Actual Play – Schizo (12/5/2010)

GM: Karen Twelves
Patients: Sean, Ben, Shannon, and Chris
System: Take another pill Sean; it’ll make you feel better

This was a play-test for a con game and even though the con game has already been run, I’ve encouraged Karen to run this game a few times, and given the chance that she might, I’m keeping the details light.

Ever get the feeling that you know the difference between real and imaginary but it just doesn’t matter? Like, when you’re really tired and shit that you know doesn’t make sense starts making sense. What if that shit was telling you to drink water, or to get some sleep or to call your mom and make sure she got home safe? Wouldn’t that shit seem like a good idea, even if you were pretty sure you were imagining things? What if that shit stayed sane while everything else turned to hell? What part is the madness now? Who do you trust more, the voices in your head, or the insanity that is real?

Schizo is nothing like that… I promise. But I’m probably lying to you.

There are four characters in the game, the same four, always in the same situation. That “situation first” development is why the game was titled “Lady Blackbird” at the con even though the game used very different mechanics. Not surprisingly, as Karen developed much of it with Ryan Macklin, the mechanics look a lot like those from Vicious Crucible (that Ryan and Josh Roby are developing now).

Sarah – The mother. She’ll be out by Christmas, we’re sure. Just a little trouble dealing with the loss of her daughter.

Travis – The businessman. He knows he’s sane. He committed himself because he didn’t want to go to jail. At least he used to be sure he was sane.

Jim – The Fireman. He’s strong, he’s a nice guy, and he helps people that need him. He also makes really bad decisions. I played Jim and enjoyed “trying” to be the good guy in the middle of all of this.

That’s it. Just three… Oh wait, I forgot about Emily. Yeah, while the others have been at St. Jude’s for a couple months, she’s topped five years. She’s never getting out. Probably not even worth mentioning. Too bad she celebrated her sweet 16 inside her room alone.

The game understandably started getting labeled the MP3 game. Reason being that Karen and company had pre-recorded a huge number of “voices” tracks, which she directed the patients to listen to throughout the game. They had a single ear bud in, so they could talk to Nurse Julie, while every so often (most of the tracks were just silence) they heard people talking to them. It was a brilliant and creepy effect indeed.

What rocked

The voices effect was brilliant. A little tricky to master (getting everyone on the right tracks, making sure the MP3 players were looping rather than going to another track, the players turning off when being paused, etc) but still done very well, and to amazing effect.

The game cracked me after about four hours. That’s a hard thing to do, most games never get there. I wasn’t hallucinating, or forgetting we were playing a game, but towards the end when Karen asked me something I responded to her as though she was one of the voices, told her to shut up and went back to berating Travis. She asked me if I was talking to the GM or Nurse Julie and I really couldn’t say.

The format of “group therapy sessions” were perfect for this game. They gave us triggers to respond to and reigned us in when we got crazy, but for the most part allowed us to explore our derangement in the confines of discussions with each other. Very Penny.

The characters ARE quite broken. None of them have the lucidity they think they do. The best fear is the fear of yourself.

The few events Karen does have built into the game are awesome. Don’t want to reveal all the details, but some of them just screamed Twelve Monkeys to me.

Props. Man, I love props. She’s got Jelly Bellies for your pills (that you have to take as you experience more and more stressful events). The dice are in a pill jar as well. The character sheets are psych profiles, complete with the redacted comments blocked out. And she’s got a soft blue lab coat (less sterile than white) she wears running the game. Kick ass.

Shannon – Man, he can always turn things up to 11. He played Sara as this sweet little lady full of fire and brimstone for the “wicked ones”. I swore she’d turn me into a pillar of salt.

Ben – Ben rocked the businessman douche bag, and he rocked it hard. We had some awesome interplay, often at odds but sometimes we saw things the same way. In the end Jim and Travis ended up allying because they were the only two sane ones (yeah right).

What could have improved

Because much of the game is player driven, pacing is an issue. The game needed a few more instigators to tell us how to respond. As a result we had some scenes that lacked direction and spiraled in weird ways.

The forces of temptation were hard to discern from the babble of insanity, since we heard voices already, and sometimes Karen played things that could not be, it was hard to know what to respond to and what to close your eyes and hope really wasn’t there. Fun at times but also confusing at others.

The dice mechanics were a bit iffy. We didn’t need many, so it didn’t detract from the game, but it felt like the dice were there to give our characters direction (getting better dice for doing the kinds of things you should do to get healthy) but in application we generally rolled the “default” die because not enough of the situations were applicable to the other dice options. After the game we rehashed some of the dice conditions and I think they were significantly better for the actual game (woot for play-testing)