[Dead of Night] Salford's Lot

Started by andrew_kenrick, October 30, 2011, 11:02:53 AM

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I ran a new Dead of Night scenario at Furnace the other week, named Salford's Lot (and yes, the name did come first!). The premise of the scenario was a simple one – the victims were all teenage members of a coven, dabbling in things that they do not understand. Last night they summoned something they could not put down. Tonight two of the coven have not turned up and riots are sweeping the town. Go!

Partly because I hadn't had time to prep characters, and partly because the last time I had the players make up a relationship map to tie their characters into the story – Grendel, Alaska, from Indiecon a few years back – it created an awesomely compelling game, I had the players create characters to fit the premise. As they created characters, I made them tie themselves to each other on a relationship map in the middle of the table, to the two members who had not turned up, as well as add additional NPCs to the map too.

You can see the relationship map here.

As I'd hoped for, we ended up with a great cast of characters:

Raven (real name Rachel) Harris, who was Julianne's best friend and heavily into the magic.

Josh Fellowes, Raven's boyfriend, who is the only one with a job and a reluctant participant.

Alan "Carver" Harris, Raven's cousin and Josh's best friend, who is jealous of all the time he spends with the coven.

Ollie Freeman, a troubled teenager who has problems distinguishing reality from fiction.

Ann-Marie de Pouvre, Raven's exchange student, who is convinced it's all scientific, but can use magic anyway.

As I discuss in my post about players and cool powers here, I gave them the option of taking a supernatural specialisation to represent their magical knowledge but, interestingly, only two of them took me up on it. The others were happy to be non-magic using members of the coven.

They also created quite a few NPCs:

Julianne, the founder of the coven, now missing with their magic grimoire.

Simon, Julianne's boyfriend, whose basement flat they meet in, also missing.

Louise, Raven's little sister, who she often has to babysit for.

Billy Hunt, a hooligan who Alan looks up to and is beaten up by.

And a few others, who never came into it. I do like creating NPCs for a scenario like this, as the players all know who you're talking about when you introduce one of them – no blank looks and people struggling to remember names – and I end up with a ready-made stack of victims to kill off that the players actually care about. Call me heartless...

We kicked off with the coven assembling in Simon's flat, the door slightly ajar and neither Simon, Julianne nor the grimoire anywhere to be seen. And I'll tell you what happened next in part 2!
Andrew Kenrick
Dead of Night - a game of campfire and b-movie horror


I set the scene before character creation – two nights ago your teenage coven summoned something it could not put down; last night Salford was swept by a wave of rioting and looting; tonight two of the coven haven't shown up – so we kicked into the game straight away. The coven scrabbled around Simon's flat, determining that yes, the grimoire was indeed gone, before breaking into his bedroom where they found it crawling with cockroaches and a strange, sentient blood-like ooze that Ann-Marie insisted on taking a sample of.

They then fled the flat, where they ran into a group of rioters including the now-infamous Billy Hunt, who tried to bully Alan into holding the big tv he'd just nicked. This scene was great, as it set up Billy as a hard case, as well as putting Alan's own bluster and bullish manner into perspective (Billy bullies Alan, so Alan bullies Ollie). Cops arrive, coven flees, only to find Simon's body crucified in an alley, his phone filled with frantic voice mail messages from Julianne telling Simon she's hiding out in the derelict flats.It's about this time they first notice the car with blacked out windows and an Italian number plate following them.

After tipping the cops off, the coven catch the bus to the flats but are accosted by an elderly blind man who shouts "Witch! Witch" at Raven. The group respond with bluster and are all chucked off the bus, whereupon the man rounds on them once more, this time with a demonic voice. Raven pushes him over, accidentally killing him... or was he already dead, as his body is cold? Despite the horror of the situation, the coven remain teenagers and Raven takes a certain amount of pride in her violent accomplishment.

At the flats, Alan goes in on his own, only to find a smashed widescreen TV on the floor, a dead guy crumpled in the stairwell and Billy Hunt cowering in a corner, scared of something he's seen. Alan talks to him, Billy persuades him to give him his knife, and then he slits his own throat! Alan flees, but tries to make himself look hard and tells the others he had to knife him.

The group then notice the Italian car is back and head into the flats together. They find Julianne in one of the empty flats, a pentagram on the floor and the book floating in the middle. She persuades them to help her cast out the demon, getting each of them to cut their own hands and bleed on the pentagram. Raven then hands her Billy's knife and Julianne then cuts her own throat! The players can't believe they've just fallen for the same trick twice!

The disbelief is brief, however, as the blood starts to pool unnaturally and the demon – now cast out of its host – starts to pull itself free of Julianne's throat. The coven start to flee, but Raven desperately flips through the grimoire to find the proper banishment spell, and a tense combat ensues as the coven try to distract the demon long enough for Raven to complete the ritual. She does and the demon vanishes.

The group retreat back to Raven's house where they fail to take much notice of the Italian car parked further up the street. They get in, and after Ann-Marie decides to go upstairs to get showered (she's covered in blood at this point) she finds a well-suited gentleman wearing a large crucifix holding a silver gun to Louise (Raven's little sister)'s head. He demands the witch be brought forth, at which point (no pun intended) all hell breaks loose. The witch hunter starts chanting, people hurl themselves at him, several people get shot and Raven tries to cast a spell. On the inquisitor. I blow through much of the tension accrued during this scene (mainly accrued by Elaine, Raven's player, spending survival points to cast spells), bouncing Raven's spell back on herself and nearly killing her, not to mention a few of the others too.

They finally manage to kill the inquisitor, after he tells them the demon was not banished but was cast out into a blood relative of the coven. He hints that his cane has a splinter of the true cross in it too. Cue Louise's entry, full-on possessed. Survival points get spent to grab cane and silver gun and the coven wade into action. The demon is slain, finally, but not before I get my hands on a player – poor Josh has his head neatly screwed off.

We finish with an epilogue, as each player wraps up their own story. Raven goes back to being Rachel, magic well behind her, Ollie goes properly mad and ends up being institutionalised for his ramblings about demons, Carver gets to stake his claim on being a real hard man and takes over Hunt's gang, and as for Ann-Marie? Well, we last see her getting off a plane in Paris, a rather weighty tome in her hand luggage...

... to be continued, perhaps?
Andrew Kenrick
Dead of Night - a game of campfire and b-movie horror

Christoph Boeckle

Hello Andrew

I've been following your DoN play reports ([Dead of Night] Grendel, Alaska, [Dead of Night] Bad Signal at Concrete Cow and the current one) and I can't help but realize that you always use a relationship map. You said before (in the Grendel, Alaska AP):

Quote from: andrew_kenrick on November 18, 2009, 05:49:22 PMThe game went swimmingly though, the addition of a  relationship map knocking it from a run of the mill monster hunt to a tense, fraught family drama, complete with sexual tension (oh, and two nasty monsters). I've no intention of using it for every game, or even making it part of the rules, but it's certainly going into my grab bag of tools to use when appropriate.

or in this thread.
Quote from: andrew_kenrickPartly because I hadn't had time to prep characters, and partly because the last time I had the players make up a relationship map to tie their characters into the story – Grendel, Alaska, from Indiecon a few years back – it created an awesomely compelling game, I had the players create characters to fit the premise. As they created characters, I made them tie themselves to each other on a relationship map in the middle of the table, to the two members who had not turned up, as well as add additional NPCs to the map too.

When is it appropriate, in your opinion, to draw up a relationship map? Do you use the relationship map to play the monster and frame scenes? I suspect so, since for example the demon possesses Louise, Raven's little sister, and not just any NPC that could have existed. This ties in neatly with Ron's remark in [Dead of Night] Better without the fangs:

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 02, 2009, 09:01:11 PM(...) Andrew Kenrick and I had just talked transatlantically for a while, by phone, about all sorts of aspects of the game. And as it turned out, the single most important thing I'd taken from that conversation was exactly the thing I fumbled, almost 100%, in the game. (...)

(...) The big thing, the exact thing Andrew and I talked about, and which I totally didn't do in a game barely two days later, was to give a specific and immediate purpose to the monster. The way we did it, the characters were just more fodder for the vampire doctor. The monster took no specific or personal actions toward them; there was no content of that kind at all. The result? A nice little B flip-side kind of horror/terror story, with some fun twists and (if I say so myself) some good imagery born from my personal, semi-irrational hatred of hospitals. But a gasp-inducing, initiative-stealing, 100% memorable and to-be-repeated experience? Not enough so. The game can provide that, no problem, but not if the monster's actions and those particular player-characters' presence merely happen to intersect. It's when you finally know why the vampire wants your blood, and it's genuinely personal and not because you have some weird condition, that a scenario like this one would reach its real potential.

When I look back at, for instance, [Dead of Night] Nice Mr. Fitzgerald, that's what I see, that the monster had a genuine and personal goal for each player-character which originated from the first scenes of play (in that case). It was just screaming to be done again in this case, probably in a totally different way in terms of details and theme, but entirely the same in terms of the relevant content-based protagonism for the player-characters. I really liked this particular manifestation of the vampire and wish I'd used it better.

So I'm going to remember this game as an object lesson for me.

Then again, Ron doesn't seem to use the relationship maps (none of his APs seem to suggest one). Maybe the purpose of the map is completely different?

Ron Edwards


Ordinarily I wouldn't post for a gratuitous terms clarification, but in this case, it's relevant. Andrew's example isn't a relationship map, it's a story map (the term from Seth's Legends of Alyria). The story map technique has a long history in role-playing in practice, although textually it's mostly represented more crudely through character hooks. Legends of Alyria makes its creation more of a group effort, including a lot of characters, from which player-characters are chosen. The Dead of Night process is necessarily not as constrained, and can go quite far to either extreme: in some cases play benefits from a certain lack of matching characters to the situation; in others it benefits from setting up pre-existing relationships and priorities like Andrew did in this case. Which way to do it, or any point in between, has a lot to do with the genre (and ultimately Tension) issues that the game text goes so far to explain.

In my games, the first one used mostly pre-generated characters, the soldiers in the war zone. The Mr. Fitzgerald game began with a strictly defined setting and called for characters whose lives put them right there most of the time. The swamp-monster game was a little different, because that was a player-character-monster game, but the logic was similar: here's a swamp, make up monsters. The hospital game was similar: "here's an overnight sleep study center, who are you and why are you here." In all of the three latter games, the players did not consult with one another regarding character concepts, goals, or pre-existing relationships.

If I were to organize a Dead of Night game with a more deliberate thematic focus (family, obviously, but also perhaps problematic stuff like a back-story including rape), then I'd use a more story-map kind of approach. Oh wait! I did do that, for my GenCon demos a few years ago, with the high school party scenario. I provided halfway-made-up characters with established relationships, but the players completed the details including the names and personalities.

Best, Ron


It hadn't occurred to me that I used a relationship/story map in my last three games until you posted about that, but I think the application was sufficiently different in each to warrant separate mentions:

1. In Grendel, Alaska, the characters were pre-genned, but the players then embellished them at the start of play by describing how each was related to the other, and introducing a host of NPC relationships. This complicated their interactions, and gave me a list of NPCs to start threatening/bumping off.

2. In Bad Signal, it was all pre-genned, so the map - such as it was, I think it was just a list of who knew who on each character sheet rather than a diagram - purely served to explain the interactions/relationships between them at the start of play and acted as hooks.

3. In Salford's Lot it was all created at the table, the map, the characters, the relationships, the hooks, the whole lot. I used it to explain relationships, provide me with hooks and, in the case of Billy Hunt, to underline the nature of the horror by turning this hard case into a quivering wreck. Interesting aside, when I ran the same scenario at Indiecon, this local hardcase was created afresh, spontaneously by the players. So I repeated the same trick again...

So to answer your question, when is it appropriate to use a map, whenever you feel the story needs it. I've ran far more games without one than with one, although as Ron says I guess I've used a story map more often than not, just not explicitly. I think when you have a situation when the characters are tightly involved, the tension comes from putting relationships under strain and the horror comes from threatening personal connections, that's when you might want to crack out the map. If the horror and tension comes from another source, I'd leave it at home. I wouldn't bother with Scream, Friday 13th or the Omen, for example, but totally would for the Thing or Alien.

Hope that helps!

Andrew Kenrick
Dead of Night - a game of campfire and b-movie horror

Christoph Boeckle

Hello there

Thanks for your input and sorry for the long delay before answering, I was hoping to at least read the game before answering, but that just hasn't been the case.

I'm okay with distinguishing the relationship map technique as described in The Sorcerer's Soul with Andrew's concept and calling it story map from now on, I was just reusing the terminology of the older DoN threads so as to get to my question as quickly as possible.

Ron, it's not clear to me if you've raised a new point, or if not, how it is related to mine.

  • You seem to be saying that DoN can benefit from all the possible degrees at which characters are tied to the starting situation (including degree zero).
  • I was wondering when it was interesting to have links between the player characters and NPCs (PC-PC, PC-NPC and NPC-NPC) and how that relates to playing the monster.
Having ties to the starting situation can be represented by ties to local NPCs (a very practical and effective form of tie), so that your notion of being tied to the starting situation and my notion of there being links between characters overlap somewhat. But it could be the case that even the NPCs in the map are not tied to the situation (a PCs little sister for example, both being strangers to the place where the action takes place).

I guess, Andrew, that I'm saying that I'm not sure I would feel when the story needs one way of prepping rather than another, but then again I haven't even played once yet. I think best thing would be for me to just try to run the game, I'm confident it'll turn out well whatever way I chose to use a story map!