[Out There] first episode: were-cat X-Files in 1800s Boston

Started by David Berg, January 15, 2009, 09:13:03 PM

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David Berg

Out There is an RPG that delivers TV-style investigative drama (think X-Files, House, Monk).  I co-created this in a very short time as part of a contest, and am selling the 15-page PDF here for $1 through January.

Yesterday was my first full playtest of the game using the rules in the published version, and it was a rockin' time.  Some of the player roles and responsibilities were quite unfamiliar, but by the end of our very short session we'd gotten into the groove -- and succeeded in churning out a quality "episode"!

The play group included me, John, Terry, and Paul.

Our set-up phase was filled with joking and random conversations, so it took a while to refine our genre.  The note in the rules about "specify action vs dialogue vs observation" was handy, because our genre inspirations were all about setting, not activity.  We came up with:

- Boston in the cold of winter
- 1800s, before telephones were widespread
- borderline or subtle supernatural presence
- 10% fighting/chasing-type action, 90% talking & investigating

Using that as inspiration, we went ahead and made characters.  Despite there being only 4 attributes to each character, we came up with way more cool stuff than we could address in a one-shot, leading to questions about follow up sessions (i.e. "future episodes" in this "show").

Mercy Verga: Reason - tracks down stolen antiques.  Background - shut up in crumbling mansion till age 20.  Talent - sees ghosts.

Suzanne Stormwick: Reason - thinks she was bitten by vampire.  Background - from wealthy family, spent time homeless.  Talent - knows how people died.

Neville Chesterton: Reason - wants to know about his origin.  Background - has mystery benefactor, raised by mute steward.  Talent - is 55, looks 30.

Dr. Hawthorpe: Reason - understand why he's alive, deal with guilt.  Background - everyone in his family died of odd illnesses.  Talent - surgical genius.

All the concepts were deemed equally cool, so no bonuses were given, leaving each character an equal chance of being Hooked in the beginning and appearing in any given scene thereafter.

We decided that the characters' connection would be the place where they lived, a former opera house called the Biltmore Manor.  We rolled for starting Hooks and got 2 for Hawthorpe, 1 for Neville, and 1 non-character-specific.  The initial situation we came up with was:

People have been found, frozen in blocks of ice outside the Biltmore.  Neville's steward, Reginald, has been arrested and charged with the murders.  Also, a cat-like monster has been sighted in town.  A "professional monster hunter" has been hired, and he claims to be Hawthorpe's brother.  Finally, on a recent surgery, Hawthorpe found a bitten-up human finger in a girl's stomach.

Play started off a little slowly, but after the first scene ended and we used the rules to award an element "Clue" status, we started getting the hang of it.  By our final Clue-adding scene, we were coming up with tons of Clue fodder.  Hidden letters, creepy NPCs, twitching corpses, hair growing on people's hands... When it came time for the dice to resolve who got to determine "what's the Clue?", I was simultaneously thinking "pick me, so I can use this cool idea I have," and, "pick someone else, I want to see what they do with this!"

We set the game's pacing mechanism ("Story Tokens") for short play, and it delivered, taking us 75 minutes from first scene through last.  As such, we only created 3 official Clues:

- Arabic book with cat design
- letter to Neville that Suzanne took
- man in morgue looks like Neville, is unnaturally young, has Arabic birth certificate, and started growing extra hair in death throes

Resolving these steered the session in a pretty clear direction: it was about Neville, and how the current goings-on meshed with his Reason, Background and Talent.  As Neville's player, I go to do a lot of roleplaying, and John, Terry and Paul wound up handling more of the GM-tasks. 

In the final scene, Terry had a strong vision for a wrap-up, so we gifted her with dice, and she indeed won the roll to Resolve the final Clue (which was the Arabic book).  We'd been building up to a complete picture of Neville's were-panther heritage, with Suzanne as an antagonist, and the frozen people still needing explanation.  Terry covered it all: the vampiric Suzanne sought to steal the secrets of Neville's were-panther folk for her own ends, with the Arabic book as the key.  She was stopped, however, by the manor governess, who had been experimenting with a freeze gun on ill manor members.

The climax complete, we did a quick epilogue scene, with Neville taking up his new role as guardian of the book.  All in all, I found it to be a pretty satisfying "episode".  With this initial practice under our belts, I'm eager to play the game with this group again!

I should note that we found it necessary to supplement the game's system in two ways:
1) Assign the duties of initial scene description to a specific person.  We just started with the first person who volunteered for Scene 1, and then went around the table clockwise thereafter.
2) Write down our genre choices, Hooks, and NPCs on notecards for easy reference.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development