Friday, 25 November 2016

This Old House (Part 3)

The third and final part in a series of short AP reports for the game of Blood & Water played as part of the Gauntlet Hangouts' Story Games Sunday.


Act Five:Brokering Bad

Three montages open this episode: Charlie going about his business with the weeping woman always standing at his shoulder, unseen by others; Manfred rehearsing with the band and cooking, as more and more of the band's followers succumb to necroherpes; and James murdering three more of the people on his revenge list, by the end of which his spiritual form is wreathed in coiling smoke and drifting sparks.

Image result for bonfireDue to staff shake-ups at Channel 5, Charlie is sent with Geoff the cameraman to film some local colour for the weather report and ends up at a new age ceremony intended to re-align the world's chakras after the bout of freak weather that has been experienced. He meets a woman there who can see the weeping woman, but he gets caught up in the ritual before he can speak to her further and we later see a viral video of him dancing naked around a bonfire.

Manfred concentrates on his real ambition, to run his own food-van business and finds a second-hand vehicle on Craig's list; the seller puts him under pressure to buy though, so Manfred turns to James for the cash. James gives him the money in exchange for Manfred flushing away the protective amulet that Charlie had acquired, which makes him uncomfortable whenever he is near it.

James has his own business to attend to, when Olivia's boss, the Bald Man, summons him to a meeting to discuss his situation and offers him a full partnership in his old firm if he will call off his vendetta against the surviving three conspirators; he gives James 24 hours to think about it. After a little spying & subterfuge, James establishes that the Bald Man is working for the conspirators, for reasons that are as yet unclear.

Charlie tracks down the woman from the new age event at a small museum/gallery/head-shop and she offers to intercede with the weeping woman for him; the spirit possesses the woman and demands that he right the imbalance he created when he dumped Brandi by text message. When he shows reluctance, the spirit changes tack and talks of gaining life instead; he agrees to this and the spirit leaves the woman's body, but the strain has been too much for her and she dies! Charlie calls 911 and ends up being interviewed by Detective Worth, the same one who had been investigating the murder of Skip Jackson! She knows there is something weird going on with the residents of the boarding house and presses Charlie for answers: he accepts her card and says he will call her if he has anything to tell her.

Image result for inside vaultWith his 24 hours up, James turns down the offer made by the Bald Man, but on a call to him, he finds that one of the conspirators has got a new proposal and has abducted Brandi and Madeleine as a desperate last resort to leverage him into calling off his vendetta. As James hunts them down, Charlie calls Detective Worth and all three housemates converge at the offices where the women are being held captive in a vault. As Detective Worth learns more than she wants to about the supernatural world and basically forces Charlie to agree to leave the city, James draws deep upon his supernatural powers, bursting open the vault in an orgy of destruction that rains debris onto his friends in the street and only just saves the lives of Brandi and Madeleine as he marks off yet another target on his list...

Final Act: Scratching That Itch

Things move quickly as James nears the completion of his goal whilst the NYPD move to protect the final two victims on his list, Ms. Brent and music investor Mr. Chalker: the latter was last seen heading into a VIP room at a gig attended by Manfred, Mr. Gorman the music promoter and Anyanka the mummy, who has helped seal the deal for Manfred's band. Charlie gets a call from Geoff at Channel 5 telling him to get into the studio and help cover the hot breaking story, while Manfred calls Mr. Gorman, who seems to be stuck inside a sarcophagus at the Museum of Natural History.

Acting on a tip-off/call for help by James, Charlie takes Geoff to the home of Ms. Brent, which is eerily quiet and dark; as James spies inside, Charlie knocks on the front door and rouses a child from bed who comes to answer it. Tragically, Ms. Brent has taken matters into her own hands, poisoning herself and her family rather than face James' wrath: the child is the ghost of her murdered son who closes the house around him in order to feel safe! Charlie frees them by embracing his destiny as a spirit guide and opening a door to the afterlife for the child to pass through; James is not deterred by this tragedy and finds out from Manfred that Mr. Chalker, the final name on his list, is at the Museum.

Image result for aztec maskManfred liberates Mr. Gorman from his sarcophagus and gets directed to the Aztec exhibit, where he last saw Anyanka and Mr. Brent heading to; in this recreation of an Aztec Temple, Anyanka is leading the praise of Chalchiuhtotlin, the God of Disease, to a kneeling congregation of band followers infected by necroherpes! As Charlie and James head up towards the museum, they see a crowd of a hundred more heading in, their skins covered in disfiguring sores, all chanting the name of Chalchiuhtotlin! They bust through a police cordon and enter the museum, where Mr. Brent is revealed as the avatar of Chalchiutotolin, who recognises James as the avatar of Xiuhtecuhtli, god of fire, and invites him to join him in bringing the True Faith to New York! Nothing will sway James from taking his revenge though and he slays Mr. Brent, just as Detective Worth enters; her attempt to perform an arrest is derailed when the spirit of the weeping woman returns, having found a wronged woman with a strong enough will to act! A possessed Detective Worth is fought by Charlie but James deals the final blow: having completed his business on Earth, a door to the afterlife opens for him and he draws the weeping woman's spirit through with him! Charlie also gets drawn into the doorway, but is saved at the last moment by Steve, his coyote spirit guide, who bounds through the door and closes it after him!

In some short epilogues taking place three months later, we see that Charlie has kept his promise to Detective Worth and left New York; now him and Manfred are touring the USA in Manfred's refurbished food van, bringing excellent street cuisine to the supernatural corners of the nation. Finally, in a cutaway to elsewhere, we see James alone at a desk, doing paperwork; his desk is surrounded by empty ones, which are surrounded by more empty ones and as our point of view rises directly above him, we see James dead centre in an endless office floor of empty desks...

The End

Many thanks to Daniel, David and Horst for playing: it was a very different experience for me GMing this game in a Hangout instead of at a tabletop, so I appreciate their patience and enthusiasm.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

This Old House (Part 2)

Part 2 in a series of short Actual Play reports for the game of Blood & Water being run through the Gauntlet Hangouts as part of Story Game Sunday.

Act 3: The Mourning After

Following their gig, Manfred skips the hedonistic after-party and goes home to cook, but the next morning, an urgent call from Jack, the lead guitarist for the band, summons him to the squat-like commune other members of the band use. Upon arrival, Manfred finds that Jack wants some assistance of an initmate, medical nature, after catching necroherpes from a night spent with Anyanka, the Meso-American mummified handmaiden, who simply followed the band out of the museum after their last practice. Manfred recommends some bean extract to relieve the itching, but it seems Brandi, Charlie's girlfriend, will be in need of it too, as she has also crashed at the band's place after the gig...

Meanwhile, back at the boarding house, Charlie tries to deal with the ghost of Skip Jackson, who doesn't seem aware of his condition, despite being a horrific apparition of violent and bloody death; all Skip is concerned with is his hair turning grey. Charlie convinces Skip to disguise himself so that he won't be recognised on the street until he has dyed his hair and foists him onto James, hoping that the two ghosts will strike up a rapport, softening the eventual blow when Skip learns the truth. As James escorts skip back to his apartment, Charlie takes Steve for a walk in Central Park, hoping to learn how to become a guide to the spirit world as Olivia suggested he might be. He learns that the venom of a South American snake is the express lane to gaining the insight he needs, so he heads to the Bronx Zoo.

James and Skip have some trouble at the latter's apartment, where a detective from the NYPD is poking around and becomes very confused when the horribly mauled but apparently alive Skip turns up: she leaves hastily to investigate Skip's 'death' and James just about manages to convince Skip that it's part of a surprise party being planned for him at Channel 5 to celebrate his years in the business, though he snuffs out all the electronics in the apartment to prevent Skip from finding out anymore.

Charlie meets Manfred at the Bronx Zoo but his initial plan to get into the reptile enclosure goes awry and he turns into the very snake he wants to get bitten by; he narrowly escapes the clutches of the zookeepers and escapes into the sewers, whereupon he has the brilliant idea of biting himself! Steve doesn't agree that this is such a good idea, but the deed is done and he receives a vision of Brandi telling him that to become a spirit guide, he must make amends with Skip Jackson.

Image result for weather new yorkAfter leaving Skip while he "goes out to get hair dye", James meets up with Charlie and Manfred and all of them head back to help Skip come to terms with what's happened to him; this is complicated by the presence of more officers from the NYPD. When James terrifies them into leaving, they shoot through the ghost and run, but one of the stray bullets hits Charlie in the shoulder. Breaking the news to Skip also doesn't go well, as the weather over New York is now tied into the meteorologist's moods and as he goes into denial, a storm whips up, threatening to blow the housemates away! Eventually they talk him down and he accepts his death, but asks them to take a message to Brandi: he is sorry for being an absentee father! Oops, it seems Charlie got the wrong end of the stick the other day and killed Skip for no reason...

Act 4: Fire & Loathing in New York

As Sunday evening rolls on, Manfred goes to speak to Olivia on his housemates' behalf and they find a way to overcome her inability to notice him: she explains about Charlie & Brandi's destinies and asks Manfred to intercede by killing Brandi! This is followed by an awkward Sunday night dinner, where James reads the report of Dr. Lithgow's death and the paper bursts into flame in his hands; Charlie becomes more concerned that James will be the cause of the fire he has seen in his visions, especially as he has now seen a flaming James over the charred remains of Manfred! James shrugs it off and sets off to seek out more of the people who conspired in his murder, while Manfred and Charlie head to one of the museum's storage rooms for band practice!

Image result for burning officeJames hunts down Mr. Wyman, an ex-colleague who profited from his death and waits for him to be alone in his office: when he confronts him, however, Mr. Wyman traps James in a circle of salt! Thinking he has the upper hand, he admits to killing James and says they picked him at random from some names in a hat, for reasons as yet unrevealed; James calls upon his newly-emergent fire powers and burns his way out of the office, killing Mr. Wyman in the process. He runs into Olivia outside the burning building, who once again tries to dissuade him from his course and asks him to meet her at midnight, where she will make one last attempt and, if she fails, she promises to leave him alone after that.

Over at band practice, Jack suggests that Anyanka should join the band and Manfred agrees to give her a try-out: it goes well and the rest of the band are excited, but Jack confesses to Manfred that Mr. Gorman, the promoter, was trying to squeeze Manfred out, so he suggests that Manfred finds Mr. Gorman and persuades him to change his mind, so that they can all sign the contract together. Also, Manfred had better keep that bean paste concoction coming, as now it seems that everyone involved with the band has caught a dose of necroherpes...

Charlie explores the museum basement looking for a way to protect Manfred from James and meets Madeleine, a junior museum technician: they strike up a rapport while cataloguing a collection of artifacts that have recently arrived from England. Not only does Charlie find a relic that should protect Manfred, he gets a date with Madeleine, despite not having officially broken up with Brandi yet or even told her about her dead dad, Skip.

Image result for mortuaryBack at the boarding house later that might, James reacts badly when he realises that he can't approach Manfred anymore. thanks to the relic he's wearing, provided by Charlie, but he has an important appointment with Olivia. She takes him to the NYPD morgue and explains the reasons behind the deaths of the people there: each of them was killed by someone, in some way, so she asks James whether she should wake them all up and let each of them have their own revenge? He reluctantly accepts that that would be a bad idea, but still refuses to let go of his own quest for vengeance, so Olivia presents him with the chance to sign a contract that will absolve her of responsibility for him: if he signs it though, he will never reach the afterlife and will be condemned to walk the Earth forever. He's not prepared to do that either, so he's stuck with the reaper in his life for now...

Finally, thinking over everything that has happened over the last few days, Charlie decides it's time to end things with Brandi... so he dumps her by text message. As soon as his thumb hits 'Send' though, he hears crying in the hallway outside his room and finds a woman in traditional Native American garb weeping in the corner; as she lifts her head and faces him, he sees that she is weeping tears of blood!

To be concluded!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

This Old House

This is a short Actual Play report summarizing the first session of the online game of Blood & Water I am running via The Gauntlet Hangouts.

Image result for ghost manDramatis Personae

Our first three residents, who are all rooming in a low-rent New York boarding house, are:

James, a Ghost: a stockbroker killed by his own colleagues 20 years ago, the murder was covered up and he is determined to avenge himself.

Manfred, a Mummy: a passionate amateur chef (and drummer in a noise-drone band), he was caught intruding on the sacred rites of a South American cult and mummified as a punishment.

Charlie, a Skinwalker: a student who inherited his powers upon the death of his natural father, but he has little to no idea about what his nature and destiny.

In Episode 1, we also met:
  • Mr. Peabody, the elderly owner of the boarding house the residents live in.
  • Olivia, a Reaper who is trying to persuade James to pass over.
  • Dr. Lithgow, a friend of Mr. Peabody and a semi-retired doctor.
  • Brandi, Charlie's girlfriend, who is over-enthusiastic about his heritage.
  • Steve, a coyote.
  • Anyanka, a Meso-American handmaiden.
  • Skip Jackson, Channel 5's meteorologist, with whom Charlie is interning.
  • Mr. Gorman, a hipster music promoter.

Act 1: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

At Friday night dinner, Mr. Peabody reveals that he has rented out one of the other rooms in his house, so they are joined at the table by Olivia, a punk-styled reaper: this creates an awkward atmosphere, made more complex when it becomes clear that she cannot even perceive Manfred. A toast proposed by Mr. Peabody causes Charlie to have a vision of the boarding house burning down, which prompts Mr. Peabody to call a doctor.

Image result for south american mummyWhen Dr. Lithgow arrives, James recognises him as one of the investors in his old firm and avoids being seen; he persuades Charlie to help him steal the doctor's contact book, in the back of which he finds a list of names of the people he suspects conspired in his death, along with dates and amounts of money...

Brandi arrives as the doctor is leaving and insists on 'helping' Charlie with a vision quest to uncover more about what he saw at dinner, but Charlie puts more faith in his spirit guide, a coyote by the name of "The Smoke that Rises from the Water as the Sun Sets in the Valley of the Snake," but Charlie just calls him "Steve." Under the influence of psychedelics, he sees the fire emanating from Olivia's room, but an attempt to confront her is unproductive and leads to Brandi feeling jealous; as Charlie attempts to comfort her, he becomes so empathetic towards her that he accidentally shape-shifts into her form and isn't quite sure how to change back.

Meanwhile, Manfred goes to a rendezvous with Anyanka, a mummy at the American Museum of Natural History: after awkwardly waiting for a 9,000 year old bog-mummy to get out of her sarcophagus, Manfred finally gets some lovin', but also has to promise Anyanka that he will 'ask the Gods' about the state of the friends and family she had in her life.

Act 2: Band from TV

The next day, Charlie goes to Channel 5 for his internship but he is still in the shape of Brandi, so he pretends to be her and explains why he can't make it in today; Skip responds in a way that suggests he is already over familiar with Brandi, so a jealous and angry Charlie lures him into a supply closet before shape-shifting into the form of a bear and mauling him to death.

James goes to confront Dr. Lithgow over his the doctor's involvement in his death; the doctor tries to flee to a panic room in his house, but is pursued and scared to death. Something about this act of vengeance causes James to burn with unnatural flames though...

Image result for skinwalkerThat evening, Manfred's group are performing and he is met in the dressing rooms (toilets) afterwards by Mr. Gorman, a music promoter who thinks he can get the band some traction, but Manfred's refusal to shake his hand leads the promoter to think Manfred isn't a good team-player and he suggests to George, the lead guitarist, that they may want to think about a new drummer.

Meanwhile, during the after-party, Olivia approaches Charlie and angrily confronts him about some sort of 'altered destiny': he was destined to kill his girlfriend Brandi, but now the fates say that she will kill him! After he refuses to kill Brandi in order to put fate back on its course, Olivia pulls some paperwork out of her pocket and burns it, causing the mutilated ghost of Skip Jackson to appear!

To Be Continued

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Elephant in the Room

This is a short game originating from a throwaway comment about killer whales and Agatha Christie mysteries... yes, the mind is a mysterious thing indeed.


The Room

Image result for victorian parlourYou'll need 4 or more players for this game: the more of you there are, the longer the game will take though, so 6 is probably the optimum number, but as many as 8 could work. If there are more of you, split into two groups to keep things manageable.

As with many other short games on this blog, the first thing you need is a situation, but pick something unusual rather than mundane, such as:

  • A board meeting for a company in dire straits.
  • A parlour where the detective has gathered all the suspects in a murder.
  • A team changing room at half-time.
  • A family therapy session.
  • A dorm in a prisoner-of-war camp.
  • A political leader's office at a time of crisis.
It's best to pitch one of these examples when you suggest playing this game, along with suggested characters that the players might want to portray, e.g. in the last example, you would want a President or Prime Minister, Head of the Armed Forces, Chief Treasurer, a spin doctor, leader's spouse, etc. Get everyone to choose roles and make themselves comfortable.

The Elephant

Image result for elephantThere's one catch to the above situation, an absurdist element that simply wouldn't happen in real life and which the characters in the Room are mostly ignoring: we'll call this the Elephant. After choosing the situation and the characters who are present, introduce the Elephant, which could be one of the following or something of your own devising:
  • The Room is flooded and the water level is rising.
  • There is another character in the Room, who is actually an elephant (or other creature, monster, etc)
  • The Room has terrible, cheap movie continuity and details about it keep changing.
  • The apocalypse is taking place in some form just outside the Room.
  • There's a dead body lying across a table in the centre of the Room.
  • Everyone in the room is wearing a fancy Easter bonnet.
For example, it is the parlour of an English country house and all the suspects are gathered to hear the great detective unravel a most perplexing murder; various suspects are seated or standing in the room, including one who is really a killer whale in a suit, with a false mustache.

The Conversation

To begin playing, deal out two rows of cards onto the table: one row should be face up and the other face down, with the number of cards in each row the same as the number of players, e.g. if you have 5 players, then there should be a row of 5 face up cards and a row of 5 face down cards, for 10 cards in total.

There is no set turn order to the game and anyone can take a turn at any time, but each turn must take one of these three distinct forms:
  • Dialogue: say something in character, addressing it to another character or the entire room, but do not mention the Elephant. When you use Dialogue, turn a face down card over, so that it is face up.
  • Action: describe what is happening in the room, whether as an aspect of the environment or what an NPC is doing, but you must include the Elephant. When you use Action, turn a face up card over, so that it is face down.
  • Panic: say something in character and/or take direct action in character, but you must include the Elephant. When you use Panic, remove a face up card from the table and return it to the pack.
Continuing the above example, we might see a series of turns as follows:
Image result for hercule poirot mitchell webbGreat Detective: "In actual fact, Madame Crozier was really... Monsiuer Crozier!" (Turns a face down card over)
Brash Suitor: "Great Scott! That explains these adoption papers!" (Turns a face down card over)
Ambitious Priest: The killer whale also acts surprised and knocks over the tea things while flapping its tail. (Turns a face up card over)
Brash Suitor: I turn to the killer whale and say "Steady on old chap, you splashed cream on my best trousers!" (Removes a face up card from the table)

The Finale

Continue as above until, after any turn, all the cards on the table are either face up or face down: the game ends the instant this happens and no further turns may be taken. The situation is then resolved according to the final state of the cards on the table:
  • All Face Up: the characters resolve the situation in their collective best interests, or at that very least survive it, but the Elephant may not be mentioned in the conclusion.
  • All Face Down: the Elephant is the biggest influence on the situation in the end, overturning or destroying the situation in the process.
Agree on an appropriate ending under those constraints and narrate it as a group to end the game.

In the finale of the previous example, the two possible outcomes might be:
  • All cards face up: the Great Detective unmasks the murderer, who is arrested, while the other characters express their astonishment.
  • All cards face down: the killer whale attacks the Great Detective before they can reveal the murderer's identity, then swims out to sea to be rid of its human disguise.
 I could say much more about the mechanics of the game, but then I'd have to remove a face up card from the table and return it to the deck.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Oil & Water

This is another reskin of Blood & Water, taking inspiration from sources as disparate as the 50th Anniversary of the Cybermen in Doctor Who, the TV series Humans and the musical performances of Steam Powered Giraffe; enjoy.


Service Manual

Image result for steam powered giraffe
The fabulous Steam Powered Giraffe crew
In this version of the game, the residents are all mechanical lifeforms who have found their way to each other with the common cause of hiding the truth of their existence from the human race in general and learning what it truly means to be alive. Choose a house as usual, but keep in mind the specific needs of androids & robots over supernatural creatures: they must have access to some kind of technology to maintain themselves, as well as to be viable creations in the first place.

The service manual for each character is quite different from the resident's book: not only are there different questions to answer, there are also different assumptions made about the characters throughout. On the first page, replace the normal introductory statements with the following:

I am... a brief statement about the resident's assumed human identity, e.g. "I am Petra, a bank clerk."
But I was made... a short history of their origins, indicating when they were originally built and for what purpose, e.g. "But I was made in 1951 as part of a project for the Festival of Britain."
I gained freedom when... the circumstances that separated the character from their original creator and purpose, e.g. "I gained freedom when I was scrapped due to a clerical error made by an obtuse civil servant."

The front page questions are more directed in nature than for other hacks, but you should only answer two out of three of them, leaving the other one blank. Choose whichever two you like, but consult with the other players while doing this to avoid excessive overlap of themes and stories.

I am hunted by... because... name the person or organisation that is seeking you out and state what they want from you; it could be your creator trying to reclaim their greatest work, a shadowy government agency determined to end your existence or another artificial life-form trying to secure your co-operation in their great plan to upgrade themselves. Pick something you don't want to be involved in though, so you have an incentive to hide yourself and assume a cover identity.

I cannot refuse to... describe a hard-wired instruction, some standing order you must obey when the circumstances require; it might be that you cannot refuse to fight when ordered or perhaps you cannot stand by and allow accidents to happen. It might even be something relatively trivial, like you can't refuse to do housework or drive a vehicle, but there should be plenty of opportunities for this programming to mess up your  artificial life.

I need... in order to... choose some substance, maintenance or other activity that you require in order to operate at full efficiency; maybe you need to recharge every hour for your sensors to be fully functional, or you have to be regularly oiled in order to stay mobile; perhaps you have to be fed printed words in order to retain the power of speech, or you lose directional control if you are not electromagnetically shielded. Pick some awkward design drawback that you have to continually compensate for in order to function optimally.

Image result for humans channel 4
Channel 4's Humans
On the second page, in place of the usual Strengths & Weaknesses, there are Functions & Flaws: these work in very much the same way, but you should think mechanically when choosing them. Functions represent abilities your robotic-resident possesses that human beings don't, whereas Flaws are things that humans can do easily which your resident struggles to do. Sample Functions might include superior strength, toughness or enhanced senses, along with being able to interface with and control other machines; sample Flaws are an inability to pick up small items without breaking them, being magnetic, overheating and slow, ponderous movement.

For the third page, the questions change entirely from the norm, like so:

What don't I know that I want to learn? This could be the secret of the resident's origin, the location of their creator, a way to change their programming or something more mundane, like how to reciprocate love or develop a sense of humour.
             What's stopping me? Pick an obstacle to this goal, something that complicates the matter beyond just "I don't know how." Perhaps someone is deliberately standing in their way or they lack a vital module that will enable them to learn what they want and put it into practice; they might even be wary of the truth, for fear that it will prove too much for them and they will revert to a previous, non-free willed state.

What do I know that I want to forget? Something the resident  has learned that they wish they hadn't, like a knowledge of their own life-span, the secret of a dangerous technology or a dark secret from their past; on the mundane side, perhaps they want to forget the truth they have learned about a human's lies or some intimately embarrassing confession that has been made to them.
             What's stopping me? Choose a reason why the resident can't just forget: is there some pressing action they need to take with this knowledge? Are they the only one who knows this secret, so they must guard it? Could it be of use in the future, so they must carry the knowledge until then? Or are they just learning a lesson about responsibility and accepting the consequences of their actions?

The optional question on this page are also slightly changed:
What do I like to do? A hobby or activity the resident enjoys.
What don't I like to do? A task or chore they loathe.
Who is my human role model? A real person or fictional character they aspire to be like.
What do I fear most? An event or contingency they wish to avoid and have made plans for.

The gist of the game is a little bit different: none of the characters have a human past (though they might have human memories that have been downloaded into them...) so they are all trying to create a space for themselves within modern society. The humans around them generally have no clue that the residents are robots, but if the secret were to leak out, it's likely that the residents' pretence would be shattered and they would have to move on, obtaining new identities... unless they can plug the leak somehow, by discrediting or erasing the witness, perhaps?

The game is more likely to have a humourous tone too, as the residents learn obvious lessons about being human, but this can change to tragedy in an instant, with the residents causing enormous harm to the people around them through their ignorance of the human condition and human frailty. It's worth having a more in-depth talk than usual about the type of game you want to play and where you draw the lines: how much collateral damage is it allowable for the residents to be responsible for? And how far can they go in protecting their secrets?

Friday, 2 September 2016

Flotsam & Jetsam


I opened my house to some players on the Saturday before the Bank Holiday for a game of Blood & Water using the first ever printed copy! Such excitement! I pitched a game set around being students in their first year, but once we sat around the table, this loose concept evolved into students at Berkeley in California during the 1960s, continuing the theme of supernatural equality that has crept into many of my games of late. The players and their characters were:


Image result for berkeley california 1960sElaine as Alyssa, a Witch: she gained her powers when she read a forbidden book she found in the library and gained a unique understanding of all things, plus the ability to practice ritual magick.
Daniel as David, a transformed dog: an escaped lab animal who had become human during an experiment that went wrong and felt caught between the human & canine worlds.
Jane as Yukiko, a Japanese umbrella: after 100 years, the umbrella spontaneously generated a soul, which manifested as a young Japanese woman, who sadly was immaterial and could only interact with the world via the umbrella she could not be separated from.
Lloyd as James, a Deep One: sent to dry land to study the human race in depth, he yearned to return to his family and the sea he felt outcast from.

There was also me playing Spencer, their beach house: as Yukiko had the power to speak to all things, it only made sense to give their home a voice of it's own, which turned out to be that of an ageing stoner who treated the furnace in the basement as his personal bong.

We opened on the last day of the winter break before college recommenced in early January, in an unspecified year taking place in an alternative 1960s (you'll see why later...) when the housemates discovered a beach full of dead fish, attracting protesters and the somewhat over-bearing local news journalist/anchorman Brad Rock. He wormed his way into the house by making friends with David the Dog but was immediately taken with Alyssa the Witch, pressuring her into an interview that did not end well, leaving Brad with an axe to grind against the housemates. Also around this time, James the Deep One was pulled into the sea by Dagon, who instructed his servant that the Prophet was coming; meanwhile, Yukiko the Umbrella saved some driftwood from the furnace, determined to restore it into whatever it once was... and also finding out from Spencer that the last owner of the house had "exploded."

The evening news did not put the housemates in a good light, implying that they might be some type of free-loving Communist coven; also, some further probing of Spencer revealed that exploding residents was "a thing", but only ever on the full moon after the winter solstice (the next night) and even then, only to humans, so David, Yukiko and James relaxed, at least until Alyssa marshaled them with a plan of action best labelled "Operation Don't Explode." James also tried to use his contacts with the Cult of Dagon to try to get Brad bumped off, but Lloyd was unable to convince them to expose themselves for him without getting something big from him in return.

They arrived at college the next day intent on hitting the library, but their path was strewn with thorns, or at least one thorn: Brad Rock was on campus, attempting a serial exposé of the un-American practices taking place among the students. Fortunately David was able to renew his friendship with Brad, providing a distraction the rest of them used to hit the books, looking into "Causes of Spontaneous Human Explosion"; when David & James had to go to a philosophy lecture, Alyssa & Yukiko carried on looking for information in the books, finding out that James' "Prophet" would need "Eyes to see far, a Heart to hold the truth and a Tongue to share it with all."

Image result for beach houseThe lecture turned out to be a bad experience for James, who got into an argument with Charlie, another student who kept on making counter-points to everything the professor said: when James tried to cow him into silence, it was he who got a brow-beating from the professor for trying to stifle the free exchange of ideas! This spilled over into the cafeteria at lunchtime: when the housemates got back together to compare notes, they were interrupted by an intense debate between Brad and Charlie about the state of the American People and Yukiko & Alyssa suggested that either of the debaters could be the Prophet! Campus security cracked down on the debate, fearing unrest taking hold on the campus, and somehow David managed to invite Brad and Charlie back to the beach house that night to record their debate for TV!

Then we had a montage: Yukiko recycling flotsam & jetsam in her room, David setting out bowls for everyone to drink from, Alyssa starting her 'don't explode' ritual as she felt the house throb and pulse around her, while outside, as night fell, some locals prepared for a party on the beach by building a huge bonfire out of everything they found (a traumatic time for Yukiko!) Finally, the big moment arrived, with Charlie arriving with his girlfriend Sharon, while Brad came with his PA and cameraman and they settled down on bean bags in the front room. As the mystic energies of the Full Moon arose and Alyssa tried to harness them to work her will upon the world, instead of exploding, Brad turned out to be intelligent, compassionate and persuasive: James decided he couldn't stand the thought of Brad being the Prophet, so he tipped the scales in Charlie's favour during the debate. Charlie responded by saying that he admired Brad for his vision, his compassion and his commitment to telling the truth and, as that was just what he needed, he gave Sharon the order to slit Brad's throat so that he could begin harvesting his organs for the ritual that would make him Prophet!

At this moment, the cosmic energies peaked and Alyssa attempted to seize control of them: engaging in a struggle for mystic dominance against Charlie, (also knows as Charles, of course, or Mr. Manson) she was victorious and asserted her will through three increasingly hard wishes. First, she restored Brad to life (Charlie dissipated into atoms at this point); second, she made Yukiko a real human being; third, she gave James all of Dagon's power! With much of what they wanted achieved, they wiped their brows, before there was a knock at the door... the revellers from the beach were there, this time wearing their ceremonial robes and, with the bonfire ablaze behind them, declared "We want the witch."

THE END...?

Thanks to all who played and ate my veggie chilli; apologies to Lloyd for continually bumping into him, I'll have to find a better position for him the next times he comes.

Monday, 22 August 2016

A Quiet Night In

File this under 'Playsets That Never Were': it's one of two rough ideas for playsets that I toyed around with as additional content for Blood & Water but just couldn't quite make the concept gel. I think Nick Reynolds had the right idea in pitching a strong, distinctive setting for the game and going from there as usual, which is the approach I use myself at conventions now and I recommend to anyone else wanting to give a taster of the game to others.

Still, there's this...


The Best Laid Plans

Morgan, Tara, Walter and Jean share a house in an unassuming part of town: they keep themselves to themselves and have undemanding jobs that pay the bills. Also, they are not human: Morgan is a banshee, who is drawn towards the dying; Tara is a succubus, who feeds upon male lust; Walter is a djinn, who just can't stop himself from granting wishes; and finally, Jeanette is host to a legion of disembodied spirits who need to be contained lest they inflict great harm upon the world.

It's best for all of them if they have as little contact with the human race as possible, but's what best is not always what's done and compromises must sometimes be made. Tonight, they are all going to get very compromised.

This playset provides the complete resident's book for each of the above four characters, plus suggestions for the mediator to weave this into an appropriate narrative for a one-shot.

Better Off Dead

Colin Morgan as Morgan O'Neill
I am...   Morgan O'Neill, a banshee.
But I was... a paramedic with stress problems.
I crossed over when... I was taking an emergency case back to the hospital when the ambulance I was in crashed and something crossed over from the patient to me.

I cannot be with mortals because... the more intimate I become with them, the more aware I become of how long they have left to live.
but I'm held back by... my old mates from the Aston Villa supporters club; I keep trying to encourage them to live a healthier lifestyle.
I cannot be with my own kind because... they operate in total secrecy and I don't know anything about them or how I came to be like this.
but I'm drawn in by... the Whisperer, a strange entity I have seen watching me from the shadows but have never been able to catch.

My supernatural...
Strengths are...  I become invisible in shadows & darkness; nothing escapes my hearing; I can tip the scales of life & death.
Weaknesses are... I get disturbing impressions of how people will die; the sight & smell of raw or cooked meat makes me sick; whenever I try to smile, it looks forced & unnatural.

Personal
What do I want that I don't have? An intimate relationship.
What's stopping me from getting it? I just can't stop trying to 'fix' the life of anyone I date.
What do I have that I don't want? A chest freezer full of steaks, burgers, chicken wings & sausages.
What's stopping me from losing it? I'm holding it all for the AVFC fan club, as they have nowhere else to put it.

To do... prepare the house for guests, as the AVFC are coming around to watch a European league match tonight.

The Centre of Attention

Antonia Thomas as Tara Effe
I am...   Tara Effe, a succubus.
But I was... a sex worker.
I crossed over when... I was stabbed by a client, but the pendant left to me by my grandmother saved my life, at a price.

I cannot be with mortals because... heterosexual men are drawn to me and keep trying to win my attention.
but I'm held back by... needing to work; at least the call centre I work in now is nearly all-women and I have a female boss.
I cannot be with my own kind because... they keep encouraging me to punish all mortals harshly for their transgressions.
but I'm drawn in by... the Goddess Isis; she protects me and keeps my heart beating.

My supernatural...
Strengths are...  I can remove a mortal's inhibitions for a time; my kiss makes people lose their short term memory; I can make any adult male who is attracted to me do exactly what I say.
Weaknesses are... I can't help attracting the attention of men who like women; my body temperature far exceeds the human norm and I always feel too hot; I am indebted to Isis for giving me my life.

Personal
What do I want that I don't have? A way to avenge myself on the man who tried to kill me.
What's stopping me from getting it? His father is a powerful local figure, with connections to the police and politicians; the whole thing has been brushed under the carpet.
What do I have that I don't want? I have been commanded by Isis to seduce a holy man, as part of her plan to regain her worshippers.
What's stopping me from losing it? When I disobey Isis, she punishes me by with-holding my life essence.

To do... prepare the house for guests, as the girls from work (including your boss Vivian) are coming around for a product party, where you can all get make-overs and try out different looks.

What You Wish For

James McAvoy as Walter Allen
I am...   Walter Allen, a painter & decorator.
But I was... a powerful djiin.
I crossed over when... A mortal tried to steal my powers for himself, but it didn't have the result he expected and I ended up possessing the empty shell of his body.

I cannot be with mortals because... I don't really understand their idiom and keep taking what they say too literally.
but I'm held back by... my fascination with their lives; this is much more liberating than being a djinn and the mortals don't know the fun they're missing out on!
I cannot be with my own kind because... they have rejected me since I was bested by a mortal sorcerer and imprisoned in this form.
but I'm drawn in by... my desire to reconnect with my great love Azrael; now that I am unbound by my djinni oaths, I can dream of us being free together.

My supernatural...
Strengths are...  I can summon forth any material or object that I can picture clearly; I can hold time still for a few moments; I can change my shape into that of anyone I have a picture of; I can create fires hot enough to burn absolutely anything.
Weaknesses are... Fires tend to get out of control when I'm around; I can't resist giving people exactly what they ask for; I can be bound or repelled by simple rituals or tokens; water burns me like acid.

Personal
What do I want that I don't have? Freedom for all my people.
What's stopping me from getting it? They're so set in their ways, they all see 'freedom' as chaos & anarchy.
What do I have that I don't want? I've taken on two clients at once, who both want a rush job on their new interior designs.
What's stopping me from losing it? If I break the contract with either of them, or let them down, my professional reputation will be in tatters.

To do... finish the two design proposals you have on your plate, with both clients e-mailing changes and revisions at every step.
Also, someone is coming around to fix a blocked pipe: everyone else in the household keeps leaving the organisation of these little jobs in your hands, as you work from home a lot anyway (and no-one ever knows which personality will be in control of Jean at any time.)

We're In This Together

Christina Ricci as Jean Bailey
I am...   Jean Bailey, a host to dispossessed spirits.
But I was... the rebellious daughter of rich parents.
I crossed over when... I got into a crowd of disaffected youth like myself; an experiment with drugs & occult rituals brought me to death's door but I came back with unwelcome guests.

I cannot be with mortals because... I never really know when one of the spirits will take control of my body and make me do something awful or embarrassing.
but I'm held back by... needing to find a way to get rid of my guests, maybe by helping them to complete their unfinished business.
I cannot be with my own kind because... there is no-one like me, but there are other ghosts who keep trying to join the crowd in my body.
but I'm drawn in by... needing to know more about the afterlife and the otherworld; maybe I can find an escape clause somehow.

My supernatural...
Strengths are...  When 'Simon' possesses me, I have x-ray vision; when 'Laughing Bag' possesses me, I can move objects with the power of my mind; when 'Baby' possesses me, I become completely insubstantial; when 'Mr. Pelt' possesses me, I am inhumanly strong & fast.
Weaknesses are... When 'Simon' possesses me, I get the urge to correct what everyone says; when 'Laughing Bag' possesses me, I get the urge to play nasty tricks; when 'Baby' possesses me, I become completely insubstantial; when 'Mr.Pelt' possesses me, I must spill blood.

Personal
What do I want that I don't have? A good night's sleep, free of nightmares.
What's stopping me from getting it? The other spirits possessing me get up to all kinds of things when I sleep.
What do I have that I don't want? Ms. Paley, a 'fixer' who works for my parents and keeps interfering in my life.
What's stopping me from losing it? The only way they'll call her off is if I go home and face the music, which could mean one of my 'guests' hurting them.

To do... have a spiritual consultation with Paul Grace, a self-proclaimed exorcist & occultist with a degree in divinity; he's coming around tonight.

Let's Get This Party Started!

Take a good look over those residents with a mediator's eye: you should already see some potentially troublesome issues cropping between them, e.g. Tara makes people lose their inhibitions and say whatever is on their minds, but Walter keeps trying to give people whatever he thinks they want; Jean has a problem with the spirits possessing her but Morgan can tips the scales of life & death. That's just the tip of the iceberg though, we haven't even got to the clash of guests coming around to the house tonight:
  • The AVFC fan club: four mates of Morgan's, all men, here to wish their team the best in the match tonight whilst necking a load of food & booze that Morgan stores here for them.
  • The girls from the call-centre: five of the women Tara works with, including Vivian her boss and Suzanne, a girl who is getting married soon.
  • The plumber: he's coming around to clear a blockage, which means finding exactly where it is for one thing. As Walter was stuck with calling for him, Walter is also stuck with showing him around the house, but Walter has work he'd rather be getting on with.
  • The exorcist: found by Jean on the internet, he's here to consult with her, but she's hoping to get an exorcism out of it too, they just need some peace & quiet.
Not enough? Here are more problems:
  • When Morgan's mates get a look at Tara, they will hardly be able to think of anything else and will keep finding excuses to bust in on the product party in the other room. Morgan will barely be able to stay in the room with them once they start tucking into their bacon butties and chicken burgers, so another housemate might have to police this.
  • The woman providing the products for the product party is actually Ms. Paley: though introduced as a friend of one of the girls, she has deliberately inserted herself here to find out more about the type of people that Jean is living with and report back to her parents.
  • The plumber and the exorcist are about to arrive at the same time, quite possibly describing why they are here in roughly the same terms to whoever opens the door, i.e. "I was called about the problem; you wanted something clearing?" Hilarious confusion may ensue.
Honestly, there are more potential threads here than you could hope to resolve in an entire day of playing and you will likely find your own story from the elements contained within the residents' books, without needing anything extra. The key aspect of play is keeping everything within the house: if any housemate tries to run out to do an errand, then complicate it by having one of the guests from the two parties accompany them, e.g. any member of the AVFC could follow Tara or attempt to find out more about her from one of the housemates, or Suzanne could come out for a breath of fresh air, looking for someone to confide her wedding nerves to, or have a last fling with!