The Expanding Castby Ian Sokoliwski
The Expanding Castby Ian Sokoliwski
The Expanding Cast
Welcome to the thirteenth 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 addition of new players to an already-established gaming group and integrating the characters into the shared story of any ongoing Campaigns or Chronicles.
A few months ago, one of my players got themselves a new 'Significant Other' who is also into gaming. She then asked me if he could join in on our ongoing Hunter: the Reckoning game (not for every session, however, as he might not be able to make the more-or-less weekly schedule we were trying to maintain). As much as I had been enjoying the group dynamic of only two players and one GM, I was quite happy to add the new player into the mix - the only real downside was that I would have to make sure even more than before that each game session was more-or-less self-contained, in case the new player wouldn't be able to make it, but everybody else still wanted to play.
Again, when the players showed up (including Greg, the new guy), I had very little in mind about the exact game - I would like to throw in something about an old guy who had the spirit of his daughter trapped in some sort of machine (something I had read about in 'The Quick and the Dead', one of the supplements for Wraith: the Oblivion, about a group of scientists that trap ghosts inside machines to use as power sources), I would like to deal with the latest Hunter NPC that the PC's had only ever met online, perhaps all having something to do with a Jackstraw (a creature from the 'Creatures of the Night' sourcebook for GURPS), and that I had to integrate a brand-new Hunter PC into the game.
So, before play began (and as Sara and Victoria spent any experience points they had accrued from previous sessions), Greg and I discussed his character. He wanted to play a paramedic named Jason, but didn't know anything else about the character beyond that. Fortunately, the H:tR main book has a handly list of questions, little things to get to flesh out a character before bothering to create any statistics, that Greg could ponder over before his appearance. I also told him that (just as with Izzy and Daniella) we wouldn't make up the actual statistics for the character until the end of this first session, and that his actions would indicate what sort of powers and abilities he would be granted.
With that in mind, we have Izzy and Daniella discussing some recent events with Christine, the NPC owner of a local coffee shop that is also something of a Hunter meeting place and arsenal. They are following up on some information about other people who seem to have been supernaturally manipulated (in much the same manner as the people who were victims of the Ghouls in the previous game sessions), and learn about someone named Freeman, a man who quite often winds up at this coffee shop talking to 'fortune tellers' and 'tarot card readers'. Freeman does not seem to be one of the Imbued (like Christine, Izzy, or Daniella), but does have some sort of supernatural taint about him. Christine knows that he owns an antique store in St Boniface, and the PC's decide to pay him a visit.
I decide that this would be a good place to introduce Jason. Being a paramedic, he would easily be at the scene of many road accidents, so I have a vehicle collide with a bus near the antique shop that the PC's are heading to. Izzy and Daniella get there in time to see a couple of paramedics (Jason being one of them) tending to some of the wounded, as one of the victims transforms into a crazed zombie and begins attacking both the paramedics and other wounded passengers.
Jason, with his partner freaking out and becoming no help whatsoever in this instance, begins pounding on the zombie with a small oxygen tank, doing everything he can to get between it and any other innocent people. This screams 'Martyr Creed' to me, so I give him the ability to become extra strong and tough (at the expense of 'burning out', or doing a small amount of damage to himself at the same time).
Izzy and Daniella, leaving their car and running through the snow to the scene, arrive just as two more of these zombies begin attacking as well. All three Hunters are battling monsters and helping innocents (all of whom are too far into shock to know what is happening around them).
After this small combat scene, Jason is (understandably) confused and wants to know what just happened. Izzy and Daniella manage to convince him to keep quiet about 'undead monsters' when filing his report, concentrate on getting the wounded to the hospital, and to meet them later to discuss what his new life is going to be like.
We now have ten minutes or so of exposition, which can be death in many games (as it can be in most fiction). Fortunately, as both Sara and Victoria have been playing for a while, and are very comfortable in the setting, they were able to do most of the explanations about what the world really is 'in character', changing what could normally be a boring 'here is the backstory' scene into an interesting study in character and perception. Izzy seems most concerned about the monsters themselves, while Daniella is more worried about what their lifestyle is doing to their own sanity, and these perceptions and concerns come across very well as they end up explaining to Jason what has happened to him, what that zombie may or may not have been, and what the world may or may not really be like.
I particularily enjoyed this scene as I had very little to do but watch them all interact in character. It is always gratifying to see your world come alive like this, seeing your plots, characters, and encounters through the eyes of other people.
I was able to revise my ideas about the rest of the session during this time. As their exposition continued, I realized that, perhaps, a different story would be in order for our new threesome, something not involving the machinery and the ghost. Not just yet, anyway.
Now, as part of telling Jason about his new world, they also introduced him to Hunter.net and, in so doing, found another rather plaintive message from their young friend Desiree. Desiree was still requesting their help, and Izzy and Daniella decided this would be a good way to introduce Jason to some other Hunters while helping someone new. Thus, they arranged to meet her at a different coffee shop, this one in the Charleswood section of Winnipeg.
Desiree, they discover, is the 'net name of April, a fourteen year old Hunter who is deeply upset about her friend Michael. Michael looks 'wrong' to her (and it is getting worse), and is having more and more problems with school. She would like them to talk to Michael, to try and help her determine what is wrong.
Now, I had been thinking about incorporating a Jackstraw into the game ever since I had first read about them. It is a type of possessed doll that cannot move or act on its own, but can control and manipulate those around itself. A suitably creepy idea, I thought up something that would involve April and her friend Michael, and inserted it here, without any clear idea of why it was doing what it was doing (all I really knew was that it was the evil spirit of Michaels' grandmother).
Driving to his house, they find Michael instead sitting outside the local recreation centre, underdressed for February in Winnipeg, and mumbling something about his grandmother and about she said he was 'bad'. They return to the coffee shop to warm him up and talk to him further. All they can determine, however, is that he bears the taint of someone who has been manipulated by another supernatural being, and is feeling very bad because of how his grandmother orders him and his family around, about how horrible their life has become since moving into the city from a farm just outside of town.
Izzy, Daniella, and Greg decide to leave Michael with April in the coffee shop (to further warm up) while they go and talk with his parents. They are not sure what they can do just yet, but feel they should talk to someone before calling the police (perhaps to report child abuse, depending on what the situation at the home looks like). Once there, they are rebuffed by the drunken (and supernaturally-controlled) father, and instead decide to sneak into the house through the back, to try and figure out what is going on.
Inside, they discover a house room full of trinkets, toys, a very large and ratty cloth doll, and a four-foot tall porcelain doll. Finding nothing supernatural about, however, they are attacked by the father (whom they manage to subdue, as he is clearly being controlled by something else), and then by Michael himself (again, under supernatural control). Getting freaked out by this whole situation, Jason begins to attack the porcelain doll (perhaps thinking it will become animate). Getting the situation under control, they discover the decomposing body of a woman in a wash tub in the basement, when they are attacked once more by the father.
This time, they are able to finally see a supernatural connection between the father and the rag doll in the living room, and, upon destroying the doll, both Michael and his father collapse, free from the influence of the (aforementioned) Jackstraw.
Taking the two of them (to talk to the authorities), they return to the coffee shop to find out what happened to April (as Michael does not remember leaving her, nor much of anything after they had left him at the shop). Unfortunately, they come across the still-burning shop and realize that April was inside it the whole time.
This all turned into a very emotional scene - not only were they sorry for the (horrible) death of April (whom they had only been wanting to help, and wound up being bound to a chair, with a countergirl, when the fire was started), but also for Michael who was coming slowly to the realization that he must have been the one to have burned the shop down and killed his friend. They decide they would have to turn Michael and his father over to the police (who are on the scene) in an effort to get Michael the help he clearly needed.
This game ended on perhaps the darkest note of any of the sessions so far in this game, and it was clear that all the players (including Greg) were taking it very seriously. It also surprised him that it was such a small, emotional tale, much different than many louder, more action-oriented role-playing game sessions. Still, he was quite happy to finish up the character sheet for Jason, and the game continues with our threesome of PC's.