Monday, October 18, 2010

Fright Night IV - Part 2

Fright Night playtests and gaming continued:

(Spoiler Warning) Mash ran The Hand That Feeds, a western game with supernatural elements, featuring a cast of werewolves and demons. I was cast as Clem, a ruthless bandit, accompanied by my do-gooder brother played by Paul in the playtest as a Puritan. I was taken aback when the first encounter of the game revealed the town to be unbelievably wholesome (or so it appeared) and faced the hard choice of continuing to hunt the demon, or just try and sucker folks out of as much money as possible. Mash’s character questionnaire, complete with a snip and swap section was neat, although I think that the ambition had outpaced the mechanics as several players seemed confused by what they had received at the end (I had no such problem). I totally support the idea, and have a similar thing envisaged for EPOCH, but I’m not convinced I want to start the game with the players filling in paperwork.

Given the fairly moral nature of our party I was expecting to cause some waves by playing Clem as a real bandit, so to not ruffle too many feathers I went out of my way to try and have him be less ruthless than he might have been (his interrogation of hapless townsfolk was positively genteel by Hollywood western standards). Nevertheless I fell afoul of the party morals after Clem shot a woman (in the leg) who had previously been possessed by the demon. No one would listen to Clem’s assertions she was still possessed (the players had read between the lines of the GM’s description) so I was immensely satisfied when Clem turned out to be right, at which point Clem went his own way. Predictably the other character’s strategy of trying to talk people into doing what they wanted fell through and Clem did the inevitable and used the rather suspect dynamite listed on his character sheet, which regrettably killed most of the party. The game ended with a great final scene with Clem and a small child he had ‘rescued’ leaving the decimated town accompanied by Clem’s brother who was (unknown to us) now possessed by the demon.

It was a fun game, but I could see that Mash was really wanting to explore some dark themes, and to do so with characters who were deeply conflicted. An ambitious undertaking, but potentially a very rewarding exercise if you can pull it off. Again most of the suggestions made were around some of the details, rather than anything central to the plot or ideas.

(Spoiler Warning) In round two of Fright Night I played in Scott’s LARP All Saints’ Eve. I had been cast as Kurt Carter, a wealthy control freak who had recently lost his wife to cancer, and whose daughter had been abducted not long before. On top of that he had brought a gun to a Halloween party. My take was that Kurt was a man on the edge, a tragic figure who sees his life falling apart before his eyes, but is too weak and selfish to do anything to really stop it, and hides his pain and helplessness behind an obsessive need for order and coldness toward the world. Ants played Kurt’s son Jeremy, an 11 year old pyromancer who obeyed his father while under scrutiny but rebelled as soon as he was away from him. Jenni played his friend-from-the-streets, Arial, who Kurt didn't approve of. Clearly Kurt was going to be put into a tough emotional position, and I suspected that he would be expected to lead the action at some point.

The party started badly for Kurt, as we were trapped in a room without external communication. The control-freak was suddenly deprived of control. The unfortunate target of Kurt’s displeasure was Mandy the maid (played by Donna) who really took the brunt of Kurt’s self loathing passive aggression through the night. Largely this was compounded by her raising the matter of Kurt’s missing daughter early on while touching Jeremy. As it turned out, she was a bad egg, although Kurt was acting out of prejudice rather than any serious evidence.

Mandy wasn’t the only one to feel Kurt’s cold wrath, and Jeremy and Arial got a fair bit, with Kurt eventually alienating his son to the point he was ready to run away. Only the elder Cunningham (played by Jackie) really bothered to try and see through Kurt’s quiet aggression, and ultimately she was the only one who stood up to him, and forced him to back down (despite others having the ability to kill him with various powers).

The game ended rapidly after a really slow build up. Kurt, goaded by ghosts, convinced Jeremy to pretend he was having a fit as a distraction, so that he could question Mandy at gunpoint away from the others. From there, things accelerated until there was the discovery of the body of Kurt’s daughter (really creepy) and a knife point stand off as Kurt confronted Mandy, Jeremy was threatened and Arial moved to defend him. Finally Will, played by Glenn saved the day, and freed us.

It was a tough, draining and fairly unpleasant experience being Kurt. Toward the end I had to disengage somewhat, because I just didn’t want to go too far into Kurt’s grief. As we wrapped up I felt pretty bad about how mean I had been to the others, but I did find it to be a memorable and compelling outing.

Fright Night IV - Part 1

Last weekend was Fright Night IV, a one night, two-round, horror roleplaying ‘con. I’ve previously posted about the origins of Fright Night. The fourth installment caused me a little stress, with some switching and changing of games early on, and then 3 last minute player absences. Despite these small problems, the ‘con overall seemed to run smoothly, with all games being run to time.

I was fortunate this year to play in a total of 4 Fright Night games, 3 in playtest, and one on the night itself. I’ll post some brief thoughts on these below, but please heed the SPOILER WARNING for Splinter of Corruption, Did you hear the one..?, The Hand that Feeds and All Saints’ Eve.

(Spoiler Warning) Splinter of Corruption was run by Doug, who adapted an existing Dark Heresy introductory scenario into something more to his tastes. At its core this was a really solid scenario, a straight sci-fi horror exploration and investigation which reminded me a lot of Sophie’s ‘Still to Come’ from Kapcon 19. The characters added a nice 40k element, particularly the explosive collars and floating electronic skull servitors. I found it a fun outing, which enthused me for the sci-fi horror genre, and ultimately there were only some superficial suggestions made along the lines of tidying the investigation track and final sequence, and developing some time-keeping protocols. Doug’s use of miniatures really added a nice, unique element to the game, but unfortunately this was not included in the final run due to time constraints.

(Spoiler Warning) Did you hear the one..? was Sophie’s latest horror offering. Again it presented a straightforward horror setup – people gathering to spend the night in a haunted house. I was given the role of ‘believer’ and created Gill, a paranormal obsessed tech-head with a deficit of social skills who I loosely based on Milton Waddams from Office Space. Glenn played my nemesis, the slightly less socially awkward skeptic, and I spent a good long time sniping with him. Due to the semi-LARP nature of the game it was very visceral, and more than a little challenging for me. I think it worked really well, and the way it ran and concluded was very neat and well executed. Suggestions made afterwards turned it from a good game into a really great game in my view, as notes were replaced by a whispering GM and a co-GM was added to play the critical NPC. In my view this game has most strongly achieved the aim of a genuinely scary horror game in a ‘con setting, and as such is worthy of considerable kudos.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I’ve been busy playing a good number of games of late. Particularly playtesting Fright Night scenarios (look here for more detailed thoughts after the ‘con this weekend). In addition, I’ve been having fun playing some rock-n-roll D&D and a little Delta Green.

The latter has reemphasized to me the importance of securing player buy-in for a game. The problem with Delta Green, and many other Cthulhu outings is that it requires the characters to engage with the scenario set-up in a way that is, perhaps, unrealistic for their characters (if Fox Mulder’s sister had not been abducted by aliens, would he really have investigated X-Files with a passion?). So, if the characters are played as real people, without agenda or other emotional baggage, why would they risk their lives and careers for obscure and difficult investigations into the strange and paranormal? Even seeing something unusual or frightening seems an improbable spur to such irrational behavior. If player realism is shattered, the consequences for a game can be profound.

The short answer is that the GM must get the players on board before the game. Explain and discuss the nature of the game he or she wants to run, seek input and advice, and then work with the players to integrate their characters into the plot in a way that will allow them to engage with it in a consistent and meaningful way.

It’s easy to say, but its much harder to actually implement, especially when there are so many other things that need to be prepared, read and considered to run a game. I loose track of the Cthulhu scenarios I’ve read that simply assume the players will dutifully follow the plot, irrespective of dangers and consequences for their characters, and while I can understand how this can happen – writing a detailed and authentic scenario with a unique flavor is very demanding – there really ought to be more attention paid to developing skills and introducing techniques to bridge this difficult chasm.