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Author Topic: Crystalline: Help with a Branch  (Read 7539 times)
Neal
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Posts: 143


« on: December 05, 2005, 11:09:24 AM »

For my next session of DitV, I'm trying to simplify.  My last outing contained a lot of NPCs, and I want to see if I can get more bang for my buck by running a seemingly straightforward town and playing the living daylights out of a snarled moral problem.  Here's the town...

Crystalline

1A. Pride --

Heloise Parker (age 44) is a plain-looking spinster from Back East who's been living these last five years with her widower brother, Artemus (age 49) at his farmhouse.  Heloise is not Faithful, though she pays lip-service to her brother's faith.  Recently, Artemus has begun to court young Sister Emmeline (age 21), the daughter of Brother Noah Riley (age 53), another local farmer.  Heloise sees nothing good coming from this match, and she's opposed it on grounds that her brother is too old and Emmeline is too wild.  In reality, she fears she is about to be displaced by some pretty young thing with nothing to offer her brother but a mass of golden curls.

Brother Caedmon Archer (age 47) is a homely laborer and twice a widower.  He is accounted the most unlucky man in Crystalline.  He has taken a rather perverse fancy to Heloise.  He seems to think she's attractive in a pinch-faced, overly-erect sort of way, like one of those pictures of fancy English ladies at their tea.  But really, he thinks she gets away with being a scold, and he'd like to be the man to "straighten her out."  He wants to court her and transform her from an uppity thornback into a docile and grateful wife.  He's expressed his wishes to her brother, but Artemus has turned him down flat on account of Brother Caedmon's lack of property and shifty manners.

1B. Injustice --

Heloise has no luck dissuading her brother from his suit, so she goes behind his back.  She begins to spread rumors about Emmeline's lack of constancy, hinting that she is just after Artemus's lands.  She hints that her brother's fortunes are not quite as secure as he lets on.  She calls attention to the age difference every chance she gets.  She'll do anything to thwart a romance that might leave her without a home.  Her efforts bear fruit when Brother Noah, Emmeline's father, calls a temporary halt to the courtship until he can be sure Artemus is wealthy enough to give his daughter a good life.  Artemus, of course, finds this insulting.

Brother Caedmon begins trying to court Heloise despite her brother's wishes, but Heloise turns him away, telling him in no uncertain terms that she would rather lead apes in hell than hitch her fortunes to his.  Caedmon's entreaties, nevertheless, serve as another source of anguish for Heloise: what if she is cast out of her brother's home, and she is forced to marry this grimy day laborer?

2A. Sin --

Brother Artemus and Sister Emmelline know their love is true.  They know they will marry when Brother Noah comes to his senses.  But they don't want to wait.  They shouldn't have to wait.  Brother Artemus takes Sister Emmeline out to his cornfield, and they make love beneath the open skies.

Brother Caedmon breaks into the Parker farmhouse and gets into Heloise's room, where he hides in a closet and watches her for hours at a time.  He steals several articles of her clothing, takes them back to his own cabin, and builds a doll out of flour sacks and broomsticks.  He chains this life-size doll to a bedpost and lectures it, punishes it, and enacts his perverse amours upon it.

2B. The Demons Attack --

Brother Artemus's crops are coming in beautifully.  It promises to be the best harvest in years for him.  Unfortunately, others among the Faithful are suffering from a blight on their crops.  Many in town are worried about surviving the winter.  Artemus promises to share his bounty with others, but there is only so much he'll be able to do.  Some of the families will have to pack up and clear out before winter sets in.  Those who stay risk starvation.

3A. False Doctrine --

Brother Artemus and Sister Emmeline believe his success is a sign that Heaven has blessed their match.  The will of the King of Life is written in the things of the earth: in the growth of a plant and the ways of the beasts of the field.  Nature is the true word of god.

Brother Caedmon notes Artemus's solitary success and believes it proves that Heloise is a witch.  The woman's shrewish ways and idle hands have brought a curse upon the town.  He knows he cannot suffer a witch to live, but he doesn't want to kill her.  He begins to lose sleep, worrying what to do about this.  He has a duty to his town, to his god, but to kill a woman is not something he is prepared to do.

3B. Corrupt Worship --

Artemus and Emmeline build a small gazebo in the heart of Brother Artemus's cornfield, where they offer up prayers of thanksgiving to the King of Life.  They do this in private for some time, and then they pay visits to a few of the other Faithful families harder hit by the corn blight.  They speak of the blessings they have received, and how they were acquired.  Little by little, they begin to welcome other families into their "church below the stars."

Brother Caedmon is praying for a sign, something to guide him in the ways of righteousness.  He foregoes sleep, and soon he begins to hear voices.  The life-size doll he's built is talking to him, or so he believes.  It reminds him that the obligations of matrimony apply only to the Faithful, that all other marriages outside the Faith are null and void.  It reminds him that a witch is not of the Faith.  This is the sign he's been waiting for: he needn't marry Heloise; he can just steal her away and save her from her sins.

4A. False Priesthood --

Brother Artemus, assisted by Sister Emmeline, soon heads a small cabal of about twelve worshippers.  His meetings are kept secret from most of the townspeople, who might not understand (much less endorse) a worship which calls for fornication in the cornfields.  Still, when life begins to return to the cultists' fields, they know they're on the right track.  Each ear found clean and in tassel just goes to confirm the rightness of what Artemus and Emmeline have shown.

4B. Sorcery --

Artemus and Emmeline share a vision during one of their private services.  They see (or think they see) a woman gowned all in green, with flaxen hair and full red lips.  She smiles at them and tells them secrets of the natural world.  She is the Green Lady of the Corn, and she is an intercessor between their worship and the worlds of nature.  By her alone their lives will be bountiful, and through her alone may they call Nature by its true names and bid it serve them.  All she asks in payment is "a portion returned to the good earth": sacrifices.

5A. Hate and Murder --

The sacrifices start out simple: crops and farm animals.  Soon enough, however, Artemus and Emmeline dream the same dream: as men benefit from the Green Lady's bounty, so must a man be returned to the good earth in her honor.  She even gives them to know that such a man will be found near at hand, and his sacrifice will be no loss to the town.  When, the next day, Artemus hears screaming coming from his sister's room, he rushes upstairs to find Heloise struggling with Brother Caedmon, who has been hiding half-naked beneath her bed for god-knows how many hours.  Artemus subdues the wild-eyed Caedmon and takes him out to the "church below the stars," to which spot he gathers the other cultists.  Despite misgivings all around, they strip Caedmon, crucify him, and lacerate him, letting him bleed out onto the "good earth."  When the task is finished, they dress him in rags and make him a scarecrow.  They all know that this scarecrow will be the first of many, that there will be such a scarecrow in each field which thrives.  They know they will have to seek out appropriate sacrifices, hard as that may be.  They also know that to defy the Green Lady and her priests is to invite famine and death.  For the sake of the town, then, they will do what is asked of them.

6A. What Do the People Want? --

Brother Artemus is anxious at the coming of the Dogs.  He knows the fate of the town rests on his shoulders, but he also knows that many would view what he has done as an evil thing.  He will keep a low profile unless confronted, at which point he will try to show the Dogs that the cult is the only thing keeping this town alive.  If they won't listen to reason, well, then perhaps he's found his next sacrifices.

Sister Emmeline is terrified at the Dogs' arrival.  She is worried that they will disapprove of all that she and Artemus have done.  She doesn't want to lose the church and all her fellow worshippers, but she's even more afraid of losing Artemus.  She knows it is their deep and powerful love which will save the town, and she will not have that jeopardized.

Brother Noah has joined his daughter's cult, and he's fully convinced of the power of the Green Lady.  But he is troubled by nightmares since the sacrifice.  He needs reassurance from the Dogs that it's okay to sacrifice a life, occasionally, for the good of an entire community.  He is the weak link in the cult, but he won't do anything that could jeopardize his daughter's life.

Heloise Parker fears for her own life and her brother's soul.  She knows what he does in the cornfield with that little hussy of his.  She suspects they did something awful to that monstrous little laborer.  She rarely leaves the farmhouse anymore, for fear her life may be in danger from her own brother.

The local steward, Brother Lucius Drake, knows nothing about the cult, though he is aware that some among his coreligionists travel out to Brother Artemus's farm for gatherings of a religious nature.  He is puzzled as to why some of the farms have begun to recover from the blight, while others have lost everything.

The other cultists want the cult to thrive and grow.  They will try to distract the Dogs with petty issues, minor services, and so forth, trying to draw attention away from the cult.

6B. What Do the Demons Want? --

They want the cult to grow.  They want all the Faithful in town to join the cult or be starved out.

They want the sacrifices to become accepted as the cost of doing business.  They want them to become regular and routine.

They want the Dogs to miss the cult altogether, or else to become its victims.

6C. What If the Dogs Never Came? --

The cult will grow in power as other families join or leave town.  Anyone in town who knows of the cult and doesn't join will be killed.  Ritual homicide will become a town tradition, and it will form the core of a new orthodoxy of fornication and murder.

...............................................

That's what I have.  It's pretty much a prequel to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," I guess, but it's an idea I've always liked.  I'd appreciate any comments you have, including constructive criticism.  Mostly, I'm looking for comments along the following lines...

Is there enough moral ambiguity here to satisfy you?  Do you think the situation is too straightforward black-and-white, or is it enough that the town really is surviving because of the cult, and Artemus and Emmeline really are in love?  In other words, is the moral center of this town chewy enough, or should I throw in, throw out, or change something?

Also, now that I've pared down my NPCs to a bare handful, have I gone too far?  Do you think there are enough people in this write-up to give the players a decent four-hour session?  If not, who would you bulk up or add?

Thanks in advance for any comments.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2005, 11:58:29 AM »

"He chains this life-size doll to a bedpost and lectures it, punishes it, and enacts his perverse amours upon it."

Thank you for that, it brightened my day.

No, I don't think you've pared it down too much.  I think it is really nice.  My only concern is that it is pretty black and white, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.   It also seems strange that the Steward has no idea what's going on.  That's a bad Steward for you.  It might be cool if the cult's corn was the only thing between survival or starvation for the entire town - people couldn't leave, and the choice was between allowing them to continue (and living) or putting a stop to them (and dying).
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Brendan
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2005, 12:57:32 PM »

I agree with Jason--this a nice, tight, dirty little town, and the only thing it lacks is the Steward as a named NPC (before the "what they want" step).  You don't necessarily need to give him an excuse for his blissful ignorance, but then, there's a real possibility the Dogs could decide he's responsible for utterly failing his flock.  Some families in town go out for "gatherings of a religious nature" in the only field that hasn't died, and he never even bothers to stop by?  Not inconceivable, but what's he going to stammer in his defense when the cold eyes of God's Watchdogs are on him?
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Neal
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2005, 02:37:02 PM »

You guys are both absolutely right.  The Steward was an afterthought.  I got to the end of Town Creation and said, "Oh yeah, the Steward.  Ummm..." 

Let's see...  The Steward knows all about it.  He knows about the secret witchy-poo meetings in the cornfield.  He knows that Artemus and Emmeline have bumped uglies out of wedlock.  Hell, he's even seen the creepy scarecrow with the flies buzzing around it and the maggots and stuff.  He also knows that anyone who doesn't join this cult is going to end up begging for food, come Winter.  He knows that his town (not his congregation) will stand or fall according to what Artie and Emmie do and say.  He hates this, but this is his town.  And he has a wife and three children who have to eat.  He doesn't want to relocate, and quite frankly, he's never been so scared to speak up.  It's not that he's scared of Artie and Emmie; they're not exactly bad people.  They're his neighbors.  He's scared of hunger, and he's scared for his family.  Maybe, come Spring, he can start doing something about all this.  For now, though, the last thing he needs is a pack of eighteen-year-olds running around his town doing the right thing.

I think maybe I also need to bring Heloise forward a bit, if only as a negative space.  What did Caedmon's attempted rape do to her?  She knows a lot, but can she tell it?  In hindsight, I have trouble with a forty-something Victorian spinster who snaps back so quickly from an assault of a sexual nature.
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Transit
Member

Posts: 23


« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2005, 04:45:06 PM »

I think maybe I also need to bring Heloise forward a bit, if only as a negative space.  What did Caedmon's attempted rape do to her?  She knows a lot, but can she tell it?  In hindsight, I have trouble with a forty-something Victorian spinster who snaps back so quickly from an assault of a sexual nature.

Maybe she could run to the Dogs and accuse Emmeline of being the witch?  In Heloise's mind, everything that has happened to her  is Emmeline's fault.  Have her tell the Dogs that everything in town was just fine until young Emmeline bewitched and seduced Artemus away from the faith.  Have her tell them Emmeline used evil magic to cause the crop failures in the first place, just so the starving people would be forced to join her cult.  Maybe have her accuse Emmeline of casting spells on a "life-sized Heloise voodoo doll" so that Caedmon would attack Heloise. (If Heloise knows about the doll, or if the Dogs find the doll in Caedmon's cabin.)

As for the Steward:  Maybe things have been going so poorly for the town, that the Elders have been threatening to replace him.  Now that some good crops have been coming in, they've patted him on the back and told him to keep up the good work.  So he'd much rather keep quiet and have a good harvest and keep his position, than admit that his town is in trouble and lose his stewardship.
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Neal
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2005, 06:37:44 PM »

Maybe she [Heloise] could run to the Dogs and accuse Emmeline of being the witch?

Yeah, the problem here is that I don't know how active Heloise is going to be after nearly being raped by a freaky half-naked laborer who's been dwelling in her closet and under her bed.  I'm trying to think of a real woman bouncing back from that, and I can't really imagine it outside a melodramatic, woman-empowering Lifetime Channel docudrama.  Most real women I know would get seriously squicked-out by far less, as would anyone.  I'm thinking maybe I can get more bang for my buck by having Heloise exist as a dark, moaning presence in Artie's attic or something.  I mean, can you imagine dozing off on your big feather bed and then waking up to find a hollow-eyed, lobe-nosed Caedmon hovering over you, speaking the words and phrases he speaks to his Talkie Heloise doll?  Ewww...  And besides, if Heloise is mentally off-kilter, she might well make for a better encounter/conflict than if she just ran a-tattling.

Quote
As for the Steward:  Maybe things have been going so poorly for the town, that the Elders have been threatening to replace him.  Now that some good crops have been coming in, they've patted him on the back and told him to keep up the good work.  So he'd much rather keep quiet and have a good harvest and keep his position, than admit that his town is in trouble and lose his stewardship.

Right, but I don't want the Elders to come off like District Managers for Blockbuster Video.  I'm trying to give them a little more credit for spiritual integrity than that.  It's not all P&L with these guys.  They're not as concerned with the town as they are with the flock, I'm thinking.  And then, if the Steward is only interested in keeping his position, that doesn't say much for him.  I mean, if a Steward who doesn't notice a secret cult is bad, then how much worse is a Steward who notices one and keeps his mouth shut so he can keep his (non-paying) job?  Hmm...
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DevP
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« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2005, 08:37:38 PM »

The Steward and Heloise could use some clarity. Perhaps link them together? One possible spin: the Steward has chosen not to take a wife, but has been friendly and sympathetic to Heloise, and tries hard to do well by her, but to not be overly biased against her enemies. Moreover, he dares not admit to himself that something is truly wrong with his town.

But, perhaps the attack on Heloise will push him over into considering desperate actions against the new cultists, as a last stand against this rising threat. The job of a Steward is explicitly differently than the Dogs! He's not supposed to lock the cultists' children in the church basement, or burst into Martha and Aaron's house with his old revolver. But, he may be near crossing his own lines.
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Neal
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2005, 09:06:40 PM »

The job of a Steward is explicitly differently than the Dogs! He's not supposed to lock the cultists' children in the church basement, or burst into Martha and Aaron's house with his old revolver. But, he may be near crossing his own lines.

Okay, this gets me really thinking!  The Steward is young, new to his post, an untested commodity.  He's been watching Heloise for some time, and he thinks he can save her soul.  Sure, she's from the East, and her eye-servant role doesn't fool him in the least, but she's not a bad person; she's just scared of being alone.  He notices her rumor-mongering, but he keeps quiet (for too long), waiting for the right moment to intervene.

Now all this cult stuff is going on, and he's as lost as anyone else.  Does he turn on his neighbors, people he cares about, and whose souls are entrusted to his keeping?  Who wants that kind of burden, especially when the cost of doing the right thing is a dead town?  And maybe Artemus came to him distraught, told him what Caedmon had done, explained what the Green Lady wanted.  Well...  What would you do if you were the Steward?  Would you break out the old hunting rifle?  Or would you wait for a better opportunity?  And how would you react to the sudden arrival of the Dogs?

Yeah, the Steward is starting to make much more sense to me.  Thanks, Dev.
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Danny_K
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Posts: 198


« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2005, 08:38:27 AM »

Ignore this if it doesn't work for you, but my first thought after reading this excellent town writeup was, "I can't believe Brother Caedmon gets killed before the Dogs show up!" I'd be tempted to change things so that Heloise gets taken as a sacrifice and Brother Caedmon gets even more unhinged.  That way,  you have a terrific potential Bang when the Dogs are looking for the missing Heloise, they confront Caedmon and he spills his guts, "Yes, I've got Heloise tied up in my bedroom, I'm making a good Faithful woman out of her..." and the Dogs are getting twitchy trigger fingers, and then they go to Caedmon's room and find the tied-up voodoo doll and (probably) say, Oh, crap.

Of course, one potentially cool Bang is not worth deranging your whole writeup.  It's just a thought.
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I believe in peace and science.
Neal
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2005, 09:21:36 AM »

Of course, one potentially cool Bang is not worth deranging your whole writeup.  It's just a thought.

That idea is really awesome!  I like it a lot.  When I first read it, I thought, "Damn, that's cool dramaturgy, but why in the hell would Artie kill his own sister?"  Then I thought, "Hm, it's quite biblical, in a way, isn't it, what with the sacrifice of a blood relative and all that?"  Yeah, I think I'm going to have to roll with this one.  Honestly, I was regretting the loss of Caedmon myself, and this gives me a chance to keep his lurky ass in the picture for a while.

I can ramp up Artie's angst, maybe make him come off a little more sympathetic at first.  He might not really like what he's doing anymore, but he knows he has no choice.  And Emmie steps forward as more the leader than her hubby-in-corn.

The Steward -- young, confused, and spiritually exhausted -- might even lower himself to claiming that Heloise was the witch behind the blight in the first place, or something like that.

Thanks, Danny.
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2005, 07:08:35 AM »

Why would he kill his own sister?

After her horrible ordeal?  Her broken body and broken spirit?...When she looks at him sobbing and questions how she'll ever be able to serve her community again after this degredation?  What greater mercy could a brother give his sister than to simultaneously ease her pain and help her serve her faith.

Good god man...if you're going to populate your towns with insane maniacs you'd best start thinking like an insane maniac ;-)
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Levi Kornelsen
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Posts: 210


« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2006, 01:06:07 PM »

I'll be playing this town tonight, with several of the suggested tweaks, and I'll put up how it went afterwards.
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Darren Hill
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Posts: 861


« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2006, 01:29:28 PM »

Like Danny, I thought it was a crying shame for Caedmon to die.
I'd have had some other, minor, character be crucified - maybe someone whose farm was dying, a husband of one of the cultists, and his family sacrifieced him to save their farm. (Adds a couple of extra NPCs).
That way, the Caedmon/Heloise/Emmeline/Artemus cluster is fully intact - that would give better opportunities for ambiguity: multiple incompatible agendas. Add the recent suggestion of a Steward either fearful & complicit "for new" or getting increasingly close to the edge, and I'd love to run this town.
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