[Lacuna] Minimal prep, maximal impact

Started by Christoph Boeckle, September 25, 2009, 06:32:49 PM

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Christoph Boeckle


Following up on the last session, one player dropped out (going abroad for a year), another came in. The two are brothers, Titus and Maurus. We quickly rolled up a character for Maurus, I explained a few basic tropes of the game and created a Static chart in less than five minutes.
I was extremely inspired by the novel I finished reading a few days before, The Looking Glass War by John Le Carré and decided to go full bore with the tone of that book. I also snatched the idea of two teams of Mystery Agents going after one Hostile Personality from Graham W.'s Decoy Team.

I'd like to explore the idea that less prep is cool, as has recently been touched upon in this Trollbabe Q&A.

Adapting techniques

Thanks to the discussion following the previous session, I decided to change the following things:

  • Allow a Mystery Agent to reduce his Heartbeats by an arbitrary amount if the events warrant it, courtesy of the GM.
  • Use the Mentors and other named NPCs for the hierarchical equivalent of being hit by a train.
  • Play Personalities in the Blue City as if they were, you know, people.

Some results

So, Agent Duke is Bailey's (played by Titus) Mentor and I used him as the equivalent of Avery in the aforementioned novel. He's the guy trying to be nice with the Agents so that they'll do the dirty work and feel important. He has to lie to be nice. Like this time, were he briefs the two Agents that they are to take down the Hostile Personality of a serial killer named Julia Kammer. I was finding the idea interesting that Kammer is more or less the German translation of Chambers, Senior Agent, KIA (but the players weren't aware of the existence of this Mentor and I wasn't sure what I'd do about it, no time to muse about it).

They met a writer named James Elroy, evidently being some kind of informer for Control, always speaking about his "manuscript about a sordid family story" as a metaphor to speak about the mission's events, tracked down Kammer (who goes by the name of Elizabeth Fraser in Blue City...), playing the violin in a square of Boxer district. Weirdly, two other Mystery Agents where already there. Bailey and Spencer advance, and the two other Agents, suddenly take off, literally packing Kammer under their arm and legging like madmen down the street.
I had already given them a Static result of being contacted erroneously by Control ("Cantrell, can you hear me?" Oops!) so Bailey decided to call Control to see what was up (Static allowed me some shit: they just refused to reply, although Bailey could hear some vague noise in what must be the operator's room), while Spencer caught up with the two Mystery Agents, knocking one down with the butt of her submachine gun.
As a result, the two adversarial Mystery Agents ejected before their eyes, leaving Kammer alone. Then suddenly Baxter (another Mentor) revealed herself and demands that the target be spared. As soon as she had said that, she begins to fade out and only gets to say "Shit!"
A new operator announces himself to the two bewildered Mystery Agents and tells them that their new mission is to protect Kammer until further notice.

Kammer is very suspicious (she had also earned herself a good knocking) of the two women in black, but has no choice than to follow them. The Agents agree to escorting Julia to where she had left her hat and violin. Thanks to Elroy, everything was still there and he offered to drive them back to Kammer's place (he wanted to talk about his "script" while they were at it).
At the violinists flat, they start to ease up their relation, and James offers to go out and get some food. Spencer is getting nervous and calls Control. She absolutely wants to talk to her Mentor, Senior Instructor Snyder. She indeed gets him, but he barks her down, telling her to fucking shut up and follow her orders, and no, Baxter wasn't diving at the time.
Just after that, Elroy stumbles into the flat, visibly hit by a bullet. "Oh my god, they got me... fuck! I'm bleeding out of my belly! Ah, shit!"
Bailey tries some first aid and actually succeeds. She's getting very angry with Control for not showing up more, the two Agents discreetly discuss warping Kammer to the Lacuna but give up. Kammer suspects that they are spies of the "Enemy", but doesn't mind (and tells them so). The two Mystery Agents are embarrassed about the situation.

Suddenly, footsteps in the staircase. Agent Duke gets a message in to the women: "Sorry gals, we're in deep shit here. You're on your own now, best of luck, I'm sure you can make it. Duke out." Three men with guns and rifles appear and heavy fire is exchanged between the parties. Neighbours scream, Elroy is shouting in fear in his bed. The thugs are dispatched and Kammer comes up to the Agents. "What... now?"
"Erm, you should be all right now, we're going to have to go..."
"But you can't leave me now! The Central Administration won't have any of this!"
"Come one, it's okay..." The players are trying to eject, but I impose a one die Complication (because Control abandoned them) and they gather some more Static in the process.
Fading out of Blue City, they see a despondent Kammer, and a Spiderman inspecting the dead bodies and then calmly turning to the vanishing Mystery Agents.

In the slab room, all the lights are off. They realize that Julia Kammer's body is cold and rigid... she must have been dead for a long time! They track down Duke, passing a Cantrell that feigns to ignore them. Says the Good Mentor: "Sorry about that incident. See, Senior Agent Chambers died while in action while you were still in the training stage. I had the idea to use our installations to explore a dead person, perhaps letting us understand what had happened to her."
Bailey complains about the shitty treatment and organisation of the mission. Nobody dares to ask the obvious questions though.

And we end the session here.

I made it all up on the fly!

All that I knew was that Cantrell and his buddy would be trying to protect Kammer. Baxter would appear. And Elroy would become a permanent Personality.
As the game went on, I remembered that Baxter had had some problems with command. And strangely, Duke had been transfered to Green Clearance. The two of them were probably up to something. Hmm, like what? Oh, how about I confirm the Chambers/Kammer coincidence? After all, it's not quite clear why she died. Diving into the subconscious of a dead person without any noticeable change to the Blue City? That's cool. I'll see where that gets me later on.
A vivid memory of the novel helped me to flesh it all out. Also, a paradoxical position on Duke's behalf (first he tells them to kill Kammer, then the mission objectives change without further detail) let me propose a very challenging situation.
Maurus and Titus were very good at doubting Control while carrying out its orders nevertheless, even inventing some lame excuses to back up Control when confronted by Kammer, although the disastrous situation is clearly its fault! This is exactly happens at the end of The Looking Glass War... I couldn't believe it. Great scene.

Compare this to my ongoing Sorcerer campaign (which has been on a hiatus for the last three months, although there has been a session since the last AP). Ron had qualified it as ambitious. Right. A solid bit of prep, a strong aesthetic vision on my part... and slow moving sessions. Next Sorcerer session I'm just going to show up with nothing prepared and play those freaking NPCs already.

Maurus and Titus and I are going to play again. And the proverbial shit will hit the none less proverbial fan.

Opportunities for defining the characters

I'm still a bit confused about how we can get to the revelation of the PC's backstory. For the while, I've just commented a few times that Mystery Agents don't really think much about their past. Should I just tell the players outright that they don't remember anything, at all?
How do we go about hinting at their possible pasts? Is this some sort of retro edition thing, like I did here with my GMing on some parts?

I've started reading Spione and I'll probably be snatching a number of ideas from that text as well. After that, I'll shortly be reading the new Trollbabe, where there has been mention of a "screwdown". Should I hurry up and read that?