Carl wrote this hack of DRYH to emulate the setting from the movie Push. I haven’t seen the movie but I got the gist of it from his description. People with powers + Evil organizations trying to control those powers = Thriller!
The premise was good and the game was fun, but there were several things that did not work for me, some of them my fault, some of them the setting/situation/system, some of them the player dynamics.
To introduce the troubles I’m going to start with the cast, so there is some frame of reference:
Karen – Eva Jorgenson – A pusher who was saving up for her retirement fund. I couldn’t tell if she was a “one last job” or and “anything for a buck” kind of mercenary. Not being to answer that question, even by the end of the game, was troubling for me.
Chris – A changer who was running from her past. Despite her ability to mimic other people, there were people hunting her, which constantly drove her to more and more desperate attempts to be free of them.
Duane – A combat field medic. I forget what the power is called but he could heal people. His character was an adrenaline junkie disillusioned with the “Man”, in this his and my employer Division.
Sean – Allen (last name unknown) – A Wiper (memory eraser) who had wholes in his own memory that he didn’t know where they came from. Did Division do this, or did he do it to himself. He was driven to find out. On the surface he was a reliable “Company Man” but secretly he was working a deal with Eva to steal Division secrets and sell them to a rival Power Organization (Harmonious Jade Society I think).
My beef with the situation
As per the normal convention of DRYH, each of our characters was asked “what just happened?” That is a starting point for the character that is supposed to build momentum. It’s a “Kicker” from Sorcerer.
I’ve got two problems with this question. One, it has very little in the way of lead in. It doesn’t tie to the other questions necessarily, it just asks us “what something exciting, dangerous, etc that just happened” but I find myself struggling with it, trying to figure out how far I should narrate, how much I should write down and how much I should leave to find out what happens in play. I also feel that the question can be very disjointed from the other things that matter to the character.
Eva’s answer for instance was that a deal just went wrong and she was in the hot seat. Very cool, very bond, but very much not about her character’s motivations. I mean, Carl and Karen are both pros, so they wove it into something but that deal going south really didn’t have lasting consequences in the game, other than to create a threat. The deal itself didn’t even really matter. I think we did some revisionist history later to say that deal was related to something else that came up, but it still didn’t seem significant and more importantly it didn’t really drive the character. She knew she didn’t want to stay in that room, but otherwise the situation didn’t giver her direction.
My second problem with the question is that it inherently sets up one plotline per character. In a long term game I think that would be cool, but in a four hour con slot, I think that leads towards several solo games that are largely unimportant to the players not involved. It takes active effort of the players and the GM to bring those stories together and I often feel like it’s a real suspension of disbelief.
In this case Bennett was really off on his own. Though our characters intersected we couldn’t find a way to keep them together. Bennett has done this before though in a game. In Scott White’s Iron Road, he totally had his own story that didn’t effect the rest of us. So many that was just Bennett being a lone ranger. Maybe it was the story not giving him opportunities. I did talk to him afterwards and he wanted to have our stories intersect but didn’t know how to do it.
The setting has a baddie to draw players together: Division. Questions like this would serve the game better: How did you call come to be in Divisions cross-hairs? Or why is division interested in you? Or why did Division put you together with these people? Hmm… none of those create the kind of urgency that “What just happened?” does but I think something along those lines would be better for a con game.
My beef with the system/setting/hack
My power pissed me off. For reference I was a wiper. First off it seemed in all ways inferior to pushers. Pushers could make people remember things differently, or not remember them at all, so my ability to make people forget was totally superfluous to that. Also the effect of pushers was ostensibly permanent, while my memory wiping wore off.
That last one was the real pisser for me. I haven’t seen the movie, but it just makes no sense to me that I would ever erase someone’s memory. What good would it do? They would just remember in a couple hours or days. I mean sure, it could get me out of a bind or help in court case, but it seemed useless long term. Like at the end of the game when I switched sides they wanted to see me make an act of loyalty by wiping another Division agent. What the hell would be the point of that? He’d just remember in a few days. To make my power fun for me I decided to pretend that it was permanent. We were playing a four hour session that took place over one day, so for all intents and purposes the power lasted all game, but it still grated on me that I couldn’t believe in my own character.
Mechanics wise, Carl was mirroring DRYH but parts of the reskin didn’t do it for me:
Good Example: Madness. When the madness equivalent dominated (I think it was Powers or Supernatural, can’t remember) we had options of “Hurt ourself” or “Hurt others” (instead of Fight or Flight). That was a concrete choice we made and informed the narrative directly. I really liked it.
Bad Example: Exhaustion. When Pushing dominated (the Exhaustion dominated) we were supposed to narrate the situation getting more tense, more out of control. But sadly that felt nearly identical to when pain dominated. Ambiguity in things like “take the narrative in this direction” kills me.
My beef with the character interaction
As mentioned above, Bennett ended up in a different story from us. That sucked.
Eva and Allen had some deal going. She betrayed him, stole his stuff and then went to the airport and flew away. He didn’t even realize she betrayed him and it never came up in the game. That was some serious lose ends there where there should have been tension and drama but wasn’t. I was way frustrated with a particular roll when I spend all my mojo to try and keep her in a scene so that drama could unfold, failed the roll and ended up never knowing the better (as a result of her Push).
My character and Wayne’s had this never quite developed relationship. I felt like I was cock blocking him all game. Like whenever he would learn something about me I didn’t like, I would erase (or try to erase) it from him. That made me the lame lone ranger. My bad. I think our characters could have had something, but instead I pushed him to the outside of the story. LAME.
My beef with the story
Division didn’t scare me. It should have but it didn’t. In a setting where it’s supposed to be a huge threat, I should have felt it and I didn’t.
I got poisoned and nothing happened. I knew I was poisoned, even played it up (I started narrating myself walking woozy) but that was it. Maybe that’s a mechanics thing. How do you represent someone being poisoned. I guess by throwing more pain dice at them. Ah, I would have liked that to do something.
My beef with me
For this supposedly conflicted character who might or might not have been erasing my own memories. I never, EVER, erased my own memories. We talked about it, how it would be a blissful reprieve, but I never did it. And there was a perfect time when I SHOULD have: Right after the first scene, when I was caught trying to steel files from Division, I got shot (in fact Carl asked if I wanted to get shot and because I really wanted to see Duane’s power in effect I said “yeah, I want that to happen”) and then after Duane healed me I tried to make him forget it happened. What would have been WAY cooler is if I had erased my own memories just before meeting up with him so that when he said “How did you get shot?” I could have legitimately said “I have no idea.” That would have been much more fun.
Also, I cock blocked Duane. Bad form. Bad Sean.
Thoughts on the game.
I had fun. I like the players. I like Carl’s games, but this one had some things I wasn’t hot on. See above.