Monday, November 25, 2013

Playing to Empty Seats

Sunday was supposed to be the kick-off of an epic Warhammer campaign. But only two people showed.

I attribute this to a number of reasons. One is the holiday weekend. All the folks out there either leaving the area or hosting family members for the week may have just not been interested in dorking it up just now. Another is the game. Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough that my intent was to play Warhammer the role-playing game, not the more well-known miniatures game.

But, whatever. Two people showed, and that's what I had to work with. I didn't want to start Warhammer because the adventure is designed for at least three (plus, when the game inevitably starts, I would like character creation to be all at once, and not having half the group sitting around while the other half makes characters). So I decided to grab another game and run a quick-and-dirty one-shot, improv-style. Now, finally, after all these months, was the time to try tremulus.

Character creation was, as it often is in Apocalpyse World, Dungeon World, and all the like, quick. Maybe five minutes. We Father Finnigan, priest of the Ebon Eaves Catholic Church, and Nash Anderson, reporter for the local Ebon Eaves newspaper. They quickly created a backstory on their connection to one another: there was a scandal in the church, Nash was invesitgating, and Finnigan was one of the Vatican's "Diplomat" priests, sent to the little town to smooth things over with the populace. Putting all that within the context of Lovecraftian horror already had my mind buzzing.

But then came the playset. Of all the little tweaks and innovations that authors have added to Vincent Baker's game over the years, what Sean Preston has done with the playset and tremulus is, in my humble opinion, the coolest. Each player was given a questionaire with 12 statements on it, grouped into two sets of six. For each set of 6 statements, the player had to circle which three statements were true. I didn't allow the players to reveal their answers to each other. Once completed, I generated two three-letter codes from their answers. Consulting those codes in the back of the book gave me a complete setting and the openings of a mystery to for them to solve. Combined with their own backstory, I had what looked like a complete adventure ready in minutes.

I'm not going to get into the whole thing, but here are the main plot points, and where those points came from:

-Women and little girls were being abducted from the town. (Me, inspired by the players backstory).
-The children were being kept in a temple called the Order of the Silver Flame, a group ex-communicated from the Shriners for their allowing women to be members (This came purely from the playset).
-The players came to discover that Silver Flame were a cult devoted to birthing the children of the elder god Yig. They were inpregnating the women and girls, who would later give birth to snake-children of Yig (all me)
-The players fought their way out of the temple, burned it to the ground, and now struggle through the rest of the days with the haunted and horrifying images of the things they have seen.

It was a short (about an hour) adventure, and I was seriously impressed with it. Very, very rarely have I done an improv game with that level of polish, tension, and pacing right out of the gate like that. Turns out it was just what I needed. I've been so focused on delivering a full game experience with "crunchier" games like Warhammer that I had overlooked the simplistic grace and ingenuity of tremulus.

I have now started another meetup for tremulus next week. Let's see what the next batch of players brings to Ebon Eaves...

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