Actual Play – Flirting with Darkness (11/6/2010)

GM: Morgan Ellis
Players: Hamish, Sean, Colin, Jeremy, and James
System: Inspectres

As noted above it’s been a while since I played this game and my memory is blurry. I had been making a lot of noise at Barcon that I wanted to play both Inspectres and 3:16. Sadly when Hamish ran 3:16 I was doing a This Just In interview but I was finished in time for Morgan to run us an Inspectres game. Inspectres: Las Vegas.

This was a couple firsts for me. First time playing in a game that Morgan ran. First time playing Inspectres. And first time playing an actually published games at Neoncon (Hah, that one was my fault). The game had a running time of about two hours, which I’m finding more and more desirable for pickup games (why Fiasco and Penny are so much fun for me).

We started by making some character templates. I was Marcy Best, ex-telemarketer with the power to bore the hell out of people. Colin played Samantha, the soccer mom who took her kids to work with her. Jeremy was the Fortune 500 CEO who wanted a new challenge, James was the ex mall cop that was making an ne for himself (and with the benefit of a SBA loan founded our franchise). Finally Hamish was Darkness Shadow, the uber goth boi.

Then we built the franchise, complete with slot machines, a single proto-iPhone that had our only copy of the paranormal dictionary, and a Russian soda machine with canisters that after we used the syrup from were great at containing paranormal critters, which we dumped on government nuclear test sites when no-one was looking. We had a receptionist that didn’t speak “our” language (whatever it was) but a janitor who could translate. There were plenty of other oddments as well. This part got a little wonky but all in all was a ton of fun.

The play

We got a job, there was “something that smelled bad” in the basement of a new construction site on the strip. We figured out that monsters that smell like “green death fucking flavor n-y-Big fucking Q-uil” were a kind of ghoul, that I guess encased snacks in a notably highly flammable nyQuil smelling substance before you know, eating them. Think Shelob.

Game starts by the players establishing facts via whatever means are appropriate. Research, talking to locals, you know then, normal jazz. Mechanically this work but us trying to make declarations (ala Fate) and then rolling our respective skills, contacting, technology, etc.

The game does a nice job of spreading the four skills around so everyone gets to shine. Like octaNe the characters start out a hyper competent as the players want them to be. You can, and Jeremy did, have four dice in a skill and then have a trait that will almost invariably give you a fifth. The mechanic is simple: roll all your dice, take the highest number. 6 is a resounding success, 5 is great, 4 is okay, and down the line. Frankly 2-3 is the sweet spot for me as it allows the GM to introduce complications while still getting close to what you wanted done. Still, 5s and 6s are needed as they control the pacing of the game.

When the game starts really firing on all cylinders is when you introduce stress dice, the main purpose of this is to show our otherwise competent and capable characters losing their cool and going downhill from there. It strikes me that the game bottoms out when the characters have lost all of their capability to do anything due to stress, but I never saw that happen. Mostly it was us freaking out and then resuming work, it’s all part of the job.

Unsurprisingly we eventually routed out the ghoul infestation and in a glorious finale after we had gone through all this trouble not to blow up the building, Samantha lights a cigarette and tosses the still burning match down the elevator shaft filled with NyQuil “highly-flammable” ghoul stink.

What rocked

Morgan is pretty tight on pacing; he’s good at keeping the story going. He lets you meander a bit and then pulls it back in when the story is running dry or going way off course. I haven’t run under him before but I can see that I’d like to have him as a GM any day of the week.

Colin reminds me a lot of Randy. He’s really good at finding the thing to bring authenticity to a game at the same time as blowing you away. Example: Randy’s description of a failed seduction roll on the ninja clown boss (from octaNe) “As you seductively zip down his black ninja suit, because we know clown ninjas have zippers in their suits, suddenly the zipper snags and his expression turns from anticipation to anger. The zipper is caught in his rainbow color chest hair.” Randy took this crazy ass gonzo element the players introduced and grounded it in something that kept the flavor, made it feel real, and was hilarious at the same time. Of course his chest hair was rainbow colored. Colin did the same thing with Samantha. She’s this soccer mom who has a confessional where she’s talking about why the Inspectres team needs her, because she’s use to be relied on, and she always takes care of us. Then he describes the camera cutting over to her other son’s day care where the kid is standing alone on the sidewalk, totally forgotten. Classic.

The stress mechanic isn’t super elegant, I can see how it a) needs to be moderated by the GM very carefully and b) could accidentally break the game, but in this case Morgan used it masterfully, not only ratcheting up the tension (as we became less and less capable) but also advancing the pacing by making crazy crap happen that we needed to respond to.

Confessionals! Confessionals are awesome. I’ve been using them in games for ages, knowing I stole them from Inspectres but not having seen how they worked in the original game. The trait mechanic is great. Once per game, while having a confessional you can make a statement, which becomes fact in the game. This little thing gave a ton of dynamic energy to the game. For whatever reason I saw Darkness the Gothy McGotherton listening to Selene Dion and cut to a confessional “Yeah, Darkness has a REAL secret, he loves pop music.” This did two fun things, first it gave Darkness a quirk which broke the mold a bit and second it established Marcy’s interest in him. Samantha immediately followed up with a Confessional “Yeah, Marcy totally got a thing for Darkness, she’s always flirting with him.” Which is how Marcy got the trait and the game got the title: Flirting with Darkness

And since I’ve been talking about Darkness so much, Hamish did an awesome job of playing Gothy McGotherton. There was a confessional where he was asked why he worked for Inspectres. Throughout the game he kept cutting back to the same confessional, as Darkness just looked up forlorn, never giving an answer. It was perfect.

What could have improved

Despite Morgan’s pacing, the game lacked any pressure. I never felt like there was a driving force. I think it’s part of the game to be more wacky hijinks than action adventure, but I think a looming fear or consequence would have created some urgency in the game.

Marcy was kind of a flat character. I originally imagined her as the reception or sales person but Jeremy’s character was the “high power sales guy” and Samantha was “customer relations” which left Marcy in the kind of vague “I run interference with people by boring them to death” role. It was fun to do once but kind of lost the appeal soon on.

4 thoughts on “Actual Play – Flirting with Darkness (11/6/2010)”

    1. True. And the end was great, but it was the distant moments in the middle that had me rolling.

      The link btw, was hilarious. Yes, I think I see the resemblance 🙂

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