Over the last two nights I helped playtest two scenarios for Kapcon, both using the EPOCH system. The scenarios were about as different as you can imagine, Death on the Streets was set in 1920’s Boston, while Space Station Icarus was set on a research station orbiting the Sun in the year 2093. Yet they both were similar experiences due to the intensity of the character stories and the continuous threat leveled by the source of the horror.
As the first time playing EPOCH I was a little nervous about the experience because I know that the players do much of the heavy lifting in this game. I have facilitated EPOCH a fair bit, and in that role many of the mechanical considerations, which tend to occupy my time in other more traditional games, are abstracted allowing me to focus on the characters and descriptions. I find it a much less stressful and demanding experience than running a traditional tabletop game.
From the players chair, however, decisions need to be made immediately and this is quite an intense process of thinking about the elements you have been dealt and how these fit into a character. While it can feel daunting, almost immediately my head was flooded with memories of movie characters which might fit the bill. My plan was to use these as an initial crutch, then create an original back-story which would hopefully be compelling enough to win at least one ballot.
For Mash’s “Death on the Streets” I was dealt ‘debts’, ‘cautious’ and had the role within the gang of ‘enforcer’. Turning over these options in my mind I settled on playing Rick ‘the stare’ a big, older gangster with one eye, based loosely on Carl Fogarty from A History of Violence. Because I didn’t see a cautious man having incurred debts in the traditional way, I decided that Ricky’s wife was sick and needed an operation which he couldn’t afford. Ricky, against his better judgement, accepted a ‘loan’ from a rival crime family to pay for the operation which led to Ricky effectively selling out his crew. This was the secret that I wrote down at the start of the game. Because I also thought that simply paying for an operation for his wife shouldn’t mean that Ricky is actually a good man, I used my opening scene to hint that Ricky was no stranger to domestic violence. This workup gave me material for at least 3 flashbacks, with the final flashback revealing that Ricky had sold out the crew.
In Liam’s “Space Station Icarus” I was dealt “stubborn”, “creative” “secretly in-love/hates another crew member” and had the role in the mission of “mission commander/pilot”. Considering the blurb, that we had been stationed on an orbiting research station for a year, I decided that it was unlikely that this would be a mission given to a high quality commander. I also noted that there were 2 scientists and a medical doctor on board, out of 5 characters, meaning that there would be a fair amount of resistance to a hard military style command style. I briefly considered playing a character along the lines of Janek from Prometheus, who hated one of the scientists, but instead decided to play an Australian military pilot wannabe, Scott Leighton. Feeling somewhat mischievous I decided Scott’s secret would be that he’d had his name tattooed on the ass of all the characters soon after they entered cryo-sleep. It wasn’t until the first challenge round I also decided that Scott secretly loved ‘Bear’ aka Bernstein, the gruff mission engineer, and revealed through flashbacks that Bear resembled Scotts abusive father, and that the secret love was tied up with an unfulfilled need for paternal approval. This also allowed me to piggyback a flashback to one of Bear’s.
In both scenarios I also used my Hero card to save the life of another character quite early on, taking a hit and reducing my own character’s chances of survival. In Mash’s scenario, I felt this was appropriate because Ricky was consumed with guilt over his betrayal, and he later tried to (unsuccessfully) help one of the younger gang members to escape a life of crime. In the latter it was to save Bear, for the reasons I’ve already set out.
My strategies were partially successful. In both scenarios I did win the ballot in an early challenge round, although probably more for the heroic act, then the flashback and associated story – although you can never really tell what tips the vote. In both scenarios I was also the target of a Hero card, which allowed both characters to survive until the second-to-last challenge round, before their luck finally ran out.
I had an absolutely fantastic time in both games. The other characters, and their stories, were amazing. There was a difference in the experience levels of the groups, which mostly manifested through the early play of flashbacks – the group which had played more EPOCH understood the importance of using a flashback to increase the interest in your character, and played many more of these in the early tension phases, although the other group caught on fairly quickly as the game progressed. In both cases we secured a Hollow Victory, although obviously neither of my characters were alive to enjoy it. Playing your own game is pretty amazing – I look forward to hearing how both these scenario go at Kapcon.