from playing Swords and Wizardry despite my immense respect for that game.  Just seeing ascending AC figures in the S&W White Box booklets somehow ruins the vibe for me. [EDIT: I am eating those latter words now.]


  1. I really liked that movie. :)

    I hear you on the game dissatisfaction thingy. As was pointed out to me today, perhaps suffering in silence is being dishonest. It leads to resentment, which is not healthy.

    I've talked with the other players and three of the five can't stand the game. I think it's going to fall on me to be very honest and ask how to move the game in a more desirable direction. As it is, we are playing in a few days and I am not at all excited. How lame is that?

    I also like Labyrinth Lord. I even ran it once for 13 or sessions. I really dig its rule light nature.

  2. That's a rough one - I admire your zeal for wanting to share what's good about the older ways.

    S&W lists both AC and AAC stats and requires that anything listed as compatible does so too in its licensing. Just for the record (for anyone else reading and not familiar with S&W).

    I like your penny, and the idea of dropping it into an unknowing's pocket. I can see Aahz pulling that one on Skeeve.

  3. @Christian: Thanks for the support!

    @bulette: Yes, I am aware that S&W lists both, and I DO sense that my day to actually play White Box will come. . . .

    Nice Myth Adventures shout-out as well -- the penny thing does seem pretty Aahz-like, doesn't it? Or like something Merlin would do to the Wart in TH White's Once and Future King.

  4. It's like the fourth wall. Somethings just ruin that suspension of disbelief. Hitpoints I can understand -I tell myself they represent stamina and endurance as much as actual wounds- but this whole healing surge thing? Yeah, it kinds kills my wall. As do some of the 4th ed powers.
    I have played -and even run- 4th ed, but I found I didn't enjoy it. As much as 'realism" is a nebulous term in gaming, everyone has their limits with regards to how much their gaming definition of "realism" (perhaps emersion is a better word) can be stretched by a game system.

  5. @Dangerous Brian: Very well said!

  6. Totally know what you mean Carter about phrases like "daily power" breaking ones attention somehow! I'm sure if I was growing up now with D&D 4 it'd be the most natural thing, but to my B/X- and AD&D-raised ears it just sounds like something out of a computer game.

    I wouldn't go so far as you do in saying that ascending AC has the same effect, though I admire the fact that you said it :) I just don't have an intuitive understanding of ascending AC -- it requires calculation to work with it (basically converting it in my head to the descending scale!).

  7. I've once DMed a 4e campaign and I found a "bug" in the rules to be hilarious: This player had a monk and tripped a swarm of bees!!! No BS! I checked the rules to see if it was possible and it was!