GMs, people who run games, get a lot of credit and appreciation on the Gauntlet, and deservedly so. In this article, though, I wanted to turn the spotlight on our many fantastic players and the amazing array of characters they played in 2021. So I posed a question on our Slack: who was the most memorable character you played on the Gauntlet this year?
I really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses to this question, including the wide range of games people enjoyed, and especially the wide range of qualities that could make a character stand out as someone’s favourite. The depth and development described here (even in one-shots!) is really striking to me, and I think is a tribute both to the players themselves and to the Gauntlet’s culture of collaboration, creativity and mutual support, as well as the fantastic games we all got to play.
I thought about answering my own question, but ultimately found it too hard--and since I had a perfect round number of responses anyway, I was mercifully spared a tough decision between the scheming Immaculate Rainbow from Hearts of Wulin and the dutiful moth tender Luella Vee from Wanderhome. Or was it the tough lawyer-turned-ecoterrorist Cara Rossi from Rising Tide? Actually, maybe it was… oh, let’s just get on with this!
Damion Ashbearer (he/they), the Ashen Blade. Damion was part of a 16 session run of The Twilight Throne, a FitD game of political intrigue and tragic intimacy in a broken land of cursed magic. Damion was of the House of Cog & Gear.
I enjoyed playing Damion because he was a perfect example of how a gentle heart and good intentions can still lead one down a path towards corruption and destruction. Everything Damion loved was twisted into something unrecognizable, and the tragedy was palpable. I chose the Curse of Kindness for Damion, and it was a delight to play them alongside other scheming nobles and destroy a cult. We just happened to ignite a war between nightmarish dragons and the noble houses but oh well?
Cyrus Vance, Lady Blackbird
In a great year for gaming, my most memorable character was Captain Cyrus Vance of the Owl, in Michael Pelletier’s run of Lady Blackbird.
Having the chance to play with a bunch of really thoughtful players in Josh H, Marleigh, and Danielle was amazing, and Michael gave us all the space we needed to dig into the characters. This was my first play of Lady Blackbird, and I found Vance more interesting than I’d expected—torn between his duty to the crew and his desire to be with the title character, which he really never felt he could openly admit to.
Henri(etta) Michaels—former MI6 agent and the Cuckoo/Disguise expert in Lowell's Nights Black Agents Express Quarterly. Played by Tatiana Maslany (SOOOO many faces!)
Only time in a game I expect ever to be able claim that a previous cover as a pole dancer should allow a combat bonus against a supernatural. Her journey from overconfident, entitled Oxbridge-graduate spy to quivering wreck was a joy to play, before she 'came home out of the cold' and became the manipulative NPC handler for the group that picked up the baton in my Against the Dark Conspiracy games.
I love Henri!
Helena Henbury, Vessel in Victorian London of The Between. Scryer on/Danced With/Banished Spirits of Theodora Braithwaite, Banished & Summoned a Vampire, Cavorted with the Most Beloved, Rescued an innocent from the Void, Chatted with her Beloved Sister and London’s resident Psychopath, Thwarter of the Coven, Partaker of Opium, Corrupted the Factotum with gifts and sisterly affection, Threatened an old pervert photographer, Looked better than everyone else in Sapphire Blue.
I really liked playing Telecast in Surge Protectors. He was a robot who could transform into a TV news/satellite truck.
Mote the Mother Tender (Wanderhome), a raven who was curious and cheerful but concerned he wasn't living up to the code of his order. Always tripping over his own words but supported by his friends, he eventually met the founder of his order and learned that he could pave his own path.
Oh, wow, thinking about this underlines how hard I got hammered by life back in April and just had to drop out of everything for a while. Most of the year is a sort of a blur.
But my most memorable character was one whose arc I got to complete early in the year: Bee-Dee, my officer from Donogh’s epic full campaign of 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars. His steadfast dedication to ridding the galaxy of threats to Terra culminated in his eventual ascension via industry, opportunism, and sociopathy to Brigadier of the entire Expeditionary Force.
It was the culmination of I think 5 (?) separate months of play scattered across nearly 2 years and I really loved seeing that arc play out via the system’s Flashbacks of Strengths and Weaknesses. Definitely a character I’ll still think about years from now.
Hands-down Ivedro/Ordevi, the Demigod of Enlightenment in Lowell’s Godbound quarterly this summer. His look and personality shifted with the sun, being handsome and arrogant at its zenith, wizened and humble in the dead of night. Though the youngest person to ever become professor at his university, he was kicked out for too many poor student reviews. He left behind a trail of irritated colleagues. Lowell gave me lots of room to express his personality both as Professor Ivedro, the arrogant know-it-all, and Ordevi, his “brother” who embraced curious, if naive, inquiry. Ivedro collaborated with the pantheon to start their own school on the island the demigods took over, giving him a chance to take on more responsibility. As the sessions ended, we started to see some growth in his personality and attitude, as his powers gave unique opportunities. I can’t wait to continue with him next year to see how he further matures.
I have to go back to January. In a World of Gamma game run by Dan Brown, I played an anthropomorphic tropical orange/red bird named Sunshine. Sunshine was a member excommunicado of the Bird Medic Society, aka The Living Feather. Banished for burning down a hospital in Brazil, Sunshine moved to Rio de Janeiro where he set up a tent to offer rogue medical services and train a friendly and inept rat to conduct procedures for him.
In a two-month series of Sleepaway, my Song Leader Ursula fought as hard as she could to protect the kids of the camp without resorting to the forest magic that she and another counselor had dabbled in during their youth. While that other counselor leaned in, anything magic was anathema to Ursula. But as the dangers to the campers grew in frequency and intensity, she found herself increasingly hard-pressed to toe that self-imposed line. And then it all came crashing down when the Lindwurm split the oldest tree in the woods and unleashed a curse that would kill all the counselors.
Making a deal with the fates to take on all the deaths of the counselors in exchange for their safety, Ursula climbed into the broken body of the tree and let it swallow her up. She was reborn as a Moth Maiden who went by the name of Cygnus. Through the valiant efforts of all the counselors, the camp was able to banish the Lindwurm. But as the rest of the counselors moved on with their lives in one form or another, Cygnus found herself transported to moments through time and space, struck down again and again in the place of each of them. In the end, all that was left of her was an echo of the wind in the forest.
I enjoyed playing Sir Cevyn Grist, the Devoted, in Jesse Abelman's series of Rebel Crown. I was a lord's illegitimate son and a young knight with a lot to prove. Plus, I was hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with the Claimant whose cause I served, Lady Siobhan Darach. (She, of course, is far too highborn for me to ever dare to hope she'd return my affections.) The character got to be tragically gallant and hopelessly naïve in the midst of messy medieval politicking. Plus I created a cool silver whip-sword for fighting wraiths as a long-term project.
His ending was appropriately bittersweet. He confessed his love to Siobhan in the penultimate session, and asked her to send him far away to serve her cause somewhere where he isn't tormented by the impossibility of their being together. She obliged. Then we had a time jump to the climactic point of the retinue's campaign to put Siobhan on the throne. Due to the way the dice fell, I returned from my embassy to the Empress bearing the Scars “Tarnished,” “Wraith-Touched,” and “Heartbroken.” Pushed to his limit, Sir Cevyn still loyally helped Lady Siobhan secure the throne, but lived a lonely life in her new kingdom of Dol.
Dawn, the Rebel from Feathers, the Belonging Outside Belonging game of fallen angels I facilitated back in April.
A bruised veteran, who takes a bit of tender effort by her peers to get out of her shell. But mostly, in the end motivated by challenges their community is facing; just because she doesn't have to wreak havoc doesn't mean she's not fighting for them.
Honourable mentions to Maxim the Prodigal from ‘Werewolves of Wall Street’ (Bite Marks) and Euphoric Fear the Aswang from Balikbayan.
I played a little more this year, though still not a ton. But I had a tremendous time running Eun-Jung Rhee in Alun's Against the Dark Conspiracy game for several reasons. The game was a sequel to an Nights Black Agents campaign I'd run (with one survivor returning) and I opted to run a character from a game I'd played with Alun at least a year before. It was the first time I'd done something like that.
The moment I knew I was going to enjoy playing her came when every other player picked her for the "Which Member of the Team Do You Care Least About?" question. It meant I had a relationship with everyone else and that I'd have to work hard to turn that around.
It was also a pleasure to see questions of redemption and faith be tested for her in just a few sessions. She was a Korean lapsed Catholic and active assassin who suddenly, with the existence of vampires, had to confront the real possibility that she was absolutely going to a very literal hell when she died.
My favourite character this year is probably Alstyr the Reverser, Taken by the House of Sand and Mist, Salt Warden and War-Caster of the Verdant Wall (they/them). They came from Rae's game The Twilight Throne—a Noble warrior cursed by loss, looking for their heart, and the human family they had been taken from. Convinced that the Nobles were a blight upon the land, they plotted to release the Nightmares they were supposed to guard against, disdained their houses' penchant for prophecy and destiny, and wanted nothing less than to reverse the world order. But those priorities changed when they fell in love with Damion of the House of Cog and Gear, who was revealed to be a dragon, and for him they were willing to tear down the world so there would be a place for this love! Their story culminated in a furious wedding, with the Nightmares released, Mecha-Dragons summoned, other dragons resurrected, and a storm to break the centuries ascending. Alstyr stayed behind in the melee so their spouse could survive, and fell to the desperate might of the dying leaders of the Noble Houses. But in the epilogue, an almost human mage woke with no memories, far from the battle, a storm raging in their eyes and a wedding band made of the essence of a dragon on their finger…
(That was so fricking epic, words just fail to describe the scale & emotion of this saga!)
I think the most impactful roleplay I had the luck to immerse in this year on the Gauntlet was with Mike Ferdinando, who guided a first-time player and I through a one shot of The Green Knight Role Playing Game at Gauntlet Community Open Gaming in June.
This will take a bit of setup to explain why it was so powerful: as per the narrative, and the movie this game was designed for, in The Green Knight the story begins with an establishing question about what you took from the entity called The Green Knight. Whatever you did to him when you last saw this figure, he would do to you in kind by the end of the game. The game was all about chivalry and honor.
I played a ranger named Lot (she/her) who had, in my description “stolen the heart of the Green Knight”, when I had left him to take care of our daughter. It was midnight when we began play, and I was wearing the leather armor I usually do for larp, to get into character. It was dark and so as not to disturb the neighbors I was roleplaying in hushed tones throughout the game.
While my fellow adventuring partner lost his head to the Green Knight, Mike, our facilitator, revealed that the retribution to Lot would be, in exchange for having stolen the Green Knight’s heart—instead of having my literal heart taken—the child we had borne together and raising them in the forest instead of court. This was such a powerful narrative choice Mike made, and I actually welled up with tears at what at its heart was a family drama.
Lot, you unfortunate and crafty ranger, I hope in your visits to your daughter, you find some solace.
My most memorable character would have to be Jack Shadowthorn, the Flowering Fairest of the Winter Court in Lowell’s gloriously messy PbtA hack of Changeling the Lost. In 1932, at the age of 9, he snuck into a traveling carnival and was whisked off to Arcadia to serve his Durance as a flowery ornament in the Court of Pernilla, the Sublime. He experienced ecstatic moments when mighty Fae doted upon his innocent beauty, but when the Keepers were displeased with some imagined flaw in his beauty or his bearing or the way he matched the light in a particular room at a particular hour, he would be sent to the relentless heat of The Greenhouse where the quiet snip-snip of shears punctuated the torture of a thousand cuts as his blooms were compelled from his body and harvested again and again. When he finally escaped back into the Mundane in present-day St. Louis, he was a delightfully damaged blend of bittersweet yearning, drawling dismissiveness and pointed profanity.
His accent varied between genteel Georgian when he was being perfumed and seductive, to crass Ozark hillbilly when was vexed by the stupidity of those around him. (I so loved that I got to use “fuck nugget” in an actual sentence!) His hunger for glamour was fed by grief, nostalgia, lost hopes and regrets. But under his surface disdain, he had an endearing sentimentality for those he loved. I so appreciated being able to play his harsh side for comedy and his soft side for poignant melodrama. His portrait includes both his true Mien as well as the Mask he used in the Mundane. Thank you to Lowell, Sherri, Vince and Kyle for making him possible.
My favorite PC that I played in 2021 was definitely Etema the Rattataki.
Etema first appeared in a Star Wars Saturdays game as an NPC in a game I ran a couple of years ago. When Will H offered me a spot in his run of Hutt Cartel, I decided to play her as a Spy (#worstspy). During that two-month series, Etema constantly tried to prove her worth—to her lover the Crimelord Enez, to her Rebel spy handler, to her crew (the other PCs), even to her protocol droid. She never quite succeeded at any of those attempts and instead got her handler murdered by trusting the wrong person, lost her eye to a pair of Corellian attack dogs, then lost her lover when her lover had to leave Coruscant. We ended the series with an angry and hurt Etema leading a pack of Rebellion soldiers in the underground with her new cybereye and a strong desire to murder stormtroopers.
AND THEN, Anders started up a series of Stars in the Dark, his reskin of Blades in the Dark, and I got in on that series. Brought back Etema as a Gunhand, and proceeded to shoot lots of stormtroopers and she even started dating someone new (Xai's PC). I'm constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop—for Etema's past to come roaring back at her, or for her to slip up and watch everything fall apart again. But I keep pulling for her to actually succeed this time around.
Silva Torres, El Caballero in Puckett's year-long Pasión de las Pasiones campaign.
Because the campaign spanned several decades of in-game time, I got to play a character who went from an insecure teen who was constantly developing inappropriate crushes on the older women she admired, to gradually becoming something like them.
I mostly GMed on The Gauntlet this year, so my pool of choices is pretty short. I think I'm going to have to go with Sarah Jenkins, reporter for the New York Daily Mirror in 1937, from Lowell's Trail of Cthulhu game back in July. She was headstrong to the point of overconfidence, a consummate schmoozer... and moonlighting as a paranormal investigator, which is how she got sucked into the plot of the game. I used a photo from a 1930s movie for her profile pic.
15 sessions of Nights Black Agents Express, 10 sessions of Against the Dark Conspiracy, more to come. Jimmy Rook is my favourite character because he's the vehicle for exploring 'The Conspiracy'; a blood-soaked web of connections and mystery that only gets deeper. I like to think that the Miro board of 'The Conspiracy' that we maintain represents all of Jimmy's notes, plastered all over the wall of whatever safehouse the Operators are currently in. Mr Rook is a petty criminal who has somehow managed to kill about a dozen supernatural creatures with judicious use of explosives and a fairly reckless approach to personal safety. Despite his background, beneath the veneer of a cynical chancer there's a hidden core of idealism, and I always enjoy when inevitably the rest of the team ends up being far more cutthroat. I have no idea when Jimmy's story will end, perhaps by vampire or perhaps when Alun's PC-turned-MI6-Handler 'retires' their deniable asset.