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Author Topic: [Dead of Night] Bad Signal at Concrete Cow  (Read 1080 times)
andrew_kenrick
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« on: September 18, 2010, 10:14:40 AM »

One of the games I ran last weekend at Concrete Cow was one of the scenarios I'm writing for a Dead of Night scenario supplement, Bad Signal.

The set-up was simple: it's 1975 and Arizona is experiencing a record heatwave along with accompanying weird shit like electronics malfunctioning, tempers fraying and a weird signal in the static. Malc described it as Convoy meets the Crazies, although I like to think it had a fair bit in common with Duel too.

All of the players played truckers, all with complex personal lives of some sort or another:

Joe Calbot (played by James), the life-long trucker and family man, whose daughter is going out with...
Harris (played by Robin), the Vietnam vet with a penchant for drugs and women, whose uncle is...
Calum (who was a spare character), whose ex wife was having an affair with...
Bo (played by Steve), the ex-union thug and single-dad.
All of whom have their trucks fixed by Billy (played by Mark) the alcoholic mechanic still haunted by the Korean War.

The one conceit, and the aspect of the game that gave me the most worry, was that none of the characters would begin play together. They were all physically removed from one another, albeit in contact via CB radio so long as they were in their trucks. This actually worked rather well, leading to some tension when they lost contact with one another, not to mention assorted panicked drives across the state to reach various places in time.

Play revolved around a map that doubled as a relationship map, with the towns and locales sketched out along with the locations of all the supporting characters. Players moved dice about the map to show where they were at any given time, which was handy to know when shit started going down, and going down it did.

See, the bad signal in question was hidden in the static, driving people psychotically mad. As the Tension grew, so did the strength, the range and the frequency of the madness. At Tension 5 it started to make some people kill one another. When it hit 10 it started to effect everyone in the state. At Tension 15 it would go national, maybe even global. Similarly, as survival points dwindled, the characters were more and more effected. When they hit 0, they went psycho (if they hadn't already).

My favourite scenes were:

  • An early run in for Billy and Harris with two recurring, trigger-happy policemen, who were intent on a spot of police brutality. Billy displayed an early propensity for violence of his own, and the two managed to persuade the police to back down with only a minor scrap.
  • Billy discovering that the normal townsfolk are being affected too, as he gets accosted by a cashier for handing her the wrong change, and then set upon by a shopper in the queue. As Billy is down a few survival points by now, his psychotic tendencies emerge and he sets fire to the store.
  • Tension between Joe and Harris over the radio, as Joe learns that Harris has his daughter, Jenny, with him. This eventually comes to a head later on, when Jenny is mistakenly thought dead by the pair of them, each of whom blames the other. The two fight, physically, then verbally, and Harris throws his gun at Joe's feet, goading him to take his own life for killing Jenny (which he hasn't done, but doesn't remember either way). At this point Joe is down to 0 Survival Points, and we decide this is a Risk check, but using Persuade (unusually) Harris wins, and Joe shoots himself in the head (and James starts to play Cal).
  • Cal fending off a drunken Billy, who thinks he's sleeping with his wife.
  • Bo talking down a psychotic teacher from the burning school where his daughter should be, saving the teacher and learning that his daughter has been taken home by school bus...
  • leading to a frantic chase of said bus, eventually ending when Bo (somewhat foolhardily) stops the bus by parking it across the road. The driver sees sense and stops, but in a turnabout believes Bo to be psychotic instead. Bo defuses the situation and makes off with his daughter.
  • The rescue of Cal's ex-wife Virginia and her son by Bo and Cal from the hands of a mad farmer, who in turn is killed by Harris and his truck.
  • The convoy formed by the truckers as they work out that the signal must be emanating from the transmitter in the mountains (as the psychotic events were getting stronger as they headed in that direction), running roadblocks and evading police cars to a showdown with the (similarly afflicted) soldiers defending the transmitter.
  • The final showdown at the transmitter, destroyed with judicious use of explosives found in the back of the army trucks.

Of those, the one that excited me the most was the Risky Persuade check to goad Joe into shooting himself - not seen it done before, and pleased the hell out of me!

All in all a great game, with a fairly decent mortality rate and the desired spiral towards craziness of both the populace and the characters. At times the pace was frantic, as characters chased about the map to rescue loved ones, and at times tragic as Harris and Joe's showdown showed. My one mistake was allowing the players to pick where they started, as it meant that they could all be near loved ones when the shit went down in hindsight I should have purposely had them start distant from their relations so they had an added incentive to fight through the crazies or coordinate their efforts to rescue one another. But it still worked out nicely in the end, all the same.
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Andrew Kenrick
www.steampowerpublishing.com
Dead of Night - a game of campfire and b-movie horror
Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2010, 12:20:45 PM »

Hi Andrew,

I love the CB radio idea. How did you pull it off in practice? Did you keep all players around at all times, or did you single them out for some scenes? On the risk check, I fail to recall how that works in DoN. Something to do with Survival Points? What would have happened if he had failed that Persuasion roll?

So this was playtesting for a supplement for DoN, right? Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Frank over and out ;-)

P.S.: It's great to see how you're still enthusiastic about DoN, myself I'm kind of more interested in other games than my own right now, which is a pity.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2010, 05:00:26 PM »

Wow! I don't even know where to start. It's old hat nowadays to point out that George Romero's best movies are rooted in the tensions and distractions of ordinary people among one another, with the extravagant badness of any particular movie's schtick acting more as a catalyst than a subject. Speaking for myself, that's exactly why I love Night of the Living Dead and find Dawn of the Dead trivial. So at the risk of being a Master of the Obvious, this game clearly captured that feature, verifying (as if I need it) that Dead of Night does cinema terror better than any other game I know.

You know, one movie you and I have never discussed, in a forum, by email, or by phone, is The Howling. Yet it seems to me to be the quintessential Dead of Night movie.

I think you might reflect on your own worry as you described it here:

Quote
The one conceit, and the aspect of the game that gave me the most worry, was that none of the characters would begin play together. They were all physically removed from one another, albeit in contact via CB radio so long as they were in their trucks. This actually worked rather well, leading to some tension when they lost contact with one another, not to mention assorted panicked drives across the state to reach various places in time.
I don't really know why you were worried. Hardly any of the inspirational sources for the game feature characters beginning stories "together" in the sense of location. Or ... wait, now that I think about it, I should put it differently. What I see in the sources are:

1. The characters are emotionally, socially, or culturally linked together but are not grouped up in a little pack when the "bad stuff" starts. Therefore they tend to gravitate toward one another, aided perhaps by the odd coincidence, but still trying to find one another or willing to turn to one another if encountered. OR

2. The characters are thrown together into confined and dangerous circumstances, but are emotionally, socially, or culturally estranged. Therefore right when it would seem quite logical to work together in a coordinated way, they tear at one another as if (for instance) who was screwing whom, or wants to, or who's "in charge," is more important than imminent and appalling death.

It seems to me as if you did #1 quite nicely, and if you combined #1 and #2, it would be annoying and forced.

That observation links perfectly to your next point, that you used a particular technique to reinforce the possibility of encountering one another or understanding why (for instance) contact with someone might be lost.

Whereas if you'd played #2, which I've done in most of my Dead of Night games (the werewolf-Baghdad one, the swamp-monsters one, and the hospital one, but not Mr. Fitzgerald), then that birds'-eye-view is irrelevant, as all the players need is the characters'-eye-view of whether the exit is blocked and what alternate exits exist.

Best, Ron
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andrew_kenrick
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« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2010, 07:54:10 AM »

I love the CB radio idea. How did you pull it off in practice? Did you keep all players around at all times, or did you single them out for some scenes?


I kept everybody around the table at the same time, and said that unless they stated otherwise, so long as they were in their trucks everyone else knew about what was going on. There were quite a few critical points where they went out of contact with one another, as not all the action could take place in truckcabs, but that added to the tension. The characters didn't remain apart for the whole game either, coming together on a couple of occasions.

On the risk check, I fail to recall how that works in DoN. Something to do with Survival Points? What would have happened if he had failed that Persuasion roll?


A Risk check is like a combat check in 1st ed - the loser loses a Survival Point. The difference is that any check can be declared a Risk check, as in this case a Persuasion check was. If Harris had failed his Persuasion check, then he'd have lost a Survival Point (presumably as Joe shot him).

So this was playtesting for a supplement for DoN, right? Can you tell us a bit more about it?


A little! At its heart it's a book of 6 scenarios, which are really just cunning ways to show people how to use the game in horror genres they might not have thought of, how to combine Tension settings in different ways and how to tweak the rules to get a variety of different effects. Very much a show and tell book. I was looking at putting something in about James Mullen's tweaks to run Dead of Night as a horror campaign (like Supernatural or Fringe), but I think I'll save that.

Andrew
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Andrew Kenrick
www.steampowerpublishing.com
Dead of Night - a game of campfire and b-movie horror
andrew_kenrick
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« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2010, 04:41:10 AM »

I totally managed to miss your comment Ron - my bad, sorry.

You're right, of course, that in the best horror movies the horror itself is incidental - the real drama is what's taking place between the protagonists. This played out all too clearly at Furnace at the weekend: I ran three games. The first had tightly bound characters with compelling emotional ties to one another, the second virtual strangers with competing agendas stuck in an awkward situation, whilst the third was a bit of both. The first two zinged, the third felt flat. I'd never really thought of it that way, but I wonder whether a degree of social estrangement might help matters next time I run it.

My worry about not starting the group together was, of course, a fallacy. Why should it matter? The players are physically together, their characters vested in the plot. There's nothing stopping the characters from having solo scenes and consequences from each affecting the others.

Andrew
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Andrew Kenrick
www.steampowerpublishing.com
Dead of Night - a game of campfire and b-movie horror
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