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Author Topic: [Dark Days] ''The man that never was''  (Read 1573 times)
northerain
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« on: September 04, 2009, 02:07:45 AM »

This summer I ran some intense (8 hour sessions no less) Dark Days games, for playtesting purposes. This is the AP report from a single storyline, played over 4 days, back to back. I'll try and highlight the awesome scenes and what mechanics I feel promoted or created those awesome scenes as a way to show what the game has to offer in terms of play. Here we go!

Dark Days Game Premise:
Your life was shit and then you died. Maybe your life wasn't complete shit, but near the end, it definitely was shit. The reason for why your life was so shitty is probably what we call Darkness. Darkness is entropy, death, misery and whatever horrible thing you can imagine all rolled into one and the worst thing is, it gathers over people and places like flies to a corpse.

When you died, you were infected with it. It chose you and you chose it and you came back. A deal with the devil if you like. You give it a place to stay and grow and it lets you live again, allowing you to do something you always wanted to, but was too afraid or too weak to do.
Reap vengeance on those that wronged you. Help your junkie half brother kick the habit. Find out what happened to your dad. Watch over your family. Save the fucking world.

What you are is a Wayward. There's a little bit of Darkness in you, but it grows stronger every day and with it, so do you. You're not a magician, but you can do some really fucked up Harry Potter shit. All because of the Darkness. You use it and it uses you, even though you try and deny that last part.

All this takes place in a city called New Baltimore. A melting pot of the occult and monstrous, it's home to the original Hotel Babylon, a 50's era grand hotel that seems to reach to the sky. Getting a room is easy, paying the bill is a bitch, and the VIP membership? Don't even ask.

Introducing...
Each character in DD chooses an Archetype. Archetypes represent the reason you wanted to strike that deal, the reason you wanted to come back to this life. I'll talk about 3 of them here:
Avengers are out for vengeance. Not only on those that wronged them, on everyone and every thing that needs to be righted, according to taste.
Doppelgangers had such shitty lives that they wanted a new chance to live what they missed. They achieve this by stealing other people's lives or at the very least their money, house and cars.
Hellblazers want to know. They want to see how the Darkness touches each and every one of us. They want to know what makes you tick and they're very good at it. They're the wild card. They just fucking chose to come back.

Characters:

Harry is a Doppelganger. A small time criminal scared straight when his brother got snuffed out after a bad deal, he felt that his life had been to boring and meaningless, unlike the one his brother had before he died. Harry was burned alive in a trunk of a car when he wouldn't tell the nice police officers where his brother had hid the money. He didn't know of course, so that's a bonus he's got coming to him now that he's back to life.
The first few years of his unlife, he spent tracking down the crooked cops that killed him and his brother. Got romantically involved with a girl that turned out to be undead. She's a nice girl, she just needs human flesh to survive. He also makes a living scaming people and pretending to be what he's not.

Concept: Scam Artist
Darkness: 3 (on a scale of 10)

Aspects:
Asset: Contact (Guntrade) (this allows Harry to get a hold of some very illegal firepower.)
Crooked Cops (the cops that killed him and his bro will still hunt him down if the word gets out that he's alive.)
Gotta find the money (apparently his brother hid a suitcase full of cash somewhere. Harry has a key, but he doesn't know to what.)
My lovely Mary (Mary, his undead girlfriend is pretty high maintenance but a cool person nonetheless.)
Survival Instinct (Whatever Harry does, Harry has to get out of it alive.)

Scars: (Scars are Aspects that stem from a high Darkness rank.)
Voice of our Shadow (sometimes the Darkness inside Harry can speak through his mouth.)

The Game

We started the game with a little prelude for Harry.
He wakes up in a coffin, 2 months after his death. Panicked, he manages to gets out to find himself in the family tomb. Choking on dust and some very nasty chemicals they use on corpses to make them look nice, he busts through the door and starts heaving outside. After having some fun purging, he tries to find his way out of New Baltimore's main graveyard, one of the biggest and most complex in the States. His funeral suit is a bit breezy on the back side, but he ignores the humiliation and goes on.

Walking in circles in the pitch black darkness (there are no lights in the cemetery for some reason), he stumbles on a figure sitting beside a grave. What he first believes to be sobbing sounds turn out to be something far more fucked up, as the pale young girl in the Korn hoodie appears to be munching on a human arm.
Harry, taking it all at stride, has a nice chat with her. The ick factor is a big obstacle here, but is young Harry actually flirting with an undead ghoul? Yes, yes he is.

Ignoring a voice in his head that tells him to leave her and run away (literally, there is a voice), he offers to buy her a burger instead. She agrees and leads him out of the cemetery. Remembering his ruined suit, he leaves her alone for a few minutes while he attacks an old man and steals his clothes and wallet. The voice is back, asking him to steal his watch too. It's an old looking watch, probably has sentimental value. Harry decides the voice is wise and takes the watch.
He gains 1 point of Tenebrae. Tenebrae is your ''fuel'' for using the powers (called Talents) that Darkness provides. You earn Tenebrae whenever you follow your Archetype's path. In this case, Harry just stole a part of this person's life. The clothes and wallet are one thing, but the watch meant a lot to the old man and now Harry is wearing it. In a way, he's wearing the old man isn't he? Since he's a Doppelganger and that's what Doppelgangers do, he gains the point.

Harry goes back to the girl (now Mary) and takes her to the nearest burger joint where she asks for a raw burger, hold the bread. We then fast forward the whole thing a bit and 4 years later, Harry is still with Mary and they're living at a fancy hotel that thinks that Harry is a wealthy Russian businessman that may or may not be involved with the mafia. Harry is tracking down the cops that killed him and trying to figure out where the money is, or who might know where the money is. He has a few leads, but is still trying to figure out what to do to the cops.

next: A strange phonecall and 1 million dollars up for grabs! Stay tuned on Dark Days: Fucked up things for more!
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Spooky Fanboy
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2009, 11:40:35 AM »

I would like to hear more about this game.
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northerain
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« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2009, 05:03:23 AM »

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Spooky Fanboy
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« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2009, 12:39:27 PM »

Do you have the mechanics for this written down and in a viewable format some place?
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northerain
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2009, 07:05:57 AM »

Do you have the mechanics for this written down and in a viewable format some place?

Unfortunately, not yet. I'm trying to finish a draft for outside playtesting.
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northerain
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2009, 07:06:31 AM »

Sorry for the delay, been crazy busy.

At this point, I wanted to highlight some issues that came up in these first sessions.

The World of Dark Days
I wasn't really happy with how the world the characters lived in looked and felt like. I played up the crime and poverty angle too much and generally gave it a very World of Darkness vibe, everything the same just a little bit darker. It felt like I was playing a White Wolf game and the players picked up on that too. This isn't directly related to game design, but it was still a problem that highlighted the need for a more original setting, thus changing my plans of creating the city of New Baltimore and just leaving it at that.
I tried to fix this in the next few sessions, mainly by ignoring the city and zooming in on a few places that made New Baltimore unique, like Hotel Babylon. I had a few more places in mind but I didn't get the chance to show them off. The fact remains though, I had to play up the weird-occult part of Dark Days a lot more both in my games and the product itself.

The Weird
The second problem came up whenever anything supernatural in nature took place in the game. The players felt that they didn't know what they ''proper'' reaction was. Sure, they were undead and had weird voices talking to them in their heads, but how are they supposed to feel towards a ghoul or a vampire enjoying a drink at the local bar? Although this is definitely up to the character/player, there definitely was a problem here.
In addition to that, there was a disconnect between playing a character solo (dealing with your Obsession, your loose ends) and playing the game Dark Days is supposed to be: a horror investigation/occult romp where the characters are a team.
I tried to ignore it at first, but as luck sometimes has it, I found a solution during playtesting. I'll talk about it when I reach that point, but long story short, I introduced ''organizations'' that the players can join (during character creation or later) in order to be a part of the weird underground so to speak.
These organizations provide background for the characters that allows them to have contacts and knowledge on different occult and supernatural things. Aside from that, it supports the notion that the world of Dark Days is filled with weird things that are connected in a myriad ways.
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northerain
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2009, 08:00:05 PM »

Although you'll see a lot more of Hotel Babylon in the AP, it can't hurt to talk about it a bit.

Hotel Babylon
Hotel Babylon is one of the few things in the Dark Days setting that is nearly done (though not written). It came into being in my first playtest because it wasn't a planned game and I had to come up with something fast.
The Babylon, at least the one in New Baltimore, is a 20's era grand hotel that appears to disappear into the clouds. It sits on a huge empty lot, behind a chain link fence, for those that can't see it for what it truly is, which is most of the people in New Baltimore. But if you have the key or the knowhow (this will show up on the AP), you can enter it. The Babylon is essentially a neutral ground where the supernatural can conduct business, reside and have extravagant parties. It has a VIP membership (more on that on the AP later) where everyone who is someone is a member and can provide housing for people and creatures that might find it...hard to exist on the outside.

The Babylon is a freaky place, but that's part of the charm. It's interior shifts like the weather, turning into any kind of hotel from any decade it feels like. Each floor usually has different decoration, one that extends into the essence of the floor itself. One floor can be the same as the rest of the Babylon, a luxurious 20's hotel with brass mirrors and leather furniture, while another can look like a cheap motel, shaggy carpet and broken TVs and that familiar nasty smell of car air freshener and piss.
Sometimes the look of the hotel has meaning, sometimes it doesn't.

Delving deeper
The Babylon is every hotel that has even been and will be. Every room, of every hotel or motel or rented room where something significant has happened in, exists within the doors of the Babylon. Everyone that works there (including the concierge with a meat cleaver for a hand) works there because they signed their souls over to Babylon, or because they met their end in a dirty motel somewhere. It's personnel is limitless. The VIP members can probably make you shit your soul and if you want to get a room, well, you better be able to pay what they're asking.

But then again, you're one of the Wayward, so you should feel right at home.
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northerain
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2009, 08:03:58 PM »

Part 3

OK where was I?

Joe and Harry decided to drop by Jonsson's mansion and find out what the deal was. They got in Joe's truck, since Harry didn't want to mess up his nice Bentley and arrived at the mansion on time for their appointment with Jonsson.

Greeted by the old-school butler, they entered the mansion and had to wait for Jonsson in the living room for a while. The faux-victorian interior, coupled with the library filled with occult tomes and the paintings depicting what must be Jonsson's ancestors, judging from their looks. Jonsson himself entered the room soon after, a young looking fellow that wore an old-school suit and used a cane to support himself.
This raised some questions in our investigators since they expected a frail old man, but no one dared to breach the subject.

What followed was a narrative of what Mr Jonsson was after: A rare and obscure movie from the early 20s, in which his grandfather had a starring role. He had no information aside from that it was filmed in Maine sometimes in the 20's and the title: ''The man that never was''.
He also had a few stills from the movie, stills where his grandfather was depicted standing outside the gates of a mansion, holding a cane just like his grandson was holding now. The reward was $1 million for the movie, 200k for proof that the movie existed.
The group accepted the job and left the mansion.

Harry and Joe felt there was something fishy going on, but they both needed the money for their own reasons. The only real hint they got from Jonsson was that a film collector named Kraus that had earlier tried to find the movie himself but failed.
The two went home for the night and set up a date to go meet him the next night.

...

Harry picked up Joe from his garage (Joe was wasted so he couldn't drive. Joe's player compelled his own Aspect, ''Alcoholic'' to get a much needed fate point).
They had checked out where Krauss was supposed to be the night before and got a name and an address: Hotel Babylon, on St Cecil street.
Driving through the city, the state of the buildings and the kind of people on the street got progressively worse until they actually hit St Cecil street. The drunks and dealers loitering about this part of the city where nowhere to be found on the particular block where the hotel stood, nor was much else.
A couple of broken down cars where parked in front of the street where the hotel was supposed to be on, but behind them stood a huge empty lot, surrounded by chain link fence. The gate was padlocked.

Joe and Harry looked around for a while, trying to find the mysterious hotel Babylon, apparently a shitty motel, judging by the area it was in. Once it was clear the empty lot was the right address number, they figured out something else was going on.
They broke the padlock with a crowbar Harry kept in his car and entered the lot.

At this point things got a bit bogged down because I had to include a new player in the game. This was the only time he played so the character didn't make another apperance. But he did come in handy here, because he (having been to Babylon before) knew how to enter the hotel.

So what happened was, Harry used The Sight to have a look at the world behind the world. What he saw was a 50's era building appear in front of him, stretching upwards into the clouds. This prompted a rank 1 Unnatural check which he made, so no Madness notches. The big sign on the front said ''Hotel Babylon''.
With the help of a mysterious stranger (the aforementioned guest star), they managed to enter the real life Hotel Babylon by cutting themselves and using the blood to paint a specific sigil on the front doors. This granted them access to the hotel.

Mechanic Highlight: The Sight
The Sight isn't really a mechanic. It's not even an original idea, but it definitely works in Dark Days. The Sight is an innate Talent that all characters possess. It allows them to see things that aren't there in reality, like Hotel Babylon (which is masking itself from the outside world), monsters and dead people.
In game terms, it allows a character to see how Darkness flows through things.
This is how Joe figured out there was something wrong at the garage (the cannibal storing people remember?). What he saw when he looked at it was a symbolic representation of the hidden reality: A black mass of writing, breathing human parts with a thousand mouths and a thousand eyes, all screaming. The Sight is a good way to figure out what the hell is going on, when you have no clue about what you're facing.

At the door, they were met by one of my staple NPCs: The concierge with meat cleavers instead of hands. This cheerful fellow wore the traditional red Hotel Babylon uniform and welcomed them with open arms. A bit off-put by his appearance (his face was rotting), they quickly proceeded towards the lobby.
The interior was pretty luxurious looking, with a double grand staircase leading up to the ballroom, high ceilings and gold-plated everything. At the desk was a young girl that wore a summer dress. She didn't have a tag and was clearly out of uniform.
Joe asked about Mr Krauss's room and got the floor and room number. When the girl turned around to do something else, he got a view of her right side and noticed that half her face was missing, probably from a gunshot wound. The girl didn't seem to be bothered by this. Freaked out, everyone got into the elevator, trying to play it cool. Unfortunately, the elevator operator was a man with no eyes and his mouth sewn shut. A few Unnatural checks were made but everyone seemed to roll well that night so nothing bad happened.

They got off at the 13th floor as the nice girl told them and turned right, towards room 656. They knocked at the door and it was answered by a guy that appeared to be around 40, with graying black hair and a face that said ''I drink too much and I never sleep''.
They introduced themselves and mentioned Mr Jonsson, at which point the man gave them a dirty look and invited them in.

The room was relatively clean, aside from the clothes and whisky bottles thrown all over the floor. The man (obviously Mr Krauss) asked them if they wanted a drink and offered them a seat. Since there were no chairs anywhere, Harry sat on the bed while Joe decided to stand.
I compelled Joe's Aspect ''Alcoholic'' again, since the smell of whisky was hanging on the air and his buzz was fading. Joe accepted the fate point and silently but surely proceeded to get wasted on Krauss's liquor.
The two men explained the situation to Krauss and asked him a few questions concerning his own research and any help he might be willing to provide.
Krauss told them the movie was a myth and that his own research had led to the same conclusion. Joe pulled out the file that Jonsson had given them (containing some movie stills) and waved them in his face. Krauss insisted the movie did not exist.
When Harry shrugged him off and told him he knew it existed and he was going to track it down, Krauss pulled out a gun and put it to his temple. He then offered to spray his brains all over the wall and ruin a perfectly nice painting that hanged there.

And with that little cliffhanger, I leave you once again.
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northerain
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« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2009, 10:18:47 AM »

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Catelf
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« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2009, 07:53:22 AM »

Whoah! i've only gotten to the start of part three, and i'm amazed!
I have an idea for you, though, about the "How to React" Issue:
A Wierdness Stat.
When encountering something "Unreal" or wierd, check it against the characters' current Wierdness, with or without Die Roll(Dead Roll?).
If the result end up too high for the current Wierd Stat, the character may panic.
High Wierd: You fit in Hotel Babylon, and even wierder places.
Low wierd: You have easier to function among living(and The Voice may be harder to hear?).
What do you say?
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northerain
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« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2009, 09:27:51 AM »

That's basically what the Unnatural meter does, mechanically.
The issue outlined above had more to do with roleplaying a character than mechanics. The player felt that it was difficult to not only know when to freak out ( OK, I know about ghouls, do vampires freak me out? What about cannibals?) but to actually roleplay the situation accordingly (should I run screaming?).
Granted, this isn't something this game can solve, it's up to each player, but it's still an issue.
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Catelf
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« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2009, 08:45:47 AM »

Ok.
However, some Games do have more control over the resulting reactions, while others merely suggests one or other ways of reacting, and
what i really meant, is:
If the character is unsure, check, in this case, the Unnatural meter, and let that guide the Reaction(s), so to speak.

Best wishes,
                 Catelf.
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northerain
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« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2010, 04:01:19 PM »

Oh boy it's been a while hasn't it? I was hoping to get in touch with one of my players and talk to him about the game (he also kept the character sheet and I don't remember his Aspects), but I figured it wasn't terribly important. I remember his background a bit.

The character of Joe wasn't working out for the game. He was a bit too single minded and quick to kill things and the player wasn't very happy with that. So he rolled a new character and we put some down time in effect.

During this time, Harry wanted to take care of some business. If you remember from earlier, Harry wants to find out what his brother did with his money. His only hint was one of his old girlfriends, a girl with black hair that his brother never let go even though they broke up years ago. He doesn't remember much because he was a kid at the time, but with that being his only clue as to the whereabouts of the money, he decides to try and find her.

Harry doesn't have much family except for some cousins and aunts. One of his cousins still lives in his old neighborhood, in a bad part of town. He runs a video store and barely makes a living, but he's a slob so Harry doesn't really care. He pays the old cousin a visit. Things are like they've always been in the old neighborhood, just more run down and dangerous. The cousin is surprised to see him (he knows he's dead), but Harry manages to keep him calm. Harry's nonchalant behavior, coupled with the fact that Harry's body was never found, convinces the cousin that he never was really dead, just hiding. He asks him about the girl he's looking for, but the man knows little. He thinks the girl lives near one of their aunts place though, because he remembers her mentioning something about meeting the girl on the street. He promises to call and get an address.

Harry has to leave because Mary calls him and asks where the hell he has been. They go out and have dinner at a fancy restaurant. Harry is pretending to be a wealthy Russian businessman at the time, one of the few identities he has in store. They also visit a club, where a man appears to be hitting on Mary from across the bar. Pulling a fast one, Harry punches out half his teeth with his brass knuckles and then disappears in the crowd, only to return to Mary and take her home while everyone panics. True Doppelganger tactics.

For the next couple of days, Harry does some research on the police officers that murdered him in the trunk of a car a couple of years ago. He plans to kill one of them soon.

He decides to play this the easy way, to get a feel for the game's rules and his own powers. Dopplegangers have a Nightmare (power) that allows them to take on the forms of other people. You can choose what aspects you want to keep, such as appearance, voice, specific things like clothing, hair, face and such. He tracks down the police officer at a quiet suburb outside of New Baltimore. He spies on him for a couple of days, sees he has a wife and a little boy. He doesn't care.

The next morning, he bumps into an old man out jogging. That's all he needs to steal his appearance. He hides in a car he stole earlier and takes on the old man's appearance. When the police officer gets out of the house to go to work, Harry drives by and shoots him with an automatic. He does massive damage and the bullet-ridden body of the man falls on the gravel, car keys still in hand. His son runs out of the house and to his now dying dad. Harry speeds off.

Back at his hotel room, he gets smash drunk and sleeps. Mary senses something is wrong but he pushes her away.

New character:
Daniel, Hellblazer
Daniel was a priest. He became one in order to heal the world of everything sick and depraved. At some point though, the grey areas started to dissappear and in his attempt to protect humanity for evil, he took drastic measures in order to do what he thought was right. He sunk into the occult and started killing sinners. He eventually died and in his rebirth as a Revenant, decided to go back to his original mission: understand evil and destroy it.
Aspects: (pending until I track down my player

To push play forward, we decided to make Daniel into an experienced character, with acess to the Hotel Babylon upper floors and thus able to check out the room that contained the movie props. We just needed a hook.

So Daniel, who has VIP membership, although he has never ''paid'' any dues this far, gets called into Gibson's office. While he's an experienced Hellblazer, he is a bit freaked out by the whole situation, like a kid called in to the principals office. Gibson offers him a seat and reveals his messed up face (remember that?) and tells Daniel it's time for him to pay his membership dues.
Daniel asks what he can do for him and Gibson explains that the Hotel would like to receive an item, in the hands of a man in a small town. It's a kid's toy horse, from the early 20's. A bit perplexed, but wise as to the Hotel's weirdness, Daniel accepts. He is instructed to meet with the other player, Harry, who is heading the same way and provide any kind of help he can, as their goals are similar. He is to tell him that the Hotel sent him to help Harry.

...more tomorrow, where Harry, Mary and Daniel all travel to a small town, Harry gets in a huge fight with Mary while Daniel has fun fucking up their relationship.
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