Friday, 26 May 2017

The Leviathan Manifesto

The title above might sound like one of those thick-as-a-brick Len Deighton novels, but in reality this post puts together a number of ideas that have been fermenting in my head for a while. Ingredients in this heady stew are the TV programme Person of Interest, current events relating to security and personal liberty, and many years of online discussions about the best way to conduct investigative RPG sessions. There's also some reference to classic social theory, whose origin I hope should be obvious from the title. What follows is a both a nano story game and a statement of my personal philosophy about certain types of game, where the players have to investigate a mystery and put together the clues they find to come up with a solution.

Knowing & Doing

The State sees almost everything: cameras watch us in public and at out work places, 24/7. Our
Person of Interest, CBS, 2011-2016
personal details are harvested from our online transactions and our private files are subject to government scrutiny. We can hide nothing from them. This may be the way things are in the near future or how they are right now; you may be working for the State or rebelling against it. What is known is that you have the keys to the kingdom: free access to any piece of information the State has collected about it's citizens.

This level of scrutiny has a drawback though: the machinery of government sees everything but understands nothing. The eyes that watch us have no comprehension of what they see, they merely observe and collate, storing the data without the knowledge of what it signifies. There is a vacuum in the process: your role is to fill it. With unrestricted access to the personal lives of tens of millions of citizens, your job is to pick out the ones who pose a threat to themselves or others and to defend those who are unaware that they have become a target for violence.

Using the above premise, you can play this as a game of maverick heroes tapping the data to help ordinary people, or you can be the State's ultimate sanction, an elite team of operatives who work to bring criminals to justice or even prevent crimes from happening. Think of the personal back story of your character and how they came to be involved in this, writing the concept down in a short sentence or two. Don't worry about their personal skills or abilities: you are all multi-talented experts and you all work in a team that supports each other as needed, so you can always call upon the exact speciality that you need as you need it.

Surveillance & Research

Start each new mission with either a criminal/violent incident (bank robbery, unexplained explosion, security breach, murder, etc) or simply have the system throw up an identity flagged with a 'suspicion index'. Keep the initial details to a minimum: the time & location of an incident or the name, age and gender of a person of interest. The game then continues as an investigation into that incident or person, following these two principles:
  • Every question will get an answer.
  • You may only act upon what you know.
The first principle is the most important: answers are never kept from the players, so the trick is asking the right questions. There is an element of time pressure applied by both the rules and the situations the characters are in, so they can't simply ask every question they can think of, they need to focus on what they need to know and then act upon it swiftly. The results of their investigations, and the time they have remaining to conclude them, are mediated via a deck of standard playing cards. Each player takes it in turn to perform one of the following actions. going around the group until the mission reaches a conclusion.

1: Observation
Starting from the initial seed data about the incident or person to be investigated, agents may call upon video footage from any camera and there are presumed to be cameras in all public and business locations. In order to Observe, you must first name a time and place you want to see, or a particular target you want to follow forwards or backwards from a named time and place. It's up to you what you choose to Observe, but you must be able to describe it in the above terms: you can't ask to see "the murderer's current location" or "the site of the next murder." Time passes in a linear fashion, as normal, so you can't see past the current moment in time, and the time you spend Observing is time that passes in the mission.

When you Observe, draw the top card of the deck and turn it over: you always observe something, no matter what, but it is only relevant on a red card; if the card drawn is black, the data you collect is either irrelevant to the investigation or is relevant but complicates the mission unexpectedly, e.g:
  • You Observe someone you know personally, interacting with the target.
  • The target is revealed to be working with someone else, adding another suspect to the mission.
  • The target is Observed to be doing something they should not know how to do, raising a question over their identity.
Basically, a complicated answer should confirm or support the information you were acting on, but then raise questions that might also need to be followed up to complete the mission. Whoever provides the answer, and any complication, does so in terms of what might be seen or heard on the video footage collected: they can't reveal the thoughts or motivations of those observed. The card drawn is then put face up in the 'Open' stack, unless it was a King of any suit, in which case it is placed beside the deck in the countdown row.

2: Investigation
The agents have access to recorded phone conversations, bank details, personal files and all other public or private records pertaining to all citizens. You can use your turn to access this type of data and get more details about anyone who has come under scrutiny: do this by choosing a card from the 'Open' stack, either red or black. When you choose a red card, describe how the data you access explains or clarifies what you already know, answering a question that had been raised; when you choose a black card, the data accessed just raises further questions about the identity, connections or motivations of the citizen or organisation being Investigated. In either case, put the card chosen in the 'Closed' stack, which effectively acts as a discard pile: cards in the 'Closed' stack are out of the game.

3: Intervention
Agents can get out in the field at any time during a mission, collecting more information from witnesses, suspects or crime scenes, or even taking direct action to protect, capture or neutralise a person of interest. There are any number of ways this might be done: flashing their authorisation (even if faked), infiltrating events under cover or launching an assault against a suspect location. Whenever you commence a field Intervention on your turn, take the current 'Open' stack, turn it face down and shuffle it thoroughly.

An intervention is played out as a separate scene, taking place in the field, with the player who began the Intervention naming a goal for it. They then act as lead agent in the field; the lead agent sets the scene and controls the 'Open' stack during it, drawing and assigning cards as required. Every significant action taken in the Intervention (getting past security, bypassing a locked door, capturing a suspect, fighting off an attack, etc) requires a card to be drawn from the 'Open' stack: if it is red, the action succeeds fully, but if it is black, the lead agent has a choice. They can either fail the action or push it: if they push it, they simply draw and discard the top card of the deck, or place it in the countdown row if it is a King, then carry on with the field operation. If they fail it, they are taken out of the Intervention in some way and must pass the 'Open' stack to another player to continue it, who then becomes the lead agent. In both cases, the Intervention continues until the current lead agent determines that they have successfully met their goal or that the goal is now unobtainable, or until all agents have have failed an action in this Intervention and their is no-one left to continue it. Whatever happens, all cards drawn from the 'Open' stack are discarded to the 'Closed' stack and all remaining cards in the 'Open' stack are also discarded when the Intervention ends.


A mission is complete when justice is done or when a target is safely secured from any further threat from a particular source: it's up to the players collectively to weave a story together that ends in their success, but a failure can be determined by the cards. Each time a King is drawn from the deck, it goes to the countdown row: Kings never go into the 'Open' or 'Closed' stacks. The moment a third King is drawn and placed in the countdown row, something occurs that forces the end of the mission in failure for the agents: perhaps the target they were trying to protect is killed or the criminals complete their plan, getting away with millions. Whatever the worst outcome is for that particular mission, it happens when the third King hits the countdown row.

You can soften the above hard ending by giving the agents a chance to continue; you can even play this as a series, so the failure of one mission is a set-back, not the end of the story. When you hit the third King, pick up all the cards and shuffle them back into the deck. Now you can begin a new mission, with all the information you had from the previous one, taking the failure of that mission as the starting point for the next.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


First of all, a big thank you to all of you who backed The Imposters on Kickstarter, an anthology of conspiracy themed games that I contributed to. It set off a chain of thought about conspiracy theories, which leads me here: a short game you can play online, via text, or in person. You will need access to Wikipedia, a pocket encyclopedia or a fact finder.

Everything is Connected

If you're playing this online, start by going to a random article on Wikipedia; if playing face-to-face, open your encyclopedia or fact finder to a random page. Whatever article you find is your starting point for this chain of conspiracy; the first player then does this again to find a second article. They then have to link the first article [x] to the second  [y] in one of the following ways:
  • y secretly controls x
  • y is trying to destroy x
  • x is a hoax perpetrated by y
On your turn, you have to explain the link between the previous article and the one you have randomly chosen, using whatever arguments or evidence you like, but you can't just claim it to be true, you have to present your conspiracy theory. An example of a chain might be like this:

Starting from an article about Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Virginia, the next random article concerns Oregon Route 41, so I have to link those in one of the three ways dictated above; I might say that the High School is a hoax perpetrated by those responsible for the highway. Using the school as a kind of cause celebre, they plan to gain sympathy from the public and more funding that will enable them to extend the highway all across the country, allowing those 'poor, needy children' to get fast access to the West Coast! In actuality, this is all part of the plan by the highway authority to take over the country!

The next article is about Zum Roten Bären, the oldest hotel in Europe, which is clearly the secret puppet master behind Oregon Route 41, using the highway as their beach-head in their planned invasion of the USA! Soon, there will be a chain of Zum Roten Bären hotels stretching all the way across the United States! Bwah-hah-hah-hah!

The next link in the chain is Benoît Laffineur, a French swimmer who competed in the 1976 Olympics and clearly wants to destroy the hotel, as he has his own plan for world domination by way of raising the sea levels so that everyone must enroll in his swimming academies merely to survive in a flooded world! If the hotels are built, then the citizens of the USA will learn to swim in the pools provided by all those hotels, depriving Benoît of his customer base! Curse you, Zum Roten Bären... he might say.

Etiquette for Conspiracy Theorists

There are some guidelines to follow when playing, to keep the game fresh, fair and interesting:
  1. Don't use the same connection as the previous player: if they used y secretly controls x on their turn, then you must use one of the other two options on yours.
  2. Explain yourself: don't just state the connection, explain it. What is the motive of y and why is it targeting x?
  3. Be brief: other people are waiting their turn, so don't go into huge detail about the conspiracy, just provide the highlights.
  4. Sharing is caring: whatever is said can be unsaid, so your contribution is not set in stone. A later chain in the conspiracy can reveal any of your statements for the sham they are and, equally, you should consider everything that has already been said as open to reinterpretation and even contradiction on your turn.

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Image result for conspiracy theoryThe game suggested above is just one way in which it could be played, with no real ending: just play until it stops being fun. There are a couple of alternatives you could try to add some strategy into the exercise though.

Conspiracy Radio: play competitively. The first player chooses two articles, then opens the table for the other players to each contribute their own version of the link between the two; once everyone else has proposed their connection, the first player chooses one of those answers as 'correct' and passes control of the game to the 'winning' player. That player then chooses the next article and repeats the process: you can either score points for winning or give each player a number of 'lives': they lose a life each time they are not chosen as the 'winner' and the games ends when any player loses their last life, as the Conspiracy shuts down all this speculation the hard way...

Crosstalk: another competitive version, but in this, any other player can challenge your statement about the connection between two articles, challenging you to answer a question about it. They pick another random article and challenge you to explain how that fits in to what you have said; if you can't, they score a point, but if you can, you claim all their points or score a point if they have none. You may only be challenged once on your turn and, if you aren't, you score two points; play passes on to the next player as usual. The game ends after a fixed number of rounds or when any player reaches a particular score.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Twilight of the Gods

or, You Can't Teach an Old God New Tricks

What follows is a very special playset for Blood & Water: the rules stay the same, but the setting and assumptions are different. This playset is based on an idea by Scott Dorward, adapted from his notes.

Shade Orchard

What happens to the Gods when their believers dwindle and their powers fade? The Gods can never truly die, as long as someone in the world still believes in them, so they find ways to pass the quiet millennia. Shade Orchard is a nursing home with some very special residents, though the staff remain largely unaware of this; a significant number of the people living here are in actual fact the Gods of various pantheons who have settled in for the long haul. Though individually weak, collectively they have enough power to cast a haze about their home that prevents the mortal staff from asking too many inconvenient questions.

With this basic set-up, some parts of the Resident's Book for Blood & Water are already taken care of or can be skipped over, i.e:

  • I crossed over when... None of the residents have 'crossed over' as such: they have always been Gods and technically they still are, but they have chosen to reside here while the world quietly forgets about them.
  • I cannot be with mortals... The Gods aren't avoiding mortals (most of the staff at Shade Orchard are mortal), they just find it inconvenient to have mortals disturbing their retirement. They are still Gods and enjoy all the privileges that go with that, but their powers are weak and their mortal forms decrepit, so they prefer to keep their relationships with mortals on a personal, one-to-one level rather than trying to command legions of followers.
  • I cannot be with my own kind... The Gods have always mixed with their own kind and, apart from a few petty squabbles, get along quite well with each other; in their retirement, even the boundaries between pantheons have blurred and the various Gods rub shoulders with only minor rivalries.
The following list of residents is not exhaustive, merely a suggested group with some built-in dynamics to drive play forward; you are free to create your own residents using these examples as guidelines.

Ms. Horrocks
You are... a feisty, fresh old lady with the heart of a seductress, who dresses like a femme fatale from the 1930s.
But you were... Aphrodite, known as Venus to the Romans, the Goddess of love, beauty, desire and pleasure.

Your Supernatural...
Strengths are... You can heighten any mortal's attraction to anyone or anything; when you kiss a mortal, they must do precisely what you say; you can appear to any mortal as the one they love the most.
Weaknesses are... You cannot resist praise or flattery; you are irresistibly drawn to handsome young men; you have a tantrum when you are denied or rejected.

What do you want that you don't have? Adoring fans: you act like a fading movie star and have convinced many mortals of your past fame, but you secretly yearn to be a true star.
What's stopping you from getting it? You can't abide sharing the spotlight with anyone else and insist on having the first, last and only word in any endeavour, therefore no-one will work with you.
What do you have that you don't want? A chequered past: your long life is littered with ex-lovers, both mortal and mythological. Some of them are bitter, some remorseful and some are still obsessed with winning you back.
What's stopping you from losing it? You can can always call upon your ex-lovers for favours, so best to keep them sweet.

To Do... persuade the management of Shade Orchard to allow it to be used for location filming for a little project you've inveigled your way into; the promise of a cheap set was what got you a part in the film.

Mr. Ireland
You are... a stuffy, crusty, Old English Gentleman, with the manners and prejudices of an upper class that is now sadly out-of-touch with reality.
But you were... Herne the Hunter, a Pagan Deity associated with the woods and forests of England.

Your Supernatural...
Strengths are... You can track anything or anyone that leaves a trail of any sort; you can transform into an assortment of wild animals; you can talk to the trees.
Weaknesses are... You can only eat raw meat, never cooked and never vegetables, grain or dairy; you have an overpoweringly musky, earthy odour; you trigger the 'fight or flight' reflex in all animals you come near.

What do you want that you don't have? The Reformation of the Wild Hunt: with fox hunting and other blood sports banned in the UK, the ancient pack has broken up and gone their separate ways.
What's stopping you from getting it? The Wild Hunt have dropped out and become travellers: not only do you have to find them, but you have to persuade them to go back to the old ways.
What do you have that you don't want? A strict diet: the staff at Shade Orchard keep trying to feed you healthy, balanced meals, so you are forced to desperate and cunning measures to avoid eating the damned stuff.
What's stopping you from losing it? Mrs. Leech, the Kitchen Manager and resident nutritionist, a charming mature women who shares many of your politically incorrect views; you hate to get on her bad side.

To Do... stir up interest in a Countryside Alliance march to lift the ban on fox hunting; write letters to the papers, call on people you know and do what it takes to raise public interest in the matter.

Mrs. Oterma
You are... a slender, dark-skinned woman with a tendency to gossip and pass judgement upon others with little to no provocation.
But you were... Kaali, the Divine Mother and the Destroyer of Evil in Hindu mythology.

Your Supernatural...
Strengths are... You can afflict any mortal with morbid terror; you are unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat; you can move instantly from one shadow to any other shadow.
Weaknesses are... You cannot keep what you know to yourself; your preferred method of dealing with troublesome mortals is to kill them; you are compelled to face evil whenever you come across it.

What do you want that you don't have? A victory over Mrs. Johnson in the Thursday Night 'Pub Quiz' the staff at Shade Orchard run: despite being a mortal, she knows much more about the world than you do.
What's stopping you from getting it? Try as you might, you never seem to win the quiz (because unbeknownst to you, she's cheating by bribing the quiz setter for the answers every week!)
What do you have that you don't want? A belt of human skulls, a trophy of your past glories kept in a suitcase under your bed; the whispering, chattering voices of the skulls keep you awake at night.
What's stopping you from losing it? You've tried on several occasions, such as by leaving the suitcase on the bus, but some well-meaning do-gooder always brings it back to the nice little old lady who forgot her case. On some occasions, a mortal has peeked inside the case and you've had to slaughter them, adding another skull to the belt...

To Do... you're convinced that all the staff at Shade Orchard are thieves & slave traders: investigate what goes on at the retirement home by spying, prying and poking.

Mr. Tyndale
You are... a very old man with wild, unkempt white hair and beard, who seems out of touch with the modern day and spends his time dreaming of past glories.
But you were... Jehovah of the Elohim, the God of the Old Testament.

Your Supernatural...
Strengths are... You can see all things that are occurring on Earth at all times; you can transform anything into anything else; you can bring the dead back to life.
Weaknesses are... You get confused by concepts like 'past', 'present' and 'future'; you become a silent, invisible, intangible presence when atheists are about; you sometimes manifest as pure, golden fire and set light to things accidentally.

What do you want that you don't have? More time with your son: he inherited the family business and has made quite a big name for himself, with millions more followers worldwide than you ever achieved.
What's stopping you from getting it? He's very busy and will only visit if it's an emergency, so you keep engineering reasons for him to visit, hoping that he won't realise what you're doing.
What do you have that you don't want? A creeping sense of shame: you can't help but feel responsible for all the ills of mankind, which is a most un-Godlike feeling.
What's stopping you from losing it? You've tried to make amends by 'fixing' what's wrong in the lives of staff at Shade Orchard, but it never seems to help; you keep trying though, hoping to assuage your guilt.

To Do... Mary, one of the carers at the retirement home, wants to be a success as a singer; maybe if you help her achieve her dream, it will be one less thing to feel guilty about? Plus you always had a soft spot for women called 'Mary.'

Guest Characters
In addition to the main cast of characters suggested above, there are also some NPCs who can meddle in the residents' lives.

Elder Knox: a neat and handsome young man, wearing the short sleeved white shirt and smartly pressed black trousers of his Evangelical Christian sect at all times; he adds to this a pair of skin tight black leather gloves, because he is also the Angel of Death and one touch of his finger will kill any mortal. He visits the retirement home frequently on business... that is, both kinds of business, as he also volunteers there, talking to the mortal residents about the afterlife as well as occasionally helping one of them into it. He has a respectful but difficult relationship with Mr. Tyndale who is always pressing him for news of his son.

Cecilia DeMille: a film student whose great aunt is a resident in Shade Orchard, she has fallen into the orbit of Ms. Horrocks and somehow ended up with a commitment to cast the elderly love goddess in her next short film, on the condition that they can use the building for location filming. As the film is a short horror piece about Death, not only do the management think this is inappropriate, but many of the residents will be only to happy to point out what she's got wrong.

Mr. Manzano: a new resident has arrived recently at Shade Orchard and he is in fact Anansi, the trickster and story-teller of African mythology. Somewhat younger appearing and more sprightly than the other residents, he has stirred up a lot of jealousy and passion with his fabulous and enchanting tales; he also likes to make bets with the other residents, which he inevitably wins by some form of trick.

Mary Calvin: a carer at the retirement home, this young woman still has ambitions to make something of her life and aspires to be a world-famous singer; at the moment though, she's just gigging in night clubs and other venues. Mr. Tyndale has taken it upon himself to meddle in her life in order to make her dreams come true; a plot point to work on could involve Mary meeting Mr. Tyndale's son, them hitting it off, then next thing you know there's a Son of the Son of God on his way! Time for a New Improved Testament?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

What's On Your Mind?

Way back in 2014, I created a short story game about telepaths living in a police state: in The Thought Police, each player takes on the role of a citizen of an oppressive state, only one of the characters is a telepath who can hear the other characters' thoughts. The game asks whether you can identify the telepath among you but also, if you can, what will you do about it? Turn them over to the authorities? Or protect them from the state's fury? I've since contributed an extended version of that game to an anthology project called The Imposters, which is currently being Kickstarted. The game itself has a history behind it that I've wanted to talk about for a while, so this seems like the perfect time to do so, as well as talking about The Imposters.

In The Thought Police, each player takes on the role of an ordinary citizen in an authoritarian state, going about their daily business: the twist is that there are telepaths among them who can read their every thought and the state takes action to oppress these telepaths as a matter of security. The inspiration for this came not from dystopian fiction but from the ways in which role-playing games are played at the table. Games mostly tend to be open, with all the players sharing what their characters are doing as they do it, but with the understanding that other players won't abuse their out-of-character knowledge to take in-character actions that they would otherwise have no reason to. Some other games are closed, with players secretly passing notes to their GM to secretly instruct them in what their characters are secretly up to, secretly.

During one of my game-design splurges, I wondered what a truly open game would look like, one with complete transparency, where you not only said what your character was doing, but explained and dissected their reasons for doing it. This kind of table-talk does occur in games which use stake setting, so that everybody is on the same page in regards to the motivations of the characters and what they expect to achieve in any conflict. For example, in espionage & conspiracy related games like Cold City and Hot War, it's not uncommon for characters to appear to want one outcome when they really want something completely different, but it's essential that this is communicated clearly before any dice are rolled in a conflict, to avoid unintended outcomes.

I began the game design with that simple premise, that any player could ask any other player what their character's thoughts and motivations were at any point in the game and that you had to answer honestly when asked. The next step was coming up with a story-telling framework that made sense of that one mechanic, something which would be supported and strengthened by this total openness over character agendas. Perversely, it seemed like the best story for this mechanic was one in which characters were encouraged or expected to keeps secrets: there would be no point in knowing what a character's true motivations were if they were as transparent as their actions. Therefore, something with secrecy and subterfuge, where a character might legitimately be thinking things that they didn't want the other characters to know.

For short games, I'm a fan of minimal exposition, so I like to to use familiar tropes as settings, with a statement like "This game is heroic fantasy" or "This game is gritty space opera." My favourite sort of elevator pitch is one that begins "It's like the modern world, but..." because then I know everyone instantly has a picture of what to expect. That's what I defaulted to when beginning the design of this game idea, so it already had that "contemporary but with a twist" shape in my mind. The criteria I had so far then were:

  • A game in which you could ask other players what their character's thoughts and motivations were at any time.
  • There had to be reasons for characters to keep secrets and/or want to unearth the secrets of others.
  • The setting would be pseudo-contemporary, with a twist that explained the above two points.
This suggested an element of conspiracy and paranoia, but I wanted to avoid something like spies on a secret mission and keep the game grounded in what the players were familiar with, so the paranoia had to be domestic, the kind of thing where neighbours spied on neighbours... a police state, in fact. That was the key that unlocked the design, the idea that the characters all lived in a fascistic state that curbed their human rights, which also felt like a hot topic for play: what would you do as a citizen of that state?

Setting a game in that situation wasn't sufficient though: what if everyone decided to play a 'good citizen' of the state? It would be pretty dull if none of the characters had anything to hide; also, what was the deal with always knowing what the other characters were thinking? Where did that fit in? Things clicked together quickly here and I realised that telepathy explained everything: the state had grown to protect its citizens from an internal threat to national and personal security. As it was, the players could hear the inner monologue of other characters, but what if one of the characters could also hear it?

From there, the design flowed quite naturally, with just a couple of elements put in place to encourage characters to strive to find and expose telepaths and one player-character randomly & secretly selected as a telepath before starting to play. I wrote the game up as a blog post, but even as I was doing so, I was thinking of ways to change the premises of the game to elicit other behaviours in play, e.g. what if the telepathy power was stronger? What if more than one character was a telepath? What if none of the players knew how many telepaths were in their group? I made a few notes to this effect in a book group discussion-style and appended them to the end of the blog post, but I kept meaning to come back to the idea and expand the game with suggestions for many changes to the rules, in an extended appendix that would be titled "The Thought Experiment."

By 2016, I still hadn't done that, when Josh T. Jordan asked for designers who wanted to contribute to
an anthology of games with a conspiracy theme, with one other requisite: that the designers themselves struggled with Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that they were just bluffing their way through and expected to be exposed as a fraud at any moment. That struck a chord: I have no idea how to design games, I just muddle through and make what I like, with the vague apprehension that some other people might like them too. It's actually somewhat reassuring that even other well-published designers like Josh struggle with this feeling of being an outsider and somehow not part of the club (oh my Bob, I don't even know the secret handshake! Is there a Club Song too?)

Anyway, The Thought Police with its appendix and The Imposters seemed like a good fit (or they were after some ruthless editing to the appendix to get it in under the word count allowed.) Instead of an appendix though, the alternative rules are scattered throughout the text as notes from a revolutionary underground seeking to change the narrative presented by the state, because I enjoy subverting my own texts. As of writing this, the Kickstarter is more than halfway to it's goal after just one week and that feels pretty good: perhaps not a cure for imposterdom, but certainly a treatment,

Friday, 17 February 2017

Sovereignty (Part Three)

More actual play from my dining room, as we continue with our short campaign of The 'Hood, despite being a man down.

The Cast: A Quick Reminder

  • Mr. Benson the Bastion: caught in the undercover war between a merciless FBI agent and a psychopathic rival gang boss, he has to question whose side he is on; played by Elaine.
  • Daddy Longlegs the Matriarch: his children have been caught in the cross-fire once too often, now he's getting down to business; played by Guy.
  • Vince the Shark: with business looking very bad, a stay in the hospital to recover from food poisoning seems like a holiday; played by the absence of Dan.

Before this session, Dan had let us know that he might not be able to make it, so we were prepared to have a possibly-final session without his character. During the week between sessions, I'd had some ideas for the way the story could develop, but I needed the players co-operation in these things, even if they didn't really know what they were co-operating with. I asked them some questions about NPCs in their backgrounds (The family of Mr. Benson's henchman Turk, the mother(s) of Daddy's children and Vince's family members) and sent them each a Love Letter for their character, reproduced below.

Another day but this one is not typical: we have arrived at the vote on rezoning in the 'hood, which the Cleaner had pushed Mr. Benson to fix for him so that his business interests were protected. The boss sends his last loyal lieutenant Mercer to go and keep an eye on the proceedings for him, to avoid any unpleasant surprises, while he considers the offers he has on the table from Taft and The Douche. Daddy also goes to the Council Hall seeking Officer MacCaffrey to settle some debts with him from their past dealings and also to pump him for more inside information: minutes later, the Council Chamber is rocked by a bomb blast! Patchwork is shocked; Daddy leaves her in the care of MacCaffrey as he heroically heads into the scene to help the survivors. One of the people he manages to get to safety is Mr. Benson's right-hand man Mercer.

Back at his crib, Mr. Benson catches up with Daddy, but their meeting in interrupted by a call on Daddy's phone: the number is Juliette's but the voice is The Douche's! The psycho-bastard has Juliette and is demanding "the drive" from Daddy in exchange for her: Daddy bluffs his way through, assuming the drive is something they might have picked up when they stole the computer gear and comics memorabilia from Frank's place, so he sets off to get it all back.

Isolated from his crew, Mr. Benson decides now is the time to sort things out with Turk and goes hunting for him; luckily, he finds out from Jo at the auto-repair shop that Turk had brought in his car for servicing and she gives him the address she has for him, which will take Mr. Benson out of the 'hood. Jo also lets slip that she's closing down and selling up after receiving a very generous offer from a 'Clearwater Holdings" to give up her lease on the property (she really ought to mention this to Daddy soon, as he is renting the space above the garage from her.) Mr. Benson wastes no time in hunting down his rogue crew member and arrives at a squalid apartment ready to settle things, but it isn't Turk he finds there at first: it's Sarah, Frank's supposed girlfriend, and she's wearing a wire!

Daddy arrives at the Pawn Shop and squeezes Brian for a description of the customer who bought the computer hardware he brought in the other day: he gets one that matches Samantha Lincoln, the drug-dealing daughter of the Councilman that Mr. Benson made a deal with, who was caught in an explosion just hours before. The day is turning into quite the errand for Daddy...

Having the drop on her, Mr. Benson milks Sarah for what she knows: it turns out she's an undercover cop who was using Frank as an informant, as he was allegedly close to The Douche. Turk comes back to the apartment in the middle of this and is forced to choose between his old boss and his new girlfriend who has been keeping some big secrets from him: Mr. Benson makes it an easy choice for him, but he begs his boss to leave Sarah to him...

Image result for police tapeDaddy calls the gang boss to update him on "the drive" and they both head to the Lincoln place to see about recovering it, but as there has recently been an attempt on the Councilman's life (which we still hadn't established was successful or not) the police are at the front door guarding his daughter. Mr. Benson uses his sway over the 'hood to talk his way past the cops, but Samantha is furious to see him, especially when he puts his foot in it by offering his sympathies for "her loss." She freaks out and accuses Mr. Benson of being the one behind the bombing, spilling what she knows about his business dealings with her father in front of the cops: they are left with no choice but to bring him down to the station, along with Samantha, to take statements. Daddy makes use of the distraction to look for the hardware, but all he finds is an exchange of messages between Samantha and her friend Brad about setting up a new office for their dirty work in the slum district at the other end of the boulevard.

Things keep going south for Mr. Benson at the police station: after being kept waiting in an interview room for 15 minutes, it's Detective Sarah Vasquez who finally shows up to grill him! Bearing a grudge after their last encounter at the seedy apartment with Turk, she pressures him over the death of Frank and his involvement with The Douche: his attempt to play it cool does not impress her though and she arrests him on a stack of trumped up charges! With no-one else to call, he rings Daddy to come and help him out.

Things are hotting up for Mr. Benson, so he calls Special Agent Taft and informs him that he has heard from The Douche: they agree to meet up at  an Indian restaurant in the Social Enterprises quarter within an hour to make the hand-over. Meanwhile, Daddy heads down to the Slums looking for Brad, but gets pointed back up the boulevard to where Brad ought to be peddling his wares... in  a car park at the back of the Social Enterprises quarter. Mr. Benson meets Taft inside and they make their exchange: Taft gets the info about The Douche's potential drug-dealing in the 'hood and the gang boss gets Taft's protection in the matter (so Elaine took -2 heat for her character, as offered in her Love Letter.) Outside in the car park, Daddy is done negotiating and talking: when he finds Brad, he breaks his arm and he and his son Norville carry the stricken drug dealer back to the slums to collect the hardware.

The negotiations with Special Agent Taft have not gone totally in Mr. Benson's favour: Taft makes it clear that he considers Benson to be in his pocket now, which does not sit well with the gang boss. After Taft leaves to arrange an operation to catch The Douche tonight at the Santa Monica Pier, Mr. Benson call's Juliette's number... The Douche answers. The gang boss wastes no time in selling out Taft, giving The Douche a 'friendly warning' about the operation heading his way...

With the hardware finally in his possession, Daddy and Norville head to the pier, but Daddy gets a strange feeling of deja vu just moments before the Burger Bar he was instructed to deliver the goods to blows up! The pier collapses around them, sending himself, Norville, a lot of tourists and several members of a tactical assault team into the flaming, churning water...

In the early hours of the morning, a weary Daddy drags himself to Mr. Benson's place, which is now manned by Turk once again: the gang boss has a talk with The Douche again, the latter now assured that Daddy never had "the drive" or he wouldn't have waited so long to deliver it, so he agrees to release Juliette. By the time he gets home, Juliette is waiting for Daddy on the corner, but the last 24 hours have made him very paranoid and he frisks her for a wire... just as her mother Thureau pulls up!

Mr. Benson is still concerned over "the drive" and thinks that perhaps Sarah might have it: Turk pleads with his boss to let him ask her (though he does have to take Norville with him after Daddy insists on his son getting some 'work experience' with Mr. Benson's crew.) Turk returns later to assure his boss that Sarah doesn't have it but she does know about it: Frank told her that the one person he had trusted his whole life was looking after it and Mr. Benson realises he still has Frank's Mom's number...

Back at the auto-repair shop, Thureau angrily helps Juliette to pack her cases, throwing possessions randomly into the back of her car: Daddy decides the best thing he can do for his daughter now is to protect her from The Douche and the danger in the 'hood, so he lets her go (and Guy takes Juliette's name from his payback box.) After this, he heads to the hospital to collect Patchwork, who has recovered from her shock and minor injury by now.

Phoning Frank's Mom leads to an emotional conversation for Mr. Benson and breaching the delicate subject of stuff her son might have sent to her recently sets her off into a diatribe about clearing his things out of the attic, including the big collection of comic books that were the only thing he cared about as a child. The dreadful penny drops for Mr. Benson: the drive is in the Captain America bust! He calls Daddy, who is just about to race back to the Pawn Shop when Patchwork tells him that she liked the bust so much that she bought it back off Brian and put it in her room: the one she shares with Juliette. They race indoors only to find the bedroom virtually stripped bare and we cut to a scene of Thureau and Juliette driving out of the 'hood, with a backseat piled with Juliette's belongings, and there, proudly sitting atop them, is the bust of Captain America...

This may or may not have been the final episode: obviously, a lot of things are left hanging in the plot above, so if we feel like it, we'll carry on playing to see what happens next.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Sovereignty (Part Two)

An Actual Play report for the second part of the face-to-face game of The 'Hood being hosted in my own dining room by me: sweet!

The Cast: A Quick Reminder
  • Vince the Shark: Sunday was not a good day for Vince, as he hospitalised one of his debtors, the business of the second burned down and his third was assassinated in Mr. Benson's penthouse; played by Dan.
  • Daddy Longlegs the Matriarch: Daddy managed to keep his head above water and even turned a small profit on the day, with the help of his kleptomaniac children; played by Guy.
  • Mr. Benson the Bastion: after having two bodies removed from his penthouse in one day and losing 2 out of 3 of his best lieutenants to a combination of injury and betrayal, what he'd like most is a restful night; played by Elaine.

Image result for santa monica night

That rest will have to come at another time; as the long summer evening slowly turns into night, Mr. Benson acts on the tip-off that the police are going to hit him later today, so he prepares to receive guests. Across the road from his building at the Big O Donut Restaurant, Daddy sidles up to his contact on the force, Officer MacCaffrey to see what he can learn about Frank's death in the restaurant fire, while not far away in his pawn shop, Vince studies the phone he stole from Frank.

The peace is broken by the abrupt appearance of a helicopter shining a spotlight at Mr. Benson's building while half-a-dozen cops spill out from their hiding place and a marked van screeches to a halt to disgorge half-a-dozen more! They crash in and try to take charge, but Mr. Benson is on his own turf with his accountant & personal assistant Mercer at his hand, so the attempt to shake him up is not very successful: Mr. Benson simply chats with a Special Agent Taft for an hour or two, convincing him that he is simply an honest businessman with nothing to hide. Taft invites the ruthless gang boss to a club at the beach front later on to discuss this whole affair with him, so Mr. Benson is reluctantly pried away from his beloved 'hood.

As this takes place, Vince is trying out the numbers on Frank's phone: he strikes out with Aqua, who hangs up on him, and The Douche, whose number is no longer in service,  but he finally gets a reply from Frank's Mom. She says that when she last spoke to her son, he was excited & nervous about meeting a girl called Sarah at the Santa Monica Pier. Vince deduces that Sarah is Aqua and, working with Daddy, they come up with a plan to trick her into trusting them: Daddy calls her from another phone and pretends to be a florist wanting her address for a delivery from a Frank Carter, saying there is a sealed message with it. She enthusiastically gives her details and awaits the delivery; the message will give her Vince's number, along with an instruction from 'Frank' to call that number if he's ever in deep trouble.

During the week between sessions, I created the graphic on the right and sent it to the whole group so they could be prepared to act on the information rather than me surprising them with it and waiting to see what they did. This also had the benefit of creating an impromptu prop at the table, as Dan was able to get out his actual phone and display the image on it. The flower delivery scheme came about as a result of the players using the Plan B move to get a guaranteed success from me, with the only down side being that it would take all night to put into motion, so they wouldn't get a response from Sarah until the following morning. Also noteworthy: throughout this, Vince never once let on to Daddy that he had Frank's phone. Another note: yes, I used the UK & Europe dating protocol of day/month/year instead of the American month/day/year arrangement, because it just made reading the information easier for all of us.

After the police leave his apartment, Mr. Benson heads off to his appointment with Taft: dropping his name at the door of the nightclub is enough to usher him through the VIP entrance to a private room that overlooks the dance floor, where Taft is awaiting him. The agent apologises for the inconvenience earlier, but a determined Mr. Benson squeezes him for more: Taft spills the beans on the operation, revealing that it was actually a blind to lure their real target out into the open. Taft paints a picture of a near-psychopathic master criminal, pulling strings from behind the scenes and targeting Mr. Benson's neighbourhood: they know next to nothing about him, other than that he calls himself The Douche. Giving his business card to Mr. Benson, he asks the gang boss to contact him if he receives any overtures or offers to take over any of his businesses, as it could be The Douche behind it, especially if it involves sudden, irrational violence.

As midnight passes, Vince decides it's never too early to be taking care of business, so he heads over to the shed behind the park where the drug users hang out, now dubbed the Junkie Yard, to shake down Gonzo for his money (as Vince still doesn't know that Gonzo was murdered earlier.) There's no answer to his gentle knocking, so he bursts in... on a charnel house. His feet slip in the gore that carpets the ground and trails up the walls as he takes in the sight of the brutally murdered junkies: stepping back calmly, he calls Daddy and asks him to bring a can of gas to the Junkie Yard... shortly thereafter, they stand before the blazing pyre of dead junkies, but Daddy can't shake the itchy feeling that, just maybe, despite his protestations of innocence, Vince might have had a hand in this...

I'm editorialising a bit there, there was no action or rules invoked relating to Guy's character's distrust of Dan's character, but this was definitely the session where players embraced the idea of not trusting each other's characters, even if they knew they were telling the truth.

Mr. Benson drives himself back to the 'hood... and gets T-Boned by another vehicle at the turn-off! The gang boss is able to walk away from the collision, but the other driver pulls an automatic weapon and sprays the tarmac with bullets! Mr. Benson pulls a weapon out of his wrecked car and fires back, injuring his opponent enough to enable his getaway; he considers finishing the shooter off, but he's in no position to take that kind of heat right now.

Elaine had expressed a desire for some cathartic violence in the game, so I threw this scene her way: hey, be careful what you wish for! It didn't do much except keep the pressure up on her character and provide another dangling thread to be picked up in the narrative later by anyone who wanted it: who sent that assassin after Mr. Benson? Was it The Douche? Or someone else with a grudge...?

Finally, the morning comes: Vince and Daddy pay an urgent call on Mr. Benson to ask him what the fuck is going on in the 'hood right now. They get around to sharing everything the know about Frank, The Douche and Sarah/Aqua, as well as the death of Gonzo and the other junkies, plus Ghost's involvement in the burning of the restaurant owned by Panos (Vince's other debtor) the previous morning. A palpable miasma of mistrust hangs in the air as Mr. Benson and Vince wonder who is trying to screw who over: to break the deadlock, the gang boss has Ghost brought from the hospital to answer some questions in front of everybody. Shortly after, a partly-crippled Ghost confesses to taking some side work from some guy calling himself The Douche and arranging to have the restaurant burned down: drawing the conclusion that he has no room for traitors in his organisation, Mr. Benson throws Ghost down the elevator shaft.

Image result for body in lift shaftThere was no way Ghost was going to be saved here: he was still down from Vince's attack on him in the previous session and no-one was going to help him, so it was a foregone conclusion that if Mr. Benson wanted him dead, then he was dead. Instead of making that the stake here, I offered Elaine a one-time deal to make this move: roll+brass and on a hit, her reputation as someone not to be crossed would spread through the 'hood, so she could erase a name in her payback box. On a 7-9 though, rumours of this murder would reach the ears of the police and she would take +1 heat. Elaine took that deal, got a hit on the roll and erased Mercer's name from her payback box: her remaining lieutenant would now be too fearful to ask her for any special favours, for a while at least.

At around this time, other plans kicked into motion: Daddy got a message from Officer MacCaffrey with the autopsy report on Frank's death (along with photos) which established that Frank was killed in the restaurant before the the fire was started. Vince got a call from Sarah, but he failed a few basic questions that convinced her that he didn't know Frank at all, so she hung up on him and didn't answer any more calls. Vince decided to collect his debts from Ghost by taking stuff from the dead ganger's house, but an active neighbourhood caught him red-handed trying to break in, so he spent the rest of the day extricating himself from that mess. Daddy decided to take his kids for lunch at the Santa Monica Pier and drop The Douche's name about to see if it meant anything: it apparently did, as the patrons of the diner he was eating in treated him like somebody trying to light their cigar with the lit fuse on a stick of dynamite, so he got nothing but ostracized.

Mr. Benson decided the time was right to clear his obligation to The Cleaner who had removed all evidence of Gonzo from his apartment: The Cleaner had expressed concern at a rezoning regulation that would harm a crematorium business in the 'hood that he had an interest in and expected the gang boss to make sure the vote went against the proposal. Mr Benson decided the best way to resolve this was to approach Councilman Lincoln, the father of Samantha the drug dealer, and perhaps use what he knew about the councilman's daughter as leverage against him. Lincoln did not take kindly to comments about his family however and Mr. Benson quickly changed the subject to the quality of life in the 'hood and the vital opportunities provided by the current slum district that was due to be demolished to make way for a much-needed shopping mall. They eventually settled on a deal where Mr. Benson would let go of some other property he had an interest in at 80% of it's value, providing a new location for the mall that would save the slum and the crematorium, along with other small businesses.

We ended with a desperate and harried Vince looking for shelter from Panos and his family, hoping to lie low at their place until the residents of the 'hood got past him trying to burgle from one of their own: this was a mixed blessing for Vince, as he did indeed join the family for dinner, but their Greek cuisine did not sit well in his stomach and he reacted badly to some of the ingredients.

Perhaps some slightly dishonest play here on my part, but Vince had 4 heat and only one debtor left alive, whom he owed payback too: the only way not to get him burned in this scene was to have him go down when he missed on his roll to lie low with Panos. On the upside, all three players gained enough experience for an advance during this session, though they all remain dangerously close to getting burned.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Sovereignty (Part One)

This is the first part of a three -part Actual Play report for the short campaign of The 'Hood taking place at my home with friends who live in the region, prompted by Guy "The Teaspoon" MacDonnell.

Taking place in a little-known district of Santa Monica, CA, the prime movers in our story are:

  • Vince the Shark: he's really a nice guy who only got into money lending as a way to help a relative with a tragic back-story, but now he has interests in businesses across the 'hood; played by Dan.
  • Daddy Longlegs the Matriarch: the father of many children, three of whom stay close by his side at all times, looking for any opportunities that arise; played by Guy.
  • Mr. Benson the Bastion: a tough mover and shaker who oversees the streets below from his penthouse, sending out his minions to shape the 'hood to his will; played by Elaine.
Some online discussions prior to the game had settled on the Santa Monica location and playbooks; I was quiet intrigued by the combination of Matriarch and Bastion, as it seems there was potential for conflict for dominance of the 'hood between those two archetypes.

Image result for santa monica

Our story opens at 2am on a Sunday morning in summer: Vince is in his pawn-shop negotiating a deal; Mr. Benson is dealing with an unlicensed trader who is tied to a chair in his penthouse apartment; Daddy is watching TV with his kids in their home above the auto-shop, while Patchwork, his youngest daughter, is watching the restaurant across the road burn down. The family heads across the road to see what's happening and are soon joined by Vince, as the restaurant is owned by one of his debtors, Panos. Patchwork and Vince both find a way into the burning building; Patchwork steals a stuffed fish in a glass case and turns it over to her father to sell later; Vince finds evidence of arson.

Vince and Daddy head along the boulevard to see Mr. Benson, who has just had his loyal henchman Turk dump some rubbish in the park; as the man with his finger on the pulse of the 'hood, they want to know what he knows about the restaurant fire. His accountant, Mercer, confirms that Panos had the restaurant insured (Vince breathes a sigh of relief)  but there is no confirmation on the whereabouts of Panos himself. Mr. Benson uses his contacts to see what he can learn about the fire and gets pointed towards an old storage shed at the back of the park where the junkies drop out, while Daddy tells Norville, his middle child, to watch the restaurant for any bodies being carried away.

Elaine and Guy both asked around for the answers to their questions: Elaine picked up one consequence, which was that she would have to go to the park herself to find out which junkie actually did the deed. Guy picked up two consequences and chose ' What you find isn't quite what you expected' and 'There are strings attached to acquiring it' so I had it that a body was brought out, but it was the ex-boyfriend of his oldest daughter, who was now dating Vince, and that Norville was arrested by the police, so Daddy would have to go and free him.

The local news team are covering the fire fighters tackling the restaurant blaze as Daddy & Vince return to the scene; Daddy finds his son in the back of a police car, but his protestations to the officer nearly get him tasered! Luckily, a quick thinking Vince directs the news crew to cover the breaking story and Daddy feigns a weak heart; while everyone is distracted, Vince sidles up to the other police officer, a man he knows on the force by the name of Washington, and simply bribes him to let Norville go.

Over at the park, Mr. Benson gets pointed towards the junkie who took some money to light up the restaurant by a blonde girl in a much patched military jacket; Mr. Benson clocks that she doesn't quite belong here and thinks she might actually live in the nice part of the 'hood, but with his target in his sights, he puts that aside for now. He leaves with little hassle, dragging the junkie Gonzo by one leg, either not knowing or not caring that this is another of Vince's debtors...

I had a lot of names of residents in the 'hood from the street planning stage of preparing for the game, so when the main characters started looking for people, those are the names I used: as Guy was taking his character's kids around with him pretty much everywhere he went, and Elaine kept sending her crew in & out on errands, that pretty much meant that Vince's debtors were the only ones free for me to throw into the mix. I did toss in a couple of other potential hooks though: the dead ex-boyfriend Frank was a deliberate ploy to stir things up between Dan & Guys' characters, as they were getting too pally and co-operative. Samantha, the up-market girl at the drug den, was more speculative: I just felt that by positioning a third party in that scene, rather than making it a direct confrontation between Mr. Benson and Gonzo, I was laying the groundwork for her to become more significant later. I had a vague idea that she might actually be dealing drugs in the 'hood, but I was open to other interpretations of her character.

Sunrise finds Panos the restaurant owner being greeted at his front door by Vince & Daddy: while he resents the shark's intrusion upon his home, he is happy to see Daddy and reluctantly invites them both in. They discuss the restaurant and Frank, the now dead ex-boyfriend of Juliette, who is the daughter of Daddy and current girlfriend of Vince: Panos informs them that Ghost, a member of Mr. Benson's crew, was around last week asking how much the restaurant was worth... at about the same time, Mr. Benson is learning from Gonzo that Ghost was the one who gave him the money to set light to the restaurant.

Ghost is also another of Vince's debtors, but unfortunately he is not at home right now, as Vince had only just broken his knee-cap that morning while collecting from him! Deciding once again to pool what they know, they head back up the boulevard to see Mr. Benson, but a rifle shot rings out across the street as they near his building...

Moments before this, Mr. Benson was holding Gonzo over the edge of his balcony, wringing every last drop of information from him, when his phone rang from an unlisted number: the stranger calling instructed him to put Gonzo down carefully, referring to him as a 'commodity', and began counting down as a red-laser dot appeared on Mr. Benson's chest. The gang boss responded by swinging Gonzo around in front of him as a human shield and started backing away into his penthouse: the stranger responded with a hearty laugh and the phrase "Fuck it," before sending a bullet through Gonzo's heart!

It actually took me a while to realise this, so we didn't act on it immediately, but this move on my part had threatened Mr. Benson's livelihood: someone had gone out in the 'hood and it wasn't his finger on the trigger! This complicated the character's life considerably, as we are about to see...

Given the shit-storm going down in his penthouse, Mr. Benson declines to invite Vince and Daddy inside, so neither side shares what they know about Ghost with the other. The gang boss orders his minion Turk to dump the body, but he rebels slightly, as this is the second time in 6 hours he's had to remove 'trash' from the penthouse. He unsubtly suggests that it's time he got a pay-rise, but Mr. Benson shuts him down hard, so Turk walks, leaving the body of Gonzo for his ex-boss to deal with. He calls up a cleaning service, but with limited access to his funds right now, he'll need to collect some ready cash fast and he'll still need to do an unspecified favour for the cleaner: he has until sunset to make things right.

With no help forthcoming, Daddy decides to go to Frank's place and help himself to the deceased man's property; he doesn't want Vince along, but the shark is not so easily shaken off and Daddy realises he has been followed when he sees Vince teaching his son Norville the correct practices for acting as a look-out. It's pretty much the same story inside the house: while Daddy ineffectually pokes at walls looking for a hidden safe, his daughter Patchwork takes a Captain America bust and Vince simply slides Frank's iPad into his pocket when no-one else is looking.

Not far away, a plan to make some money fast is being cooked up by Mr. Benson; he goes through his knowledge of the 'hood and recalls that the girl he saw in the park earlier is the daughter of a local councillor, so he thinks she might be good to shake down for a few bucks as insurance against him telling her daddy what she's been up to. Bluffing his way into their family home, it seems Samantha is ready for trouble and has a gun drawn on him, but he talks her down by dropping her dad's name into the conversation and assuring her that he is a 'legitimate business associate' of her father's. By applying a little more pressure, he gets her to give up her army coat, which is stuffed with rolls of money and wraps of cocaine, enough to pay off the cleaner and keep a little back for himself too...

As an aside, Guy covered his tracks so poorly that Dan quickly built up a load of debt that Daddy owed Vince, enough to cash it in and take a move from the Matriarch's playbook; Guy was amusingly horrified when Dan chose The Greatest Tragedy, with the rationale that he had hung around with Daddy's family so much that they called him 'Uncle Vince.' The practical upshot of this is that if any bad shit comes Vince's way, he can just have Juliette take the bullet for him!