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Winging It

The Big Bad Introduced

by Ian Sokoliwski
Jan 05,2006

 

The Big Bad Introduced

Welcome to the fourteenth instalment of the column 'Winging It', a column discussing the promises and pitfalls of a more improvisational approach to GM'ing.

This particular instalment will deal with the eventual (if necessary) introduction of the primary villian(s) into a particular Chronicle or Campaign, or at least hinting towards any primary villian(s).

Thus far in my ongoing Hunter: the Reckoning Chronicle, I had been letting the players dictate the overall direction of the game, taking their cues to decide what kind of stories would be told. However, very little in the way of an overall story arc was being created this way. In fact, the only sort of long-term story point I was discovering in this sort of gaming style was that, at some point, the game would take a jaunt to Las Vegas (due to the players really grabbing onto the idea that it was completely run by other Hunters, an idea I had just thrown in during the second or third session), and that the Las Vegas situation would be rather more complex than they had originally thought (naturally).

As the game has been going on for about a year and a half of real time, I began to think about ways to bring it to some sort of conclusion, or at least creating some sort of story arc (being perfectly willing to let the game itself continue as long as the players are enjoying it and contributing to it). There has been no 'sameness' or 'monster of the week' problems with the game thus far, but I thought it would be nice to play more with story arcs and dramatic build-ups to try and avoid those problems from occurring. Thus, I started to think about who or what would be responsible for the culmination of this first story arc, knowing only that it will have something to do with Las Vegas. This is when I decided to begin introducing the Fallen.

I've been wanting to run a game of Demon: the Fallen ever since I first picked it up a couple of years ago. I find the backstory very intriguing, and the nature of the characters (and their 'enemies', the Earthbound) to be a lot of fun and full of great story potentials. I also liked how they could interact with the characters from H:tR, and had been looking for a way to finally introduce them into my H:tR Chronicle.

So, playing with these two ideas, I decided that the Las Vegas storyline would heavily involve deception and deceit brought about by a group of the Fallen. In particular, I wanted to play with the idea that, while Hunters could not themselves be possessed by or become 'regular' Fallen, there are other options regarding the more powerful Demons and how they could be summoned into the bodies of Hunters by other Fallen.

Now, I'm still wanting to keep this overall game as free-form and improvisational as possible, so I decided against creating what those complex plots would be right now, just keeping a few ideas about how to get Hunters to Las Vegas and into the clutches of 'bad' Fallen. Eventually. First, though, it would probably be a better idea to slowly introduce the concept of the Fallen into the game, so that this storyline doesn't seem to completely come out of nowhere. How fast this introduction came up, however, really surprised me.

In the current session, the characters (Izzy, Daniella, and the new guy, Jason) decided to follow up on the character of Freeman, the guy who had been interviewing 'psychics', fortune tellers, and the like, to ascertain his connection to the supernatural.

When they actually went to his place of business, an antique shop in St Boniface, and after a comical misadventure involving Jason (the newest of the characters and the least-informed about the world) inadvertantely coming across as being crazy to the old man, they ended up meeting with Johnny, a teenager who was helping Freeman in the store and, as they came to understand, helping him with some experiments of a more otherworldly nature.

Daniella was eventually able to make a good enough impression on Freeman so that she was able to learn why he was questioning psychics and other real-or-otherwise 'touched' individuals. He was looking for people who actually had some knowledge of the dead, of ghosts and the supernatural, to help him in his research to contact his deceased daughter.

Taking ideas from the Wraith: the Oblivion supplement 'The Quick and the Dead', I came up with the idea of Freeman, believing he could already speak from time to time with the spirit of his daughter, worked as a Theoretical Physicist working with the Alternate Energy Group, someone involved with the projects in harnessing the energy from extradimensional sources (in this case, from wraiths and ghosts), and had inadvertantely trapped the ghost of his daughter in one such experiment. He was able to leave the company, taking the large equipment she was trapped in, to try to search for some way to release her.

Now, all this was presented to Daniella in such a way that it was never completely clear as to whether this was actually 'true' or not, or indeed if Freeman actually believed it was the actual ghost of his daughter. In point of fact, he seemed to be more of the belief that it was more of a psychic or high-energy 'echo' of his daughter in some sort of quantum state, something that could mimic and repeat things she had actually said, but had no independant conciousness of its' own. Still, the trauma of perhaps having trapped his daughters 'soul' drove him to search for any possible way to free her.

Daniella, professing to be someone very interested in ghosts and the supernatural and wanting to help the old man, became involved with the project. Her Second Sight revealed that, while there was something trapped in the machinery that Freeman had (and that the machinery itself was mildly supernatural), she could not distinguish if there were any individual ghosts or spirits inside. However, that same Second Sight, when looking about the rest of the lab (at other oddball machines and artifacts that had similar 'trapped' spirits inside, including another Jackstraw as mentioned in my previous column), discovered that Johnny was also something very odd and disturbing. While being unable to identify what he actually was (never having seen anything like him before), she could tell that he was 'older than the very concept of time', and thus seemed more powerful than anything they had encountered before.

Now, while I had introduced Johnny for the simple reason of adding in links to future sessions, a slow build-up to later dangers, I was hoping that the group would instead concentrate more on the struggle that Freeman was going through, to see if they were indeed able to help him, and whether they would concern themselves with the ethics of trapping souls and using them as a source of energy. Instead, they really attached themselves with learning all they could about Johnny, helping Freeman only as a pretext to remain in proximity to Johnny and learn what, if anything, he was wanting with Freeman and his experiments.

After several weeks of working in his lab behind the antique store (and after Izzy and Jason were both able to redeem themselves in the eyes of Freeman, allowing them to also help when possible), Daniella was finally able to have an encounter alone with Johnny in a park across the street from the store.

It was here that Johnny began to take on a darker tone. Up until now, he had been a dutiful assistant, always willing to help, seemingly using this opportunity to make up for bad mistakes (until recently, he had been doing very badly in school, had been involved with drugs and bad peers, and had only been able to turn his life around in the past few months). In his conversation with Daniella, however, it was like he was trying to get something out of her. And, getting a headache which indicated supernatural activity, Daniella took it to mean that he was trying to psychically 'force' something from her, something about needing her to believe. Even though it seemed superficially 'angelic' (it went so far as to her thinking she saw a white light emanating from the boy and a pair of white wings growing from his back), the psychic attack the headache indicated made her incredibly suspicious and hostile to the entire situation. She used her Ward ability to protect herself from his advancement.

Where there had been a soft white glow, now angry red light burst around him. Where there had been the white feathered wings, now tangled scaly dragon-like wings manifested. He lashed out with a vicious clawed hand, tearing through her Ward and gutting her, blood gushing all over the white snow in the park. The shock of her wounds caused her to pass out.

This entire interaction, while something I had been assuming would happen at some point, was something I wasn't entirely certain how to deal with. I knew that Johnny was more interested in learning about what Freeman was doing, and was less interested in some of the other 'normal' goals that many of the Fallen have (at least initially - I had figured he had only manifested in the teenagers body within the past two or three months, and was still trying to remember who and what he really was, and what other supernatural agencies were out there). However, he began to really like both Freeman and Daniella, and had begun to think of Daniella as someone who might willingly help him, freely offering up her Faith (what the Fallen need to survive and use their abilities) and perhaps becoming the first in his new cult of followers.

Given a chance, he would not have wanted to treat her badly, but to help her as she could help him. So, the use of Ward both surprised and infuriated him, shifting him into his Torment (demonic) form.

I also figured (since Izzy and Jason were not currently around to assist her), that Johnny would flee the scene rather than try to finish the job he started. This would allow Daniella to get to the hospital, where Izzy and Jason could try to protect her and further figure out what had happened.

I determined that Daniella would also be in a coma for a couple of months (her injuries were so severe that, had she not had the Regenerate ability, it would more likely have been years) and, at some point, curiosity would get the better of Johnny and he would come looking for her.

Eventually (after dealing with a very low-level hedge wizard, a shaman, who was able to put up a very ineffective protection spell around Daniella's hospital bed), there was a showdown of sorts between Izzy, Jason, and Johnny. Johnny did seem remorseful and wanting to help (I was trying to let the characters decide to have Johnny on their side, so they could begin to learn more about him and what he was), but their reactions were very hostile and ended up in a battle. Johnny, once again manifesting his Torment side, was forced to burst out of a window and flee.

This ended up in a situation where the characters believe they have encountered a demon (which is more or less true) and that all demons are evil and wanting to destroy and corrupt (which is less true, and, in this case, is more of a misunderstanding on both sides). They are not entirely certain exactly how powerful these creatures are (they don't know whether Johnny fled or was destroyed when he went through the window).

Indeed, if anything, I was hoping that this encounter would have wound up much less deadly and action-oriented, with the group somewhat mixed on whether they could trust Johnny or not (as he was not supposed to be initially on the attack). As it is, I would have to look for other ways to further muddy the waters about what the Fallen really are to them, going so far (in future sessions) as to have an encounter with a truly evil Fallen (in this case, one of the Earthbound), and another encounter with Johnny that would reveal a much more sad and pathetic side to the character.

For now, however, the primary (supernatural) antagonist for this initial story arc has been hinted at, with plenty of room for further expansion and exploration of the motives and activities of the truly nastier versions of the same creatures to come.

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