(Publisher note: This essay is on page 14 of Mythender. I was privileged to run it for Wil and a bunch of other great people, and Wil told me a few months later that he wanted to write this for me. I got it in time to put it into the final book.)
On a Saturday evening last December, Ryan dropped a small but heavy bag onto a table in front of me. Inside, dozens of coins clattered together, eager to get out.
“Do you want to kill a god?” He asked.
Does anyone say ‘no’ to that?
We gathered a few people together, and Ryan ran Mythender for us. Because it was December, we chose to kill Santa Claus. I was Bob Cratchit, grieving the loss of his son and determined to destroy the monster who gave false hope to a world where bad things happened to good people. One of our friends was an elf who was banished by Santa for suggesting that elves should also get presents. The rest of our group had equally disturbing and justified reasons for journeying to the North Pole, and for the next few hours, we marched through snow and ice, across the burning and broken bodies of elves and toys, growing stronger and more powerful, until we finally confronted Saint Nicholas. After a hard fought battle, my comrades and I killed Santa Claus. We reveled in his death, celebrated over his corpse, and stood atop the world, righteous and triumphant, while the children in it slumbered, nestled all snug in their beds, not knowing that Santa Claus was not coming—not this Christmas, not ever.
I sat back in my chair, heart racing, and exhaled heavily. I looked around the table and said, “You guys, we just killed Santa Claus.” … but I didn’t feel exalted. In fact, I felt tired, spent, and, well, dirty. I felt bad. That was when the power and importance of Mythender hit me.
The thing that sets Mythender apart in a crowded field of indie RPGs is how it left me feeling when we folded up our character sheets and retracted our mechanical pencils. At the beginning of our quest, we were all on a mission to right a great wrong, to bring to justice a powerful god who had wronged us—wronged the world!—but by the time we faced him, we had become completely corrupted by our power, defiantly certain that our revenge quest was justified and righteous. Without even realizing it, we had become the villains. We had become that which we beheld, and it happened so subtly and so effortlessly, none of us ever stopped for a moment to question what we had become. It was only after the quest was finished, after the myth was Ended, that I fully understood and realized what had happened.
Santa Claus wasn’t the monster. I was the monster.
They say that power corrupts, and we’ve heard it so much, I know this is something we all know and believe, if only in the abstract. We often see our fellow humans work hard to ascend into positions of power, only to change before our eyes into absolute monsters, completely unaware of their transformation. Mythender, by design, let me experience that corruption and change. Ryan’s game made me feel it, and it. Was. Horrifying.
I believe that I am a good person. I work hard to be honest, honorable, kind, and grateful. I will never willingly or consciously hurt anyone, and I always do only that which is right. And when I took control of his life, I’m sure Bob Cratchit believed all those things, too.
I haven’t seen him since that gray December day, but I think he probably still does… in a world where a child wakes up on Christmas morning to find an empty stocking, and vows to punish whoever—or whatever—took Santa Claus away from her.
Merry Christmas, Bob. God bless us, every one.