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Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Rude Awakening

I ran a game yesterday. Ordinarily, that is not a noteworthy thing for me to say. Yet, it feels significant this time, because I haven't run a full Game Day since the GenghisCon in February. I have, for most of the last couple decades, run a full 8-12 hour Game Day every week. Even RPG enthusiasts would admit that is a pretty impressive run. Once or twice a month is much more common.

The game was my Savage Worlds campaign titled Rampant Flux, set in The Edge. The scenario is called Rude Awakening, and that is exactly what it was, to the players, to myself, and especially to the characters.

A group of ten unsuspecting people were taken from their mundane lives, and found themselves in The Edge. Four of these people were special snowflakes. There was a rough-edged Trucker named Erwin, an opportunistic photojournalist named Barbara (pronounced BAH-bra), a Yale science professor named Dr. Dill Rammstein, and a boisterous Russian mafioso named 'Big Dimitri'.

The other six were simple civilians. Well, five civilians and a beat cop. Tom the cop was accompanied by Fred the janitor, Kellie the IT help desk clerk, Amanda the social worker, Dr. Fiddler the anthropologist and Jeff the systems engineer. As we soon discovered, The Edge is no place for civilians. No place at all.

The group gathered their bearings and stepped out of their building for a look-see, and were appropriately shocked when a huge, black and purple-furred thing pounced on Tom, slammed him to the street and tore him to shreds with four-inch claws and gnashing teeth. One down.

They barely had time to react when they saw four more similar creatures approach, from all around.

The four special snowflakes sprang into action. The civilians either stood around slack-jawed or bolted in a direction they hoped was safe.

Erwin stayed to protect the ladies, except for Barbara, who tried to draw the creatures away from the group. Dr. Dill had been inspecting one of the defunct vehicles on the street, and was trying desperately to start it up. Big D was near him, as he had decided that Dr. Dill was under his protection.

Things were chaotic. People ran this way and that. Black and purple Maulers chased them all around. No part of the map I laid upon the table was unused.

Big D had some hand grenades on him (the Russian mafia is a rough job), and filled the street with smoke before blowing up the creature that ruined Tom with a fragmentation grenade.

Dr. Dill couldn't start the car, but he was able to rig it to explode. It didn't go off as soon as he had planned though, and meanwhile the running fight raged on.

Barbara, using a sack of jerky she had in her backpack, led some of the Maulers around the back of the building, but was dismayed to find that the back wall of the building had collapsed, effectively leading the Maulers right into the party's hiding place.

On the street, two of the Maulers had cornered Dr. Dill, and one of them had the Yale professor pinned to the ground. Things didn't look bright for Dr. Dill, but Big D wasn't about to let his principal get killed. So he took them both on, saving the good doctor's life.

The others poured out the front door, ahead of the Maulers. On their way out, Kellie slipped on the broken glass covering the streets, and she got caught by a Mauler. She was pulled back inside to be torn apart in a loud, grotesque manner. Two down.

Then, as the Maulers chased the others, the car exploded. It bowled the Maulers over, but didn't kill them. It did kill Fred, though. One of the car's doors flew into him, chopping him in half. Three down. The blast also ignited two other cars nearby, creating two more time bombs.

The fight continued, Barbara leading the Maulers around while Big D fought two of them practically single-handed in the street (alas, Dr. Dill was of little use in hand-to-claw combat).

Amanda lured two Maulers in with her 'charms', earning herself the nickname, 'Meat Curtains'. Erwin then killed both of the hapless Maulers with the late Tom's nightstick. It was a collapsible baton, to be a stickler, but does it really matter? A trucker killed two 600 lb predators with a friggin nightstick. Top that, Bear Grylls!

The last Mauler was blown up when the other cars exploded. So was Dr. Fiddler. Four down.

Having caused an appalling amount of carnage in less than two minutes' time, the party piled into a moving truck that Dr. Dill had miraculously started up, and they fled the scene.

Now in search of a safe haven, the group came upon a safe-looking three story building. They soon found it to be inhabited by a large group of hostile scavengers, and after a failed attempt at parlay, they left the scene after killing one of them. Erwin killed the guy with his nightstick, earning himself the nickname, Brain Basher.

Back into the truck they went, and they were last seen speeding off into the haze in search of another building.

The Edge is a test. It tests a player's resourcefulness (and the GM's – I was hoping they would flee from five giant monsters. What do I know?). You're a college professor with a mean pocket protector full of Sharpies and a smartphone. Five giant purple bears are after your blood. What do you do?

It is a tough situation, to be sure, and a player will either bring their character through the other side, or they'll feed the local wildlife. It is meant to be tough, to help illustrate that The Edge is different. Yes, your characters are heroes; they are special snowflakes with more talent and luck than the average civilian wage-slave, but this isn't the sort of game where you win just because you're the Good Guys.

This group did win, though. That's excellent! It isn't my goal to kill all the characters in the first encounter. It is my goal to make them feel as though they earned their victories, and that they feel unsafe, at least at first.

The fight with the Maulers wasn't easy. Big D got 'Mauled' pretty good. In fact, if he wasn't a special snowflake, he'd be a 250 lb extra-chunky bear-poop right now. The party was beat up enough that when they met the scavengers in the other building, they didn't run in guns blazing. They tried to negotiate. They tried hard. They were doing quite well, actually. In the end, the head negotiator had a little too much 'help' from his teammates, and the negotiations were cut short as the Raider Boss blasted Big D in the chest with a homemade blunderbuss loaded with rusty nails, used syringe needles, broken glass and other nastiness outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

Even then, the team was smart enough to leave, rather than fight. They might have won. Maybe. There was enough doubt that they couldn't risk it. They saw an opening and they took it. And they lived.

I am looking forward to the next game. Not because I get another chance to kill the characters, or even to scare the crap out of them. I can't wait for them to find a 'safe' shelter, so that they can begin to explore the place, instead of just running from one fight to the next. They can meet some of the interesting characters and strange groups that are trapped in The Edge with them. They can start learning about where they are, why they're there, and perhaps even how they got there. There are aliens, time travelers, carnivorous creatures, and even undead. In time, the characters' special snowflake abilities will blossom, and they will begin to make a place for themselves, and perhaps gain some control over their destiny.

That is where the true depth and richness of The Edge will be discovered. They will glimpse the size and scope of the city itself, the world it inhabits, and the power struggles that develop surrounding it. It is a bottomless well of intrigue, danger and wonder, and they have only just now dipped their pinky toe into its chilling waters.

The adventure has begun, Heroes! How long will you last? What mysteries will you uncover? What calamities will you unleash? Will you carve out your own domain, or will you leave this crazy place as soon as you are able?

Whatever happens, I can handle it, and I have surprises in store. There will be mirth and sorrow, wealth and poverty, enemies and allies.

Welcome to The Edge! You won't soon forget it!