A local board game café, Monopolatte, started organizing monthly roleplaying evenings. They organize the games and thus, you show up to play whichever one you want. On top of the $5 cover fee, you play $2 directly to the game master. I had time this month to join and play. This month, they had two great local gamers organizing the games, AJ Comeau and Ron Langton. AJ works at Monopolatte and Ron was added as a guest GM. Kurt, another Monopolatte staff, was a backup GM in case there was a player overflow.
The games offered were Dixie Land and Night of the Niagara. Dixie Land was set in a post apocalyptic New Orléans where music is magic and the bayou has a nuclear afterglow. AJ was the GM and he used the Heroquest system by Robin D. Laws. Ron was the GM of “Night of the Niagara” where a tour boat, Maid of the Mist, is found on dry land and Niagara Falls is a host to a fiendish creature. He used the Monster of the Week system by Micheal Sands. Kurt mentioned he would run Everyone is John if there were enough folks. Everyone is John is a homebrew game where each player is part of the mind of the character John. Kurt’s game sounds interesting and I wish to try it someday. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough players who showed up. All the games offered sounded interesting and I had to choose one. I chose “Dixie Land”.
In the past, I played Heroquest. I find it is a nice narrative game which rewards creativity in the creation of traits. You design your own traits and assign them values. A trait can be anything you want (ex: Distracting dancing). When you need to make a test, you roll a d20 and you require a result equal or under your value to succeed. If you get a natural 1, it is a critical success and a natural 20 is a critical failure. If your value is higher than 20 then you subtract 20 from your value to determine your new value and you gain a mastery. A mastery is a modifier to your result or the result of your opponent. For each mastery you get, you can improve your result by one success level. For ex: I rolled a 6 on my Unbinding Souls 2M trait. A 6 is a failure (6 greater than 5) normal and with my mastery (the M in the trait), I can transform my failure into a success. Simple, right? There are other tricks in the system.
AJ asked us 5 questions to gives us inspiration for character creation and tie us into the “Dixie Land” setting. Additionally, our answers helped him gives us incentives for the scenario. They were great questions which were effective in tying us to the world.
I played Janine Fauteux, a jazz player with a tortured past who had the ability to free souls from being attached to the living. Her traits were: Unbinding Souls 2M; Urban Survival 15; Utilitarian Sex Appeal 14; Unearthly Saxophone 16; Use Beats Aggressively 14. I challenged myself with having all traits start with the letter U. AJ added the trait Haunted 13 after I described my character. He did the same for every player at the table. For many, they received a special ability.
We started play after a brief explanation of the rules. We were all heading towards a concert for various reasons. We were complete strangers to each other. It is something which I found lacked in this game. Each character had connections to no other characters except for NPCs. There was nothing within the story to interact with another PC. In a long-term game, you can develop those relationships but in a one-shot, you need some ground work. I love games like Fiasco, Fate and games powered by the Apocalypse Engine where they encourage and reward you to create links with other characters. For this game, a simple question like “How do you know the character of the players to your left?” would have broached a relationship conversation. When Janine arrived on the scene, another PC was preaching unsuccessfully to the masses. I decided to approach this PC to start forming a bond. I found it unnatural but required to include the PC in the game. During the concert and intermission, we were informed that a patron wished to see us. This was our hook for adventure. Jack, a producer, wanted us to form a band and perform at Lost Vegas, a location in the middle of the Scorch, a local desert. Of the five of us, four were musically and magically inclined while our last member would act as security and roadie. After some quick negotiations, we signed the contract and boarded the bus to Lost Vegas.
On the trip, one of the band members, the preacher, befriended the bus driver. This bus driver informed him that we should get off at the stop after our planned stop since it would be closer. The player misinterpreted what he heard and had us get off at our regular stop since he thought we missed the stop before our planned stop. After a brief laugh, we continued with this harder situation. We were at a dinner which dealt in potatoes. Every food and drinks were potato derived. In hindsight, I should have done a variation on the Spam song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Our tech band member found a satellite dish pointed toward Lost Vegas but was unable to get a signal from it. Janine was unlikely lucky to find a pickup truck with easily accessible spare keys. We piled up in the pickup and before we left, a dinner patron advised us to not stop for anything. Of the group, I was the likeliest to have some driving skills since I had Urban Survival. AJ felt it was a stretch so I have a -6 penalty to my skill (thus I had to roll 9 or lower) in any stressful situation. We’ll have a pleasant trip and nothing will go wrong, right?
Janine drove conservatively to save our half-tank of fuel. We learned this world uses salt water as a fuel source which is great for anywhere but deserts like the Scorch. On the way to Lost Vegas, a bandit gang chased us. We surmised they wanted their pickup back. We weren’t going to give it back to them so I put the pedal to the metal. AJ told me to roll my Urban Survival at a stretch. I rolled a 1 which is a critical success and AJ rewarded me with Drive like a maniac at 14. I deftly avoided the bandits by driving down in a ravine, waiting for them to pass then continued on our trip. Our next challenge was upon us as night descended.
We had to choose to continue on or stop for the night. Luckily, an abandoned farmhouse was nearby. Being the only driver, we could either keep Janine awake or stop to rest. We examined the house quickly and found it safe and defensible. In the garage, there was a fuelling station too. Bonus! We decided to stay the night and set up shifts. Bernard, the bodyguard of Angelica Starlight (our teen idol pop rocker), took the first shift. He played with a radio he found. He discovered some music which was on every channel he found. He asked our tech geek to look at it. She dismantled the radio and the music was still happening all across the house. Oh no!
A group of synchronized raiders were attacking us inside the house. They were a small mob and their music gave them hive mind abilities. I find combat in Heroquest fascinating. Like most combat systems, you do a series of opposed rolls. You gain a number of tokens against your target based of the degree of success. You are out of the conflict when your opponent gains 5 tokens on you. Each individual character keep track on how many tokens they have done to the target. Even though we were five against one target, only when one of us gains 5 successes versus the target would the character be taken out of the conflict. The conflict ends when one side is out of the conflict. At the end, you total the number of tokens each side got in total and that will determine the overall result of the conflict. So you might win the conflict but suffer several losses or lose the conflict with minimal losses, etc. During the conflict, a new player joined us. As it was late, AJ transformed the NPC bodyguard, Bernard into a PC. The system makes it easy to adjust trait values on the fly. While AJ managed the conflict, I helped the new player learn the ropes. He had some difficulties with understanding masteries at first but then he got the hang of it after he borrowed the rulebook and read the entry on them. I’ll have to read Heroquest to learn how it was explained. AJ questioned why I did use my most powerful trait (Unbinding Souls 2M) against the mob when I decided to start with Use Beats Aggressively. To me, the narrative fit using the Use Beats Aggressively as I could try to use the mob’s rhythm against them. I viewed Janine’s Unbinding Souls was a vicious thing meant more for the truly evil or as a release for those who need it. I changed my mind after a round of conflict and started to her Unbinding Souls to take the mob down. Angelica had a lip sync power to copy magic so she used it to copy the mob’s power and give us a teamwork bonus. She was the bard of the bard group. We managed to defeat the mob and the result was them running away from the window. We only had a few cosmetic bruises.
At that point, it was 10PM and thus Stop, Drop & Roleplay was officially done. We were allowed to stay until Monopolatte closes at 2AM. Kurt offered to run Everyone is John. I was tempted but unfortunately, I had to work the day after and had to return home. I enjoyed my evening and plan to return to Stop, Drop & Roleplay.