Sunday, September 7, 2008

GwenCon RPGs - Pure Evil

The second RPG one-shot I played in at GwenCon was Pure Evil. It was a very unique Cthulhu scenario run by Mike Lee. Rules were BRP - that is to say, he was using Chaosium's Basic RolePlaying system, not technically their Cthulhu rules. I've played a fair share of Cthulhu before, and I had a hard time telling what was different mechanically. The sanity rules were a little off (but I think that was house-ruled, not a BRP change) and the skill list was more extensive, but beyond that I couldn't spot any differences. Oh well, the system wasn't the main selling point of this particular one-shot...

We were all members of a Death Metal band called Pure Evil, playing a concert at a creepy mansion near Shreveport, Louisiana. Our last album had flopped, and we were likely going to break up after this one last pathetic little gig. While our albums were packed with satanic iconography, none of us had any reason to suspect the supernatural was real, nor any reason to approach the "mystery" from the angle of trying to solve it. Those of you with Cthulhu experience are shaking your heads already, and with good reason. Our sinister patron was using our music to summon up some horrible body-warping entity from non-euclidean space, and there wasn't a chance in hell of us stopping him.

Out of 5 PCs:
  • 1 went insane.
  • 2 died.
  • 1 went insane, and then died.
  • Only 1 PC escaped with his body and mind mostly intact.
Meanwhile, some unspeakable crystaline "god" awoke, ate 200 concert goers, and then rampaged across Louisiana, ushering in a new era of terror on the bayou.

What made the game fun was the PCs. Figuring we were doomed from the get go, we just chewed the scenery. The lead singer was constantly chasing tail, and spent half the scenario in his bedroom. The lead guitarist was a Prima Donna, constantly beleaguering us all with bitchy tirades about artistic integrity. The drummer was continuously drinking and/or snorting coke, and/or brainstorming ridiculous ideas for stage shows. The bassist was just the replacement bassist, and no one could remember his name nor give a damn what happened to him - and the little bass-playing puppy loved us for it. I played the bitter, jaded, artificially sleazy manager of the band, who was secretly siphoning the books and gambling away all the band's profits.

Everyone's character sheet indicated that they hated all the other PCs, and gave good reasons why. On some level, we felt more like a Paranoia party than a Call Of Cthulhu party.

In the end, I switched sides, sold my soul (and the band) to "The King In Black And White", and delivered the PCs up for sacrifice. They knew it both in- and out- of character, but we were all more or less okay with it. I had a blast.

My wife didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did. She played the lead singer, doing a understated parody of lusty juvenile gamers of the "if there's any chicks there I do them" sort, without ever delivering the too-often quoted line. Watching her chase skirts made me giggle. She repeatedly put character before plot just like the rest of the band did, however, her heart really wasn't in it. She'd signed up for this event expecting a more traditional Lovecraftian problem-solving/mystery game. She'd played in two such games last year, and really enjoyed trying to puzzle them out in time to save the world, but this just didn't have the same taste.

One small criticism on my part, which despite it's seeming triviality, I just cannot stress it enough. When making a one-shot scenario, it's a really good idea to trim down the character sheets to the bare minimum necessary. The character sheet for this otherwise excellent game was a maze of tables and boxes. My character had a 17 intelligence, and I didn't notice till more than 3 hours into the scenario 'cause the sheet was too obtuse and crowded. I'd played him as kind of weak-willed weasel, when in actuality his stats made him sharp and intuitive with double the sanity points of any other character. Oops.

BRP has a ton of skills, and technically you have default ratings in things based on your ability scores. This meant that I had listed values of 30% for Artillery and Martial Arts - and no clear indicator whether or not that meant the character had some sort of military background. I had three skills listed as "Pilot", "Pilot 2", and "Flying" with no clue what the difference was - not that it mattered since all were in single-digits in a game that uses a percentile system... I wasn't about to fly anywhere even if we'd had a plane. But seriously, if there's no plane available in the scenario, why do I need to know if I have a 1% or 4% chance of flying one? Trimming about 40 skills off that list (and alphabetizing those that remained) would have made the relevant items far more noticeable and minimized player information overload.

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