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[Escape from Tentacle City] Too bad about the Ferrari

Started by Ron Edwards, December 04, 2008, 08:00:27 PM

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Ron Edwards

Once upon a game night, four guys who usually role-play together didn't have one of their number, so the three remaining playtested Escape from Tentacle City, a game in design by Willow Palecek. Due to the edgy-yet-funny content of the game, we they have decided to remain anonymous for this account. Read Escape From Tentacle City- Halloween in Tentacle City to get an idea of the game, and a number of other discussions about play and development can be found 'round the internet through googling.

The game works best with 4-6 people, and this group featured only three. This didn't harm the game experience although it notably shortened and limited play in a couple of instances. Still, I think the lesson was that the rules are robust enough to provide a good time even if play is a bit out of optimal numbers range.

The disgruntled postal workers

Felicia II, a large lazy black woman, including her five-year-old son LaTrell LaShawn, the Pimped-Out loved one (yes, the player is going to hell, as he mentioned a couple of times and which the others confirmed even more times) *
Steve, a frighteningly impatient entitled-acting white guy, with a big knife **

The migrant valets

Ernesto, the bitter Ph.D. in horticultural theory and technology ***
Alejandro, the pretentious and suave guy with a mustache comb **

The cross-dressing marathon runners (this is not a made-up thing)

"Bev," the lanky and needy primped-up prissy one who cross-dresses mainly for fun (including her Republican partner, Ned) ***
Dave, the man who habitually cross-dresses but then for the run is cross-cross-dressing as a man, and as it turned out had Friendly Tentacle as an item *

(Asterisks indicate players.)

They got to see a fair amount of the city, notably the Post Office, the Les Trés restaurant (or rather the parking venues surrounding it), and the crime-ridden city park, ending up at the bowling alley at the end, when it had become the last stand for a biker gang.

The first two scenes featured very brutal dice rolls - the tentacles rolled insanely well, and two characters died instantly. Poor Alejandro was sucked down a sewer grating, which I think must be a common fate in this game, and timid "Bev" heroically fought tentacles to save macho Dave. Later, to the players' dismay, they realized that they could have spent Stress for better dice and also that "Bev" had a loved one who could have taken the hit for her. Anyway, so for this particular game, the first phase of play was a little too quick, but remember, they were under-numbered for the game, those two rolls were really quite unlucky, and they failed to utilize existing system elements that might have mitigated the fatal effects. Oh well. At least it gave them the chance to learn the Walking Dead and Safe rules in detail, which are extremely logical and fun to apply once you get them.

The postal workers stayed alive for a long time, through many scenes - and since the other two groups were reduced to one character each, basically the middle stage of play became all-postal-workers all-the-time, with the Global Threat jumping up with each turn. Most of the time they stayed stuck in the crime-ridden city park. Felicia II and L.T.L.S. became quite the favorites, especially since their stereotyped obnoxiousness was well-matched by Steve's, and ultimately became heroic. When Felicia II died, it was a phenomenal moment - no one really wanted her dead, but as Walking Dead in a Throwdown, she had to go, and the player narrated an awesome and very B-movie special effects death.

The Global Threat had of coursed rocketed upwards through all of this, and I think that it was about when Steve and L.T.L.S. were trying to Chill and Take Back the [Bowling Alley] that it hit 7 and 8. So the Tentacle Apocalypse was well under way for the last phase of play. The final three were Steve, Dave, and Ernesto; Ernesto sadly died despite a very close three-way split vote decided by a die roll. However, that opened up the wonderful chance for an end-story romance, in which Steve's heart was won by Dave during their crazed drive to the heliport. Dave died when his friendly tentacle (who'd bonded to his crotch) was ripped away by a typically-unfriendly tentacle, and bled out even as he drove Steve to safety, proving that true love is the first target when tentacles are after you.

Early offensiveness

OK, it's a fact. You make up a given group, and then everyone else has to buy into it by making characters for it, which you do not. That's the coolness right there. The more edgily-stereotypical your group, the more the others have to reveal or express their knowledge of that very thing, comfortable or not. The more funny or "oh man!" the initial group concept, for whatever reason, the more you elicit from others the reality underlying the stereotype, meaning either of it, itself, or the societal situation or prejudices which promote it.

In doing this, the current Tentacle player (who made up the group that's currently being hammered) is wonderfully free to put the screws to the tension between offensive vs. revealing stereotyping. Toward this end, NPCs are everything!! Middle-tier managers of any kind are particularly useful, in this case including poor be-slimed Bruce at the post office, the insanely obnoxious manager at Les Trés (who addressed either player-character and presumably any similar employees as "José"), and a brief glance at Baby-Daddy, father of Felicia II's child.

For instance, Ernesto had to park this obnoxious guy's Ferrari, only to discover that something (a tentacle, we discovered later) had dented it badly. He claimed by phone to the manager that it was stolen ("From where you said to park it!") while sitting on it, forcing the manager to deal with the owner, then drove in with it in triumph ("I found it!"), and was especially gratified when the hysterical manager saw the dent and shouted "Get rid of it!" just as Ernesto had originally contemplated doing on his own.

Minor manifestations of enjoying this guilty-pleasure but also bite-me-Mr.-Man phase occurred all the time. The players of "Bev" and Dave enjoyed each character's absurd attempt to speak in falsetto and basso respectively.

Middle offensiveness

Oh my God, the two postal workers in the park - it was totally the Romero motif where the characters allow their prejudices and stereotypes of the characters overcome their awareness that something is genuinely and terribly wrong, and they insist on wrangling, for instance, over who slacks more at the post office as the tentacles attack. But if you were to have viewed just this portion of play in isolation, you would have said, "Look at those bigoted players with their horrible prejudices hung out for all to see! Re-education camp time!"

For instance, who would have thought that Baby-Daddy's cocaine, which was hidden in the teddy bear, kills tentacles?

Late-stage redemption and ultra-edginess

Chris One of the players deserves the real credit. He turned the absurd stereotype of Felicia II into a mom to be reckoned with, and after her death, utilized every ounce of forlorn child ("Will you be my mommy now?") for L.T.L.S. to unite with Steve. Tim Another player picked up on this cue perfectly and was able to walk Steve stepwise through a series of redemptive actions that never seemed forced. The sequence where Steve tried and failed to get little L.T.L.S. a new teddy bear from the arcade machine in the bowling alley was a real heartbreaker.

And then, they actually killed the kid. The cry of "Noooo!" was heartfelt and shared by all - this is the moment in a non-mainstream movie when you realize that the director has more guts than you and no, you don't know where the story will go next.

When the three surviving survivors convened, the same player checked with the others to see if a slight rules-SIS risk might be allowed. He didn't want to explain exactly what had happened to Dave, just described him as (unaccountably) wearing "Bev's" wig, all beat up, highly disheveled, and with an enormous crotch-bulge. The others said sure, enjoying the weirdness. During the drive to the heliport, Steve and Dave fell in love, beginning with a passionate kiss before they leaped into the car. They also discovered that Dave had somehow acquired a friendly tentacle as an item that helped him drive; guess where it, um, lived.

Steve was painted in Felicia's blood, carrying a teddy bear's head, with Dave's lipstick smeared on his mouth, as he shouldered his way up to the helicopter.

So the self-centered borderline-bigot white guy is the one to survive, tears for his lost loved ones streaming down his cheeks, as he watches the city beneath him succumb to the tentacles, knowing that he was not the one who deserved to live.

I Another player discovered a disturbing talent for extravagantly lying under direct stress, expressed by Ernesto with the Ferrari and Baby-Daddy with the teddy bear, which offers some room for a little post-game reflective weight. This player's contributions were mostly supportive, though, and although Ernesto was admirably plucky and defiant (to him, the tentacles were just another damn hassle), he mainly functioned to explain to the dimwitted other final survivors that (a) the city even had a heliport and (b) how to get there, before he died.

The group encountered some rules questions, nothing too terribly major.

1. Vehicle rules were a little tricky in application. Not the part about the roads vs. paths, as that was clear and looked fun, but rather knowing what could and could not be done. Sometimes vehicles were there but not available because they weren't Items, sometimes they were available as Items but not there. If you walk from location A to location B, then if you want to drive from B to C ... where'd your car come from? The group tweaked narration once or twice to deal with this stuff, especially the part where Ernesto ditched the Ferrari in the stinky river by the crime-ridden park. The players knew he drove there and "had a car," but agreed that it wasn't an owned Item unless he wanted to Loot it. (Then again, since getting to the park was the scene Alejandro was whisked down the drain, Ernesto was now Safe and had no further scenes until endgame. But that's a different issue.)

2. Regarding Items in general, people were often torn between perfect items for characterization vs. utility against tentacles, especially during character creation. The former are very, very tempting. is it OK just to brandish them? For instance, in the scene in which Alejandro died, he got a bonus for combing his mustache when the two friends teased some people by driving up to them in the Ferrari.

This actually ties into the whole ongoing Traits discussion across several threads.

3. The group did not understand the logistics of the final, final scene. Is there a roll included? They didn't do one; if they had, Steve would certainly have been killed at that point. At least one player was pretty sure that a required roll at that point wouldn't be much fun.

4. As a minor point, Stress seems mis-named. Surely when "it" decreases, one becomes more stressed, and when "it" is high, one is less Stressed? Wouldn't "it" be better described as Cool, or something like that?

Overall fun: very high. They especially liked the way it began with guilty (as Willow says, very guilty) pleasure or at least satire, and then moved into pretty good B-movie stuff, which finally opened the door to something quite uniquely its own in regard to the stereotyping/correctness issue.

Best, Ron
who heard about all of this from a friend of a friend

Callan S.

Hi Ron,

Who killed the kid? I kind of lost context there?
Philosopher Gamer

Ron Edwards

Whoops, you're right.

In the story, poor little L.T.L.S. was fighting tentacles in the bowling alley and then slid/fell into the darkness below, from whence they came ... into nothingness.

In the moment, that was narrated by the player (you narrate your own characters' deaths), with a bit of group-level consideration of whether he fell into toothed jaws or not - resolved by the idea that we were fighting tentacles, not something with tentacles, and so the unknown darkness was preferable.

Procedurally, what happened is that the two players lost the roll to the current tentacle-player by 5 or more. That means one of them has to die. Ordinarily, that would entail a vote, but as it turned out, little L.T.L.S. had the rules-status "Walking Dead," which means that he dies automatically. Now, there's one more wrinkle - that player's other character, Dave, had the status "Safe" (in fact the two concepts are linked; when one of your characters becomes Safe, your other characters become Walking Dead). Here's my point: it is perfectly legal for the player to switch status between the two characters when the W.D. dies.

Therefore that player could have said that Dave mysteriously shows up right then and dies in LaTrell LaShawn's place, and the kid would live, as the final surviving character of that player. But he didn't. He chose to have Dave survive instead (to show up for the second "final escape" phase of play).

I hope my phrasing "they killed" makes better sense now - you were right, the interplay of rules, choices, and narration was a bit too complicated to convey with one short sentence.

Best, Ron


Hey Ron-

Great AP!  I'm glad to see that others are having a blast with this.

To answer your questions:

1:  Vehicles:  Let's say the MegaMart and the Post Office are connected by a Road, and the Post Office and the Strip Club by a path.  You can move from the Post Office to the Strip Club without having a vehicle (and in the mid game, you have to cross those vehicles off your character sheet in order to do so.)  But you need to have a vehicle as an item to go from the MegaMart to the Post Office during the midgame.  So someone needs to have started with, or looted that Ferrari.

Fun Fact:  The vehicle rules are a direct result of one of Jason Morningstar's illustrations for the Artists First Game Chef.

2:  Items:  Go for flavor.  I would totally give someone a bonus for 'brandishing' their signature item in the face of danger, and would do so without hesitance if they found a way to bring it in as a semi-plausibly useful item ("As they plummet me with blows, my fursuit absorbs some of the shock.")

3:  So in the end-game as written, there's n-1 rolls/scenes, where n is the number of players.  So there should be 2 scenes, one to get to the helipad, and one to escape.  By this method, at least one person should always survive.  If you did two rolls to change location, you could take escape as a gimme.  Someone always gets out alive.

4:  Stress:  The way I do it when I play, is I draw boxes on my character sheet, and check them off.  It's like Willpower in Whitewolf.  (As I write that, I understand- Willpower is Good, Stress is Bad)  The more you use, the more stressed you are.

And a question for you:

Back during Gencon, we were talking about the problems I was having with the tension/pacing of the game.  Did the game deliver fun throughout, or did it drag on when it was just the post office employees (and for that matter, why didn't the remaining Walking Dead character do a Heroic Sacrifice/Total Meltdown?)  Did the mechanics of endgame add to the tension, or was it pretty much established just due to the character interactions?

Ron Edwards

Hi Willow!

Quote1:  Vehicles: 

We got all that, no problem. The thing is that all of that Ferrari business happened in the early game, before Global Threat got above the number of players. So it didn't matter how Ernesto got to the park. Also, and besides, he was Safe at that point so it didn't matter ... but never mind that. Somewhat more clearly, and again during that early phase, Steve, Felicia II, and L.T.L.S. ran to the park from the post office. It was marked "foot," and although it didn't matter, they did run by foot. But Steve had the item "postal truck." What happens with that at the park?

Quote2:  Items: 

Excellent. Did that right.

Quote3:  So in the end-game as written, ...

Good. Did that right too. But I'm not sure if that confirms that we did or did not need to roll at the helicopter.

Quote4:  Stress:  ...  (As I write that, I understand- Willpower is Good, Stress is Bad)  The more you use, the more stressed you are.

Exactly. So marking off Stress is counter-intuitive. One ought to be marking off composure, by whatever name, and recovering that composure when Chillin'.

Quote... Did the game deliver fun throughout, or did it drag on when it was just the post office employees

Yeah, although I was mocked because I was going to enjoy not GMing for once, and here I was, socked with the fuckin' GM role all over again for multiple turns. Definitely fun, though.

Quote(and for that matter, why didn't the remaining Walking Dead character do a Heroic Sacrifice/Total Meltdown?) 

That may have been a function of rules familiarity. Or, it might have simply been that no one really cared about Local Threats in general. By that point, in the bowling alley scenes, the Global Threat was skyrocketing so high that a piddly +3 or whatever at that location didn't mean much.

QuoteDid the mechanics of endgame add to the tension, or was it pretty much established just due to the character interactions?

Hard to distinguish. I think it really mattered that Steve died; it affected the nature of the character interactions in the usual excellent way. So I'd say that the mechanics and the interactions were synchronous for us. Then again, we tend to do that.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Hi Ron,

Ah! I see what you meant when you compared it to a director cutting lose.

But it makes me think, if safe and walking dead are interchangeable, what is the upshot of assigning them at all? A sort of flag?

Speaking of the potential for Dave to mysteriously show up as a valid system use, I wonder about that in terms of roleplayers being able to sort of stretch their imagination to find/invent some way that it'd fit. Given a second or two, I could think up what would seem natural reasons for him to be there - but I know I'm deliberately adjusting the fiction to fit it snugly in. This seems anathema for alot of roleplayers - if it would take an adjustment, thats proof to them the option is somehow not valid system use and Dave just could not turn up at all.

I was thinking you might have been conizant of something like that that near the start, where you've sort of explained the quick two kill. You had low numbers, bad luck and there was some resource management that could have ablated it too - so yeah, someone isn't just forced to imagine that every time they play. I think both are rather large stretches to 'fit it in' compared to the sort of stretching most roleplay culture is used to. Not that it necessarily matters. What's the situation there (if there is a situation)?
Philosopher Gamer

Ron Edwards

Hi Callan,

Quoteif safe and walking dead are interchangeable, what is the upshot of assigning them at all? A sort of flag?

They aren't quite interchangeable. For one thing, the status is assigned via the way characters become Safe, and the way that counters are used on the map. Each status has special rules and one can't simply switch the status between them whenever and however one wants. That only happens when someone is killed.

QuoteSpeaking of the potential for Dave to mysteriously show up as a valid system use, I wonder about that in terms of roleplayers being able to sort of stretch their imagination to find/invent some way that it'd fit. Given a second or two, I could think up what would seem natural reasons for him to be there - but I know I'm deliberately adjusting the fiction to fit it snugly in. This seems anathema for alot of roleplayers - if it would take an adjustment, thats proof to them the option is somehow not valid system use and Dave just could not turn up at all.

I may be speaking too much for Willow here, but in the case of this game, regarding the gamers you're talking about, fuck'em. Fuck'em in the ear. Your phrase "Given a second or two, I could ..." is where the game is aiming, and that's it. In Escape from Tentacle City, narration of those events is the bitch of the dice and player rules-choices; logistics and plausibility are definitely second fiddle.

However - and very interestingly - one does not go to the dice right away in a scene. The Scene Goal (Chillin', Looting, Take Back the Streets, Travel, and a couple others) should emerge through various character interactions during the scene, not be pre-set. This is a really important feature of the game too, and permits the logistics-stretching you're talking about to be notable rather than just more of the same.

Best, Ron



The scavenged postal truck would be left at the park- no longer on the character sheet.  If a survivor group was later at the park, the tentacle player might want to incorporate that into their narration, and the truck would be a valid target for a Loot roll.

I think you played the endgame as right as you could; with three players there seems to be less potential scenes.


Ron pretty much has the right of it.  Also, you can't exchange a Safe character for a Walking Dead one, you can exchange a character that has already survived for a character from another group that has been set up for death.

Remember, each player has several characters, and most of those will die in the first part of the game- endgame happens when each player has one character left.  The rules allow you to trade a character who was the sole survivor of the group- and therefore would continue to endgame, at the expense of your other characters- for a character from another group that you may be more attached to.

(But you don't always get to play the character you'll want.  In the Halloween game, my last two characters were Guy Montenegro and Wendy the Walrus.  I enjoyed playing Guy more, and was hoping he would be my survivor- but a tie vote and then a dice off killed him.  Wendy was still in play, so I couldn't trade her for Guy.  Good thing Wendy was still fun.)

In practice, it's pretty clear when it works and when it doesn't.  Also, the character that shows up has been off-screen for some time when they do it.  But Ron has the right of it- if people have problems with that conceptually, this isn't going to be the game for them on so many levels.  So fuck them in the ear.

(By the way, have you read the rules?  They're pretty short, and I'd be happy to e-mail them to you.)


Callan S.

So the events and choices of play affect who is assigned as safe and who is walking dead, but then that player can choose to switch for another character (or choose not too, indeed)? That's quite heart wrenching, after they survived and everything, or heart wrenching if yeah, it's the kid (who also just went through that new toy scene). Hmm, there's something more horrible (don't mean that in a bad way) about that being a particular players choice, rather than like a random event or such. I guess you know it's not JUST random - the player has an intent behind it all. But at the same time it's not all just intent, as the events of play developed toward this moment.

Is this sim or nar?? I've always thought nar took some guts to step up to (yeah, I'm saying step on up! >:) ). If this is sim, I guess sim can take guts too.

Willow, that'd be nice, thanks! I'll send you a PM with my addy.

BTW, has there always been a culture of 'fuck that rigid imagination shit' (or however you might put it) and I've been clueless to it (I could imagine clueless being the case), or is it something that's now emerging?
Philosopher Gamer


Hey Callan-

I sent you the draft of the rules- I think that should clear up your questions about the general process of play.

I didn't design Escape from Tentacle City with a particular creative agenda in mind.  When I first discovered the Forge, CA seemed like the most important thing ever, but the more I play, the less time I find myself thinking about it.  One thing it isn't supposed to be is Gamist- having your character survive doesn't count as 'winning.'  But I'm sure someone out there will play it that way someday.

BTW:  Eh, maybe.  Personally, I design games for myself, not what some theoretical someone might like.  So if someone else likes them too, great!  If they don't like it, or don't get it, whatever, I won't lose any sleep over it.  But if someone takes umbrage at my game for whatever reason, well, fuck 'em.

Ron Edwards


I don't think a Creative Agenda discussion is worth our time until you've read the game and, ideally, played it. Besides, it's in playtest, which means any number of refinements in content or presentation may still be forthcoming.

Best, Ron