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Author Topic: [Holmes and Watson] The Case of the Scattered Brains  (Read 6239 times)
Graham W
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Posts: 437


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« on: March 23, 2006, 03:10:24 PM »

We played through Troy Costisick's Game Chef entry, "The Holmes and Watson Committee", tonight. It was an extraordinarily fun night: more H P Lovecraft than Conan Doyle, but lots of fun.

Troy, I'm interested to know what you think of this. We had a great time with the game but I'm not sure we played it quite as you expected: it became rather comical and horror-oriented. If you think we missed something, or could have steered things in a different direction, do tell me. But it was a really great night.

Some interesting rules quirks as well. Although I kept telling the players they could use Case Points to get Clues, they never did: they seemed to enjoy the Investigation rolls too much. So they gave me no Case Points and, of course, I didn't have any Setting Points to spend.

We started with character generation. The Home Town was interesting, because it suggested a character instantly, especially when combined with the Archetype. D played a Physician from the East End (a slum), which suggested he was a sort of philanthropist doctor spending his time in the poorer districts. T played a Bobby from Marylebone (a nice middle-class area), a fairly standard policeman character. And J played a Chemist from Soho (the Red Light district).

The victim was a maid who had been sacked because her Master's mask had been stolen. The mask was an African artifact of some sort. At first, the players asked me questions - "Where does he live?" - but when I kept turning the questions around - "Where do you want him to live?" - they got the idea and began to get very creative. While questioning the maid, they invented a story about the Master having a skin disease of some sort and the maid having had an affair with the footman.

Then J began to ask the maid about her Master and, specifically, the details of his disease. This conversation basically decided the course of the game.

J: "Does he crave for brains?"
Me: [Pause] "Do you want him to crave for brains?"
Everyone: "Sure."
Me: "All right, the maid tells you he has a strange craving for unspeakable parts of the human body."
J: "He has jars of them in his cellar."
Me: "Sure."


We had a quick conversation about whether this was out of genre, but everyone seemed very happy with it. Although it seemed to be going in a horror direction, it wasn't so far away from something like "The Hound of the Baskervilles", which has a strong supernatural element.

And so the characters went to interview the Master, James Warburton. T's character went downstairs to play cards with the footman while the others went to talk to the Master.

A couple of interesting issues arose here. Firstly, T's character started a fight with the footman. Now, it wasn't quite clear whether the footman was a henchman - certainly, I hadn't paid any Setting points for him, because I hadn't got any - but T's character subdued him fairly quickly so it wasn't a problem.

Secondly, the mutilations started to feature. D's character began to investigate the library and failed his roll. I asked him to narrate a mutiliation. He decided that he'd set off some form of African trap which caused him to lose a finger.

The characters continued to question James Warburton and, hence, the players continued to invent the story. They ramped up the supernatural element, deciding that Warburton had been bitten by a ghostly white tiger. They also found a sacred African book which (they decided) when separated from the Mask, caused Warburton's craving for brains. Not very Conan Doyle, but a fun story.

Eventually, the players began to suspect the Duke of Marlborough (who had previously been a minor character). They went around to visit the Duke who, it emerged, had a similar craving for brains. A fight ensued, with glass jars being broken and brains scattering.

D's character attempted some Investigation rolls. He failed twice, gaining two Mutilations. By now the Mutilations were becoming quite comical: D enjoyed narrating them in.

The whole story ended when the Mask was discovered in the Duke's basement and reunited with the sacred book. The Duke and Warburton were both cured and the characters returned to Baker Street.

I'd like to run the game again. Part of me wanted to steer the game in a more Conan Doyle-like direction, but since the game's entirely driven by the players, I couldn't, and it was a lot of fun to watch them develop the game as they wanted. It was an extraordinarily fun evening.

Graham
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2006, 04:40:15 AM »

Heya,

Quote
We played through Troy Costisick's Game Chef entry, "The Holmes and Watson Committee", tonight. It was an extraordinarily fun night: more H P Lovecraft than Conan Doyle, but lots of fun.

Troy, I'm interested to know what you think of this. We had a great time with the game but I'm not sure we played it quite as you expected: it became rather comical and horror-oriented. If you think we missed something, or could have steered things in a different direction, do tell me. But it was a really great night.

-Eric Boyde and I talked about how versitile the game is, so you guys heading into a more Lovecraft version isn't too surprising nor is it playing the game "wrong."  The main thing is you had a great time, and as a designer that's what I care about.  I truly believe that Call of Cthullu and InSpectres have had such an impact on detective style games that people might have some trouble pulling away from supernatural tropes at first.  But like I said, the main thing is you had fun.  The fact that you brought in the supernatural is fine by me :)

-I find it very interesting that your players never spent their Case Points on clues.  Mine always do.  Rolling in this game can be quite dangerous, and my crew are bunch of "play-it-safe" kind of guys.  What this leads me to suspect is that different groups will play the game in very different ways.  And that's great!  In your case, as a GM, I wouldn't worry about not getting Setting Points if the players are always rolling.  Rolling provides enough danger without the GM needing to pile any extra on.

-The way you handled the Initial Situation was perfect.  I loved it.  And the way the players went about solving the case was wonderful.  I absolutely enjoyed reading about it.  It's also very interesting to see how people native to England play the game.  You have a much closer and intimate relationship with London than my players or myself.  Out of the four of us, I'm the only one who's ever been there.  It was great to see the Hometown character trait work exactly how I wanted only better.  The fact that you know the little towns and burroughs so well made that part of the characters even more meaningful.  That is SO awesome!

-You talked about how things got a little humorous at points.  That's not surprising nor undesireable, IMO.  The mutilation mechanics of the game can lend themselves to light-heartedness at times.  It's just a way to cope with your character's hand getting chopped off.  That's fine, and I see it in the games I run too.  I don't regard humor as a bad thing.  :)

-I have a couple questions about your play session.  Did your players ever go to the Police?  Did they ever ask for a clue from an Ally?  Where any of the rules unclear or cumbersome to use?  If there is something you would change, what would it be?  If there is something you would absolutely never change, what would that be?

-I just want to thank you, Graham, playing and testing my game.  I very, very much appreciate it.  You've been a marvelous help so far.  Thanks :)

Peace,

-Troy
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Graham W
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« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2006, 06:50:27 AM »

Let's see.

It was great to see the Hometown character trait work exactly how I wanted only better.  The fact that you know the little towns and burroughs so well made that part of the characters even more meaningful.  That is SO awesome!

It was really interesting, yes, and it hadn't occurred to me that it would work so well. Saying someone is from the East End, in Victorian Times, is a tremendously evocative thing to say. As a random idea, would you consider putting a list of suggested Home Towns in the rules, with their associations?

Oh, one interesting thing: T's character put Marylebone as his Home Town, but, because he was a policeman, decided that he didn't actually come from there: that was his former beat.

Quote
I have a couple questions about your play session.  Did your players ever go to the Police?  Did they ever ask for a clue from an Ally?

No and no. That could have been my fault. I didn't mention the police as a possibility (forgot, players were too caught up in the story) and only mentioned that Allies "could be called upon to help", not that they could provide clues.

Quote
Where any of the rules unclear or cumbersome to use?  If there is something you would change, what would it be?

Nothing major, but...

1. Some more guidance about the start of the session might be good. I think the rules suggest that the GM should answer questions as the victim, but we had quite a prolonged Q&A session, so I handed lots of the answers over to the players.

2. Oh, and specifically, it's quite good for the players to choose where the locations are, because then they can choose that they're within their Home Town.

3. A bit more clarification on that footman / henchman-on-the-cheap issue might be good, perhaps.

4. We did a bit of drifting and, after a while, the players started to narrate their own mutilations. I quite liked that.

5. I think the idea of the mutilations being comical might be worth keeping an eye on, playtesting-wise. It worked well for most of the game, but, towards the end, I got the impression that D was beginning to tire of it. Not a major thing at all but worth keeping an eye on.

6. It's also interesting to note that we drifted a bit from the rules at the end. The rules say that we should choose a villain from the list, but the players decided that they wanted to elevate one of our minor characters to be the villain. It worked really well, story-wise.

Quote
If there is something you would absolutely never change, what would that be?

Oh, the handing over the story to the players, and getting them to answer all their questions. They slipped into it really easily. It's great.

Quote
-I just want to thank you, Graham, playing and testing my game.  I very, very much appreciate it.  You've been a marvelous help so far.  Thanks :)

It's a pleasure. You see, ironically enough, I can't test Euthymia at the moment. Because it uses a bottle of wine and I've given up alcohol for Lent.

Thanks! It was fun. Good luck with it.

Graham
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Eric J. Boyd
Member

Posts: 114


« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2006, 07:48:51 AM »

Hi Guys,

It's really cool to see this game getting so much play. I'm eager to run a playtest myself soon. As Troy mentioned, the rules set seems very adaptable to other genres that involve investigation. The more horror-oriented play sounds like it was a blast; a nice indie CoC session. I totally want to do a hardboiled detective game set in 1950s Los Angeles or San Francisco, and the game seems ideal for it. Now to convince the rest of my group...

Cheers,

Eric
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2006, 09:03:09 AM »

Heya,

Quote
No and no. That could have been my fault. I didn't mention the police as a possibility (forgot, players were too caught up in the story)


-That's alright.  To me the story is the more important part of the game anyway.  Just wanted to see how it worked if you guys used it :)

Quote
As a random idea, would you consider putting a list of suggested Home Towns in the rules, with their associations?

-I might put something like that in the Setting section of the book.  But I know so little about London, presently or back in the Victorian Era, to do that justice.  So I'll throw this out.  You wanna do it for me?  I'll make sure you're credited with it in the book if I decide to use em :)

Quote
1. Some more guidance about the start of the session might be good. I think the rules suggest that the GM should answer questions as the victim, but we had quite a prolonged Q&A session, so I handed lots of the answers over to the players.


-The game allows for that as is, but I can see reinforcing the language that says so as a good thing.  Adding clarification is never bad, eh?

Quote
3. A bit more clarification on that footman / henchman-on-the-cheap issue might be good, perhaps.

5. I think the idea of the mutilations being comical might be worth keeping an eye on, playtesting-wise. It worked well for most of the game, but, towards the end, I got the impression that D was beginning to tire of it. Not a major thing at all but worth keeping an eye on.

-As far as the footman/henchman thing, I'm still up in the air.  Let me ask, did your group miss them?  I mean, the fact that you couldn't create any Super Characters or Hazard, did that affect play in any noticeable fashion?  The "Mutilation Fatigue" is something to watch for, I agree.  The Case Points and starting each character with a Magnifying Glass should be a couple ways to lessen the pain.  But once you get past the first case, the "All Failures" result should be more and more rare.

Quote
It's a pleasure. You see, ironically enough, I can't test Euthymia at the moment. Because it uses a bottle of wine and I've given up alcohol for Lent.

-Yikes!  That's gonna screw ya for like half the Game Chef entries this year ;-D j/k

Quote
I'm eager to run a playtest myself soon. As Troy mentioned, the rules set seems very adaptable to other genres that involve investigation. The more horror-oriented play sounds like it was a blast; a nice indie CoC session. I totally want to do a hardboiled detective game set in 1950s Los Angeles or San Francisco, and the game seems ideal for it. Now to convince the rest of my group...

-I look forward to reading an Actual Play report!  And I too think that something like Dragnet would be excellent inspiration for a H&W variant.  What are some other variants that you think people would enjoy?

-Thanks for your feedback, guys.  I very much appreciate your interest.

Peace,

-Troy
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Graham W
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Posts: 437


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« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2006, 03:52:52 PM »

-As far as the footman/henchman thing, I'm still up in the air.  Let me ask, did your group miss them?

Nah, not in the least.

Besides, the footman had been created by the players, and T's character attacked him first. So it was fairly clearly not a henchman that I'd put there to block the players. So, clearly, I didn't need to spend points for him.

I mean, the fact that you couldn't create any Super Characters or Hazard, did that affect play in any noticeable fashion?

No, not really.

Honestly, I think the basis of play is the whole "throwing the questions back to the players" thing. If the rest of the rules go a bit quirky, it doesn't affect the core of the game.

Graham
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Troy_Costisick
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Posts: 802


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« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2006, 05:45:07 PM »

Heya,

One more thing, Graham.  Could you check the map and locations in the book for accuracy?  Some of them are ficticious, so if you don't know, that's fine.  I'm looking to just get them in the general area of where they should be.  Let me know if any are grossly misplaced :)

Peace,

-Troy
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Graham W
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Posts: 437


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« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2006, 04:17:52 AM »

Excellent. Yes, I just went through the map with my father over coffee. Probably in much more detail than you needed, but I'll post all the details and you can take what you need out of it.

Before I go through the locations, a quick comment about the map. I like Greenwood's map, but I'm not sure the version you've got is very usable for play. It's such a small scale that you can't see the roads or get a sense of the geography of London. It would be nice to say things like "OK, we're going from Westminster to St Paul's and, oh, look, we pass Trafalgar Square on the way".

If I were designing maps for this game, I'd use large-scale maps for the centre of London (bounded by Westminster in the South and Cox's Bank on the East), blown up so you can see all the road names. That's where all the interesting things are and the road names are splendidly evocative.

Then perhaps I'd have a smaller-scale map showing the areas of London, pretty much of the size you have now, but with areas marked (Soho, East End and Baker Street too). And then a map of Southern England, showing all the places you can travel by rail (because many of the locations, such as Baskerville Hall and Grimpen Mire are a train ride away from London).

But, anyway, you didn't ask me that, you asked me about the locations. So...

1. If Appledore Towers is a house, it's a train ride out of London, not on the map.
2. Bart's is in the right place.
3. Baskerville Hall is definitely a train ride out of London.
4. Big Ben is fine but, since Big Ben is really the bell, what you're showing is the location of the Houses of Parliament or the Palace of Westminster.
5. Briony Lodge is fictional, but you've got it in the slums of London. It would be better right at the top of the map.
6. Buckingham Palace is fine.
7. Chiselhurst is a town in Surrey, outside of London. A train ride away.
8. I think the Cosmopolitan Hotel is fictional, but you've got it in the Docks. Put it nearer, say, Scotland Yard.
9. Cox's Bank is exactly right. You've got it across the road from the Bank of England. Perfect.
10. If the Criterion Bar is the bar of the Criterion Theatre, it should be in Piccadilly Circus, near Goldini's Restaurant. I've performed there, you know. Anyway.
11 and 12. Both fictional and both in plausible locations.
13. Grimpen Mire would be a train ride out of London. There's no mires in London by this time.
14. You've marked Green Park as being Hyde Park. Hyde Park is actually slightly west, off the map.
15. You've also marked Tower Bridge as being London Bridge. It's a really common mistake: the famous bridge that's on all the postcards is actually Tower Bridge, although it's often referred to as London Bridge. London Bridge is the next one up the river, just northwest of where you've marked Briony Lodge.
16. The Docks are absolutely fine, of course.
17. The Lyceum Theatre is a real theatre and it's approximately halfway between "22" and "1" on your map.
18. Marcini's Restaurant sounds fictional, but you've got it out in the Docks. It's more likely to be near Goldini's Restaurant.
19. The Turkish Baths look fine to me.
20. You've got the Northumberland Hotel is out in the East End somewhere. I think it's fictional, but it's more likely to be near Trafalgar Square, where there's a Northumberland Avenue.
21. Paddington is off the map, to the west of the "Upper London" map.
22. Scotland Yard is right.
23. Sure, Smokey Joe's could be anywhere.
24. St Paul's is right.
25. Swansea Railway Station is fictional, of course, but you've put it approximately where the US Embassy is, in a built-up area. It's more likely to be at the far north or far south of the map. If you want a real station location, then Kings Cross is approximately where you've presently got the Alpha Inn.
26 to 30. are all fine.
31. The Gables would be a train ride out of London.
32 and 37. are all fine, either because they're real places, accurately marked; or fictional places, marked in plausible positions.
38. Ulster Railway Station is fictional, of course. It's a strange name for a station and would cause a lot of political worry. It could be where you've marked it.
39. Yes, warehouses by the Docks, makes sense.
40. Westminster Abbey is nearly right. It's actually right across from the Houses of Parliament: so slightly northeast of where you have it now.

London isn't ever really divided into "Upper London" and "Lower London". It's divided into North and South London, but North refers to north of the river and South south of the river. If you wanted, you could plausibly refer to the west area (of both your maps) as "Central London" and the east section as "East London".

Oh, and if you want to put Baker Street on there, it's just west of the Upper London section of the map.

Graham
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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Posts: 178


« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2006, 10:32:06 AM »

Cheers for the AP, Graham. I was one of the reviewers for this one. Good to see how the game plays.

Joe.
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