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.