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!