Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Fine Line: This Isn’t Your Story

By Scott Bingham

Greetings readers and gamers alike! This is the Flying Pincushion and this is Scott with the Fine Line. Now last week’s piece was familiar ground for me, favored terrain if you will, as I am a huge fan of Firefly and love those fantastic 14 episodes of glorious geekdom. That being said there are several movies that are among the “classics” that I have never seen before and still many more books falling into the same category that I have never read. The Last of the Mohicans is not to be found amidst the vast collection of novels and films that have crossed the threshold between my eyes and my brain and finally down to my heart. So as I searched among the Drama section of the movie store and picked out an old, beaten dvd case to rent for the evening I didn’t know what to expect. My limited contact with the film had only been through the soundtrack and from what others had said concerning the movie. For this week’s piece I will refer to the 1992 version of the film as I have yet to track down a paperback copy for some nighttime reading.

The story follows three party members, Hawkeye our main hero and the leader of the group, Chingachgook the last surviving chief of the Mohicans, and Uncas the son of Chingachgook. According to his backstory Hawkeye is the adopted son of Chingachgook and step brother to Uncas. Every decision that is made as far as the party’s actions are concerned follow the will of Hawkeye. Hawkeye wants to escort the pretty ladies, the party escorts the pretty ladies. Hawkeye wants to step up and speak out on behalf of the frontiersmen, the party stays at the fort and helps where they can. Hawkeye leaves Uncas and Chingachgook behind for a moment to try a diplomatic exchange for his love interest and manages to save her from a fiery demise. All throughout the film it’s all about Hawkeye, Hawkeye, and more Hawkeye.

Hold on tightly now. There be spoilers ahead.

We now fast forward to the end of the movie. Chingachgook is standing on the edge of a cliff looking off into the distance and saying a few words on behalf of his fallen son Uncas. He bears some beautiful words that go something like this…

                Great Spirit, Maker of All Life. A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Welcome him and let him take his place at the council fire of my people. He is Uncas, my son. Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one - I, Chingachgook - Last of the Mohicans.”

                Wait what now? Color me all sorts of surprised. The movie is called The Last of the Mohicans. This story isn’t about Hawkeye’s love for Cora or about all of the awesome things he did and said. This is Chingachgook’s story. It’s about him. His people are all gone, dead and passed away from the land. They have gone to the other side and await the last child of the Mohican people. Uncas was among the only two Mohican’s left alive and he fell by the hand of Magua, leaving his father to bear the weight of their peoples’ extinction.

                I will admit that I felt the teensiest bit of satisfaction when those words left Chingachgook’s mouth. It must have been like a slap in the face to Hawkeye, the adopted son, the hero. Surely he could be considered a Mohican. He was raised by Chingachgook, he was brother to Uncas, speaks the Mohican tongue, and lives by their ways. And yet Chingachgook says simply that he, the father, the old worn warrior, the follower, is the last. This is what’s important, this is what we can learn from.

                Our players are important. We’ve covered that last week when the crew of Firefly was discussed and the worth our players have to our stories. They are the heroes, they are the victors, they are the driving force to see the end of their own epic. But.

And there it is. The challenge. The change. The hesitation. The moment that I as a Game Master tell myself, “I want to push myself and my players. I want to try something new.”

What if we run our players through a story that isn’t about them? Yes they make the decisions and yes they fill the role of protagonist but what if it isn’t their story? Hawkeye did a phenomenal job as the party leader. He made tough decisions and pushed his party through some difficult fights. He swept Cora off of her feet and rescued her from the Hurons. He did so much to see his party succeed and yet the purpose, the meaning, the end goal of the story wasn’t about him.

It was about Chingachgook. Chingachgook was the last of his people. Whilst Hawkeye was getting some loving and scoring some points with his seduction checks Chingachgook was likely sitting quietly with his son Uncas relating to him the stories of their people. He must have been singing the songs of their race in far off hopes that one day their people might live on through the seed of his son. And in the end as he prayed standing alongside Hawkeye on that cliff side Chingachgook really was alone. This was his story and Hawkeye was simply a smaller piece of the unseen puzzle.

So there’s the challenge, the push that will separate the strong from the truly creative. The story doesn’t always have to be about our players. Yes the game must be personalized and yes the players must feel involved and care about the outcome. But what about when it’s not about them? Just how much depth do I as a Game Master possess when the story is about more than my players? What will they learn when all is said and done? What is the overall picture?

Hawkeye did his part as the leader and remained a strong role throughout the story but I learned more from Chingachgook the quiet old warrior as he stood alone on the mountain. In his sadness and grief the full weight of the fate of his people comes crashing down upon his shoulders, a weight far too grievous to bear and yet one that must be borne alone. This is what will be remembered. This is the mark left upon me as a storyteller. Our players matter.


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