Thursday, February 23, 2017

A different take on Solo gaming

I’ve been trying to figure out how to effectively run a module in a solo game, but hadn’t really been satisfied with anything I've tried. I stumbled upon this post over at Lone Crusader, which inspired me to tackle the issue from a different angle. Instead of using the various emulator tools to replicate the GM, instead one would use them to replicate players. As any GM knows, players are a uniformly chaotic and unreasonable lot, so using a series of charts to determine their motivation and intended actions seemed to fit.

As a test run, I take out one of my favorite modules of all time, Alien Hunger. I’ve run this for roughly four different groups, and I still hold it up as one of the best modules Vampire ever produced.
With that, I create a number of PC’s, which in and of itself is unusual for a Solo game. Not having any strong character ideas in mind, I use the U.N.E. to come up with the basics. In the module, each character begins as a mortal, but is changed in the opening. But, they need to have some tie to each other, both to make the group more cohesive, but also to damn one with the sins of the other. As such, I decide that the characters are all students at the University of Denver. They are acquainted due to shared membership in “Mystic Theater,” an independent student run trope. The time is Fall, and the year is 1991—roughly when the module was produced and otherwise for no real reason.  Mechanics are based on the 1st Edition of Vampire: The Masquerade.

The PC’s are:
Daron Blair—a wealthy and charismatic party boy. He’s the source drugs and other party favors, but despite his “bad boy” ways, he is in many ways the most likeable and friendly of all of them. He doesn’t much care for school, and loves a rollicking good time. He is impetuous, but fundamentally decent. He joined Mystic for fun, especially when they do the more shocking and edgy plays. He has been turned into a Caitiff, and has the vampiric powers of Auspex (Heightened Senses), Dominate (mind control), and Potence (Supernatural Strength).

Trenton “Trent” McCarthy—an art major. He works construction during the summer, and picks up whatever jobs he can during the year. He’s an odd combination of pragmatic (he focuses on practical arts that can sell and is currently involved in home improvement) and mystical (he’s a Wiccan). He’s busy, and lonely, and joined as a way to make some friends at college. He doesn’t much care what kind of plays they do, since he’s always focused more on the set design (tough, as they have no budget), and is relegated to minor roles. He is a Toreador and has the vampiric powers of Auspex (Heightened Senses), Celerity (Supernatural Speed), and Presence (Emotion Control).

Maya Lopez—a passionate sociology major, she is focused on changing the world, and believes art is key to that. She likes Mystic when it produces plays that really challenge the status quo, though she’s also extremely energized and is involved in a half dozen other groups, from activists to athletics. She is a Nosferatu—a hideous and terrifying breed of undead with the powers of Obfuscate (Invisibility) and Potence (Supernatural Strength). Her clan gives her access to Animalism (animal control), but she has no natural gift with such beasts, and will have to learn it later.

All character clans were determined at random, so it was just odd luck that the art major ended up being part of a clan known for their artists.

In the module, the players are locked up in a basement with three other characters, whom they also know at least peripherally. For the example characters, “Vince” was one of the character’s husband. I kept the names but used the U.N.E. for fresh details. They’re equal members of the trope.

Mavis—generally stuck being the stage manager with few roles of her own, Mavis is a reasonable and friendly English major. She is Maya’s best friend, and the two have frequent and passionate discussions about eurocentrism and implicit bias in academia.
Suzanne—Suzanne is going to be a star, everyone knows it. Or at least, they all know that she told them. A theater major, she works with Mystic to take on more challenging rolls and hone her craft, though really, it’s because she’s just not good enough to get the lead on the main stage. She really gets along well with Daron, and she loves to host a good party.
Vince—the burnout who is only technically a student. He doesn’t have his own place, instead hopping from one dorm to the next. He’s a vagabond, and a user, but he’s honest, and always someone his friends can rely on, at least when he’s not too high. When he’s sober, he’s actually the best actor they have, though the influence of Daron and Suzanne aren’t doing him any favors.

Scene One – The attacks
CF n/a. Prelude scene.

The players are approached by the vampire scientist Prestor, seeking subjects for his experiments. He believes he might have found a cure for vampirism, but dares not reveal this to others of his kind without proof. As such, he is grabbing a collection of guinea pigs—his plan is to artificially turn them, and then use the serum to return them to their humanity. If all goes well, they’ll be back to their lives after the weekend, no worse for the wear. He has no desire to harm them, instead relying on his Dominate power to bring them to heel.  He needs to roll his Wits + Subterfuge (8) versus their Willpower. They roll their Willpower versus difficulty of 8 to resist.

Daron (Willpower 5) 5 vs 2
Maya (Willpower 6) 3 vs 4
Trent (Willpower 5) 6 vs 1

Maya alone is able to put up a fight against the vampire’s powers, and she remembers in vivid detail the circumstances of the attack. She still eventually succumbs to his power, though.

Scene Two—Fiery Awakening
CF 6. No event.

Prestor’s plans didn’t work out. Others of his kind heard of the danger he represented, and in fear lashed out. They sent their best to eliminate this threat, leaving his broken and mangled body staked to his parlor, and burned his home to the ground, unaware of or unconcerned about the mortals he had captured. Fortunately for them, all were locked in his basement, and so the flames are not yet an immediate threat. All of them awaken in the dark and forbidding basement. With Prestors death, Mavis, Suzanne and Vince regain their mortality, but Daron, Maya and Trent are not so fortunate. The PC’s awaken last, wracked by pain and hunger. The others are scared, but in far more possession of their facilities. How does each character react?

This is where I use the Lone Crusaders method. I roll a “Mythic Event” for each character to see what they initially plan to do, of course interpreting each result based on what I know of the character and their current situation.

Increase Pain
Return News
Usurp War
Overthrow Success
Adversity Spiritual
Triumph of Jealousy

Daron is bent over, going through the worst withdrawals he has ever experienced, groaning and moaning in pain, utterly useless. Trent gets his wits about him, and asks the others what is happening, what is going on, where the hell ARE we? Maya declares that there’s no time for that bullshit, we need to get the fuck out of here! Mavis goes to tend to Daron, hoping to help him, unsure of what else to do. Suzanne is lost, praying with the passion of the newly converted, fearful that they’re in some serial killer’s lair. Vince is too busy explaining how they’ve been captured by the government, man, just like he was always saying, and lights up a joint.

Most don't accomplish much. Vince wastes his time in pontificating, Suzanne is praying, Trent is trying to figure shit out. No roll for Trent to "gather information", as everyone is too distracted or full of useless opinions. Maya takes the initiative, and heads to the door, looking for an escape.

Trent has the Discipline of Auspex (Heightened Senses), and none of the characters are in control of their abilities. Vince’s Zippo lighter freaks out Trent, both for the blinding light it emits and the fire which, in some small way terrifies the bestial part of him. He \orders Vince to put it out. Cha + Leadership roll—failure. No one, especially not Vince, cares what Trent says. Maya, ignoring the yelling behind her, reaches out to the handle, only to burn her hand badly on the door, and screams in pain and an unearthly rage.

Daron is losing it, and Mavis so close, and so warm and inviting. Each PC needs to make a Frenzy roll. Vampire is a game of playing the monster, and that means sometimes the characters react in horrible and terrifying manners. As these PC’s have no idea what they are, and are near starving, they are singularly unprepared for the now alien emotions rolling inside them.

Trent, for Vince’s generally assholery towards him.  He is angry and humiliated, Self-Control diff 5. Failure. He will attack Vince.

Daron, for Mavis’ availability and his own desperate hunger. Conscience diff 5. Failure. He will feed on her.

Maya, for the pain and frustration. Courage diff 7. 3 Success.  She, alone of the PC’s, can choose her own path.

Maya calms down for a second, forcing herself to breath and think. Her moment of reflection is broken by screams of rage, as Trent begins to yell and scream at Vince to put out the damn light. She hurries down to see Trent leaping on Vince and pounding him into the ground, as Suzanne’s insane prayers become louder and more desperate. (neither Trent nor Vince is much of a fighter, and so I rule that Trent’s frenzy and Celerity more than make up for the lack of combat training).

Does Maya intervene, though? The sudden shocking violence would give anyone pause, and so I make her roll Willpower to see if she can recover in time to do something. 4 success, she does. She rushes in and pulls Trent off, gazing at horror at his distended teeth and inhuman appearance. She turns to Suzanne and orders her to take care of Vince, but seeing Vince bleeding awakens an alien hunger inside her as well. Maya forces herself to resist her primal desire. Suzanne is useless, and Trent is still desperate to get to Vince. Trent and Maya struggle, with Maya easily holding him back.

Daron comes to, at least to an extent, and looks at the corpse of what once was Mavis, unaware and seemingly unconcerned about the others. Suzanne continues to freak out, as does Trent. How does Vince respond? I roll another event, and get Break a Burden. Now, what does this mean? I decide that, for Vince, Trent is the burden, and he intends to break him.

Vince shouts at Trent, “What the fuck was that, you fucking asshole? What the hell is the matter with you? No one likes you, you fucking dick, and you don’t get to push people around. You’re only here because Mavis felt fucking SORRY for you!” With that, he walks up to Trent and flicks the lighter in his eyes. “Asshole!”

Trent leaps back in pain and rage, but Vince, for the first time, SEES Maya, and the horrible changes already overtaking her. Staring at her, he stammers “What…what the fuck happened to you? What did they DO to you?” How does Maya respond? Harm/Food. The blood falling in rivulets down his face is too much for even the put together Maya. “I think” she says “that they did THIS” and she grabs the helpless burnout. Trent (still in the grip of Frenzy) leaps in as well, and the two drain the helpless mortal.

Everyone has killed, and everyone needs to deal with that. In Vampire, they need to roll Conscience to see how they respond to the horrible acts they've committed.  Everyone but Trent succeeds. Which means Maya and Daron are horrified by their actions, and guilt and shock threaten to overwhelm them. Trent loses a point of humanity, and shrugs off his actions. After all, it wasn’t HIS fault. “Fuck you, you dumb asshole” he shouts at Vince’s corpse. “Should’ve just listened to me.” Daron and Maya are aware of their surroundings.

Trent stands up, his eyes falling on the babbling Suzanne. “Would you, for the love of god, SHUT! THE! FUCK! UP!” Does she? Mythic roll, 50/50 chance--NO. She panics and keeps praying, more intensely than before. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” He cries fangs bared. I decide he is unconsciously trying to use Presence to impose his will on the mortal. He needs to roll Charisma + Intimidate (diff 5), and fails, his rage only sending her into more of a panic. What do Maya and Daron do? Waste Masses and Increase Military respectively.  Maya sighs “I can’t think, and she does need to shut up,” and prepares to do what needs to be done.

“Wait,” says Daron, taking charge for the first time. He walks over to her calmly and with focus. “Suzanne. Suzanne look at me. You need to calm down, everything is going to be ok, but you need to be quiet.” He is the groups natural leader, and he is unconscionably using Dominate. He scores 1 success. She quiets down, for now, but is still locked in terror.

The three look at each other, really look for the first time. “Ok” says Daron. “What do we do now?”
Trent looks at Maya, and with his heightened senses he can make out just enough, feeling his skin crawl at her unnatural visage.  Maya says “We need to find a way out. There’s…a fire or something upstairs, and the we can’t see shit.” She looks at Trent, concerned. “We’ll need light.” Trent doesn’t respond, transfixed by her hideousness. “Trent? Are you going to freak out?”

“No,” he says. “It’s just that…Maya, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.” 

“It’ll be fine Trent,” she says, hoping to placate him. “Here, you hold the lighter. You be our guiding light, ok?”

Carefully, Trent flicks the lighter, and they look over the room. The dark, barren basement, the bodies of their friends, the shaken Suzanne in the corner, too terrified to even look at them. Trent carefully avoids looking at Maya, but Daron isn’t prepared for what he sees.

“Maya…” he begins carefully.

“What? What’s wrong?”

Trent interjects, “I think we’re all the worse for wear, but we need to focus on getting out, right Daron?”

Charisma + Leadership for Trent 1 success.

“Oh, um…yeah, right. We can worry about...” Daron stumbles over his words, but quickly recovers. 
“We can worry about everything else afterwards.”

“Right” says Maya. “Ok, the door is a no go. Is there ANY other way out of here?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” says Trent.

“Well, we’d better hope so. If the fire doesn’t kill us, the lack of oxygen WILL.”

Trent snaps his head towards her, harshly, realizing suddenly that he hasn’t actually breathed the entire time, and pretty sure that she hasn’t, either. Has Daron? Probably not, he decides. “Right,” he says, keeping his thoughts to himself. “Maybe there’s some tools or something we can use.”

The coterie hunts around, each thankful for any excuse to distract them from what just happened, and what they had done to those they called friends. An unspoken decision was reached, to avoid and ignore everything they could, to focus on survival and escape above all else.  

Each needs to make a Perception + Investigate roll to find the other way out, difficulty of 6, three successes required. Daron gets 2, Maya fails, and Trent gets 4. 

Maya is busy looking (unsuccessfully) for tools, but Trent notices something…odd about a piece of the wall. “This is…hey guys, come over here. Check this out.” Maya notices nothing unusual, but Daron says “Is that?”


“What are you two talking about?” Maya demands.

“Put your hand here” Trent says, deliberately avoiding touching her. “Feel that? Feel that it’s a bit cooler than anywhere else? Look, I’ve done my share of construction on some of the old houses around here…I think this wall is hollow. In fact (Intelligence + Repair, diff 7, 3 Success), I think this might lead out to a storm drain.”

“What, like a sewer?” asks Daron.

“No, no, a run off for the snow melt and the like. It’s been pretty dry lately, so it should be safe. We need to break this fucker down.” With no tools, Trent and Daron decide to ram against it. Combined, they get 3 success. “That’s a tough wall,” says Daron.

Disgusted, Maya orders the boys away and takes a crack at it. She gets two success, and two for her Potence. She bashes the wall down, leading to the storm drain. Trent and Daron share a look, mutually unsurprised at her strength. “What, you think a little girl couldn’t handle it?” says Maya, and heads off. The other two say nothing.

Do they remember Suzanne? I had almost forgotten about her, and they are in an extreme emotional situation. Still, she has some meaning, either as friend, meal, or a threat due to her witnessing their actions. I decide the odds are Very Unlikely, but get a result of EXCEPTIONAL NO. Distracted by their own concerns, the three vampires leave the terrified mortal behind.

They escape out the storm drain, travelling far down until they reach an access point and climb back to the surface. In the distance, the see the house still engulfed in flames with emergency services all around.  Maya asks “Should we go to the police?” Without hesitating, both Daron and Trent say “No!”

Maya looks at them, her calm demeanor of the night just starting to crack. “But, we didn’t….we were victims. We may need a lawyer, but…”

Daron looks at her and says “Look, Maya, no one can know what happened ok?  Or that we were there. They wouldn’t understand. Fuck, I don’t understand, and I fucking WAS there. What we did, what happened to us…why we were there and what the hell is going on? We just… can’t right now. We just,” he looks around, as the crown of pedestrians and curious onlookers grows. “We just need to get the hell out of here. Like, yesterday.” They leave the area, and with their escape, the first chapter ends.

Does Suzanne survive? The module is pretty unequivocal that the mortals die if left in the basement, but they did open the storm drain, which changes things. I give the odds at “very unlikely.” And the result is YES, she survives. But, I decide, she’s traumatized, in shock, and suffering from asphyxiation. It will be awhile before she can provide the police with any information, and what are the odds anyone would even believe her story?

Part 2 begins here

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