Friday, October 19, 2012

Episode 3: Apocrypha

When running games more or less set on Earth I really enjoy when searches for inspiration or direction turn into collection missions. It's like planetary cherry picking, I'll take this and this, include this and this, get rid of that, and throw in some of this. Best of all, the history's built right in... and is often stranger than anything that might just get imagined up.

Crowland Abbey
In the case of my Engel game, I knew I wanted to do something with a floating villagesince those are a thing in Engel. The description in the Engel setting explains that many are from the British Isles, which suffered devastating flooding but was able to save several communities by making them raft villages (link: floating village), but that these communities are sometimes dislodged and forced out to sea by the powerful season hurricanes that wash over the islands every year. Since this would be a British community, I decided to go to Google maps and see if I could find a legitimate name for my wayward community. Crowland was too perfect, too ominous, to pass up. Map view turned to Wikipedia view and what's the first thing that appears but the distinctive, partially ruined abbey at the town's center, Crowland Abbey. What a fantastic looking place, with the ruin of its former nave arching off like a huge buttress and a great old graveyard. I was sold at this point, but then it kept getting better, with a saint beset by demons (Saint Guthlac) and an abbot murdered at the altar by vikings (not to mention his wayward skull). Smitten, my floating village turned into a floating abbey, figuring that if a community was going to save any part of itself, its ancient communal heart would be near the top.

Badge of the HMS Vengeance
Now we've got a setting for my creepy bug-cultist castaways, but I still wanted some way for them to be more in control of their seaborne sanctuary. A boat would be too obvious, but a submarine. So I looked into that and... oh... oh hoho England has nuclear submarines. Cue the diabolical laughter. It's one things for bug cultists to stictch wings on a guy and be disappointed when they don't work, but anything's possible through the power of radiation! Just ask Spider Man. In fact, what if that was the gimmick? What if the lead cultist finds this trove of pre-flood secrets and isn't able to understand most of them except those that are most elaborately illustrated, the ones that distinctly showagain and again—a man bitten by a radioactive spider and given remarkable powers. There aren't comics in Engel's dark future, so how would she know these weren't reports or instruction manuals from a time know for its incredible godless science? So she hops to, and through the efforts of her cult is able to get a pre-flood submarine up and running (handwave, handwave). Again, Wikipedia to the rescue, bringing up the HMS Vengeance, a Vanguard-class submarine of the Royal Navy. Again, perfect name, its obviously martial badge made a great emblem for these creepy cultists, and its nuclear engine sets the stage for all manner of sinister experiments.

Game sketches from the white board
History and research really did the work for me this time around as far as setting went, and having just re-watched The Relic and Mimic already had me in a mood for body horror, so the rest came pretty easily. I largely prepared for this game like I would a Pathfinder game, detailing the main areas, defining the major characters, sketching out a little map, putting together my soundtrack, and throwing in some other nuances I might need (selections from the top 100 British names, for example). I also threw in some of the suggestions presented in the rulebook for Dread (Why don't you own this yet?!), tracking out the general acts and what should occur during them. I'd never included that in a game I've run, so the attempt is a bit weak and it might be obvious that I didn't build the adventure with them in mind. It worked out well enough, but there's really only two acts: Exploring and Shit Going Bad. Having played through now, I realize I did too much work and constructed this far too much like a Pathfinder RPG dungeon crawl. Dread being a much more narrative game, the borders between rooms and encounters don't need to be so strictly defined, and while playing this I found parts I'd intended to be discrete scenes flowing into one another. It's a much more cinematic style of storytelling and I REALLY dig it for horror games like this.

Engel page from my workbook
Now that you've heard about my prep work for the adventure itself, the tools and handouts I used, the characters, and actually playing the game, here's all my notes. Below is the Word.doc with all of my room by room notes, while the picture from my workbook here has my sketches of the abbey, sub, and the other notes I scribbled down researching this and during the game. I don't promise polish in either of these documents, but if you're interested or want to run something similar to this (or just want a simple map of an abbey riding a sub), you're welcome to use them in your own home game. If you do use them and you and your players like it, let your players know about the site and be sure to post about your experiences on this page, I'd love to hear all about it!

Wes's Dread Engel notes and adventure (free download!): DreadEngel.doc

Sketch by Liz Courts
Alright! That brings an unexpectedly full week of Dread and Engel to a close. I will definitely be using the Engel setting again and I expect you'll be reading lots more about Dread on this page in the future. Huge thanks to my awesome players Judy Bauer, Liz Courts, Cosmo Fallacy, and James Sutter for such a fantastic game. Also a big thanks to the residents of Crowland, Lincolnshire, parishioners and clergy of Crowland Abbey, and the crew of the HMS Vengeance for letting me borrow the inspirational tales of their home, sanctuary, and vessel for my night of storytelling. Despite this game's grim theme, I hope my personal respect, appreciation, and fascination show through the dark fantasy trappings.

As for what's next... I'm really not sure, I was so focused on doing this mash-up that I haven't put much thought into it yet. I should probably get those Mass Effect slackers back in the saddle since they wanted a third session, so once that's wrapped I'll figure out what's up and who's in for episode four! Thanks for reading!

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