Actual Play – Blank Moments (12/12/2010)

GM: Matthew Grau
Not Appearing in the Sequel: Shannon MacNamara, Lisa Markus, Kris Miller, Sean Nittner, Jack Young, and Wayne Coburn
System: Chthonian Stars (Traveller)

My last Dead of Winter game. I was dog tired but still excited. Once again Matthew sells his games with a gusto. I mean, the man loves the games and it shows in his description of them.

This was a space faring horror story that reminded me a lot of Alien and Lost in Space put together. Bugs on the ship, destination unknown!

What rocked

Again, Matthew does a fantastic job of showing the richness of game and setting. Like Cthuhlutech there are plenty of areas I would love to explore within the game.

Matthew’s NPCs were played very well. He really brought them alive, even the ones that were caricatures (the hard ass sergeant for instance), he breathed some humanity into, and gave us a reason to want to believe in these people. Very nice.

Shannon Mac played this nerdy researching who was constantly radioing in from the research lab with great antics. Such as just after Jack’s character got bitten by this thing with a narcotic poison “Ummm…. Hi folks… it looks like the adults deliver a venom with their bites that can cause extremely vivid and dangerous hallucinations… so… no getting bit, m’kay. Thanks all and have a nice day…” He was constantly delivering them and just doing a great job.

Lisa Markus was playing the Bad Ass Bettie character, you know Buffy, Faith, etc. The super hot cans of kick ass… and boy did she kick ass. Almost in spite of the system I would say. None of the stats in the game were significant to make up for really terrible luck (which many of us seemed to have) but Lisa’s rolls kept coming up so awesome that all of her crazy gun-fu, wild acrobatic zero-g carnage of lead and fire was epic. She was the kind of bad ass could have lost a leg, had it replaced with a machine gun and still been hot!

The highlight of the game though, maybe the highlight of the con, was Jack Young playing Vasquez. I was really trying to figure out what to do with my character. He was an investigator with no skills he appreciably excelled at (see below), so I tried to dig a little deeper (not far mind you, this wasn’t emotional turmoil from his childhood of being raised by a single father who was drunk all the time) and found in the character my dirty old man. The guy who has pin ups in the pilot cabin, whose first comment on every woman is whether or not he would sleep with her (which was pretty much a 100% of the time) and generally hit on everything that moves. Then Jack started playing up Vasquez as this total tough chick that wasn’t going to take crap from anyone and was always trying to show that she was the best, and I just fell in love. I knew that she’d give me a backhanded insult (or maybe just a backhand) every time I made some lewd comment, and that she would always be their ready to challenge me on anything I said. It was the perfect kind of tense relationship that I can play off all night… Then something magic happened. Vasquez got messed up and suddenly instead of her protecting me; it was the other way around. Now my character was in the position of power and had to decide how to use it. Just when he thought he would have the chance to get in a free grope (or worse) he realized he actually had feelings for this woman that he didn’t want to jeopardize. In fact, through the middle of the game, some of his dysfunctional nature from working on Mercury for years and having toxins build up in his system, plus this identity crisis caused him to go into a tailspin, became reclusive, introspective and wondering what the fuck he was doing with his life. Thankfully, enough shit he the fan, I was able to justify him “snapping out of it” and Vasquez was right there to play ball… Literally in fact, we ended the game with the two of them playing b-ball in the gravity well. It was awesome.

Oh… and this was so awesome it deserved its own separate paragraph. When Vasquez was hallucinating hard core and I had to convince her to “protect me form the critters in the walls” so that I could get behind her and tranq her, Jack turns to me reaches for my throat and says “Did you just… stick… me…” And then the dude falls out of his chair as his character passes out. That sir, was awesome!

What could have improved

The game had six players with only three character types (investigator, researcher, and enforcer). What that led to was some early on scrambling to find a niche. Each of the researchers gravitated to their study early on, and Wayne in addition had the advantage of being quite home in zero-g, which we dealt with a bunch early on. The enforcers seemed to have an identical niche, but as the party was split up a lot, facing different foes, being able to blow stuff up had a pretty high demand. My character though, I couldn’t really figure out what to do. His skills and advantages were for the most part overshadowed by MacNamara’s character. His best skill hands down was Occult, and he had Occult sensitivity as well, but MacNamara’s character was better at both of those and as the researcher was the natural fit to do the actual, you know, research. I wasn’t a people person, wasn’t able to repair the ship, and wasn’t particularly good at getting stabby. In some ways he felt like a jack of all trades (I think he actually had a skill called Jack of all trades) but the die mechanic was binary (pass or fail) so representing being able to do “a little of this and a little of that” didn’t come across for me. Basically I looked at the character sheet and didn’t know what I should do. I declared early on that I was the “pilot” which meant for some fun cockpit scenes, but the ship was on auto-pilot. It was traveling a hyperspace speeds, there wasn’t going to be any dodging asteroids or getting into dogfights with imperial jet fighters…. I was “piloting” a boat. God, I can’t resist “I’m on a boat…” I am not sure if this is a traveler issue (not enough obvious rolls) or that the character types were doubled up, or just me overlooking something, but it meant for a little floundering on my part and some “racing to be their first so I have something to do” effect early on.

There was a lot of story in this game. Realistically I think we got barely more than half way through it. Matthew told us the rest and given the fights he had planed (fights always take a long time) and the tense chase scenes, etc. I think it could have easily gone another four hour to play out. That much story you have to get through is hard on me as a player, who really wants to chew on every morsel that comes my way. I want to reflect on the fights, the relationships, the outcomes, and the bizarre events that precipitated it all. After the action, I want the character to have a chance to discuss what it meant and show how it has changed them, even if in minor ways. That is very hard to pull when you’ve got a long plot agenda. The major fight of the game with the bugs turned out to be something of a “random encounter” in the scope of the adventure. We loved those bugs though, I really wish they turned into the story and the mission ended up being a red herring, rather than the other way around.

As a direct reaction to my last comment, I think I was dragging Matthew’s game down. He had a ton of action planned and I throttled back the pacing with my scenes with Vasquez, and our inter-party antics. That is what makes the game fun for me, but I think it might have frustrated Matthew because in the end there was so much we didn’t get to. I just am not wired to gun for plot, especially in horror; I want to really show how my character is affected by what’s happening in the game. So, finding my fun may have been to the detriment of others, and if so, I apologize for that.

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