Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Existential Dread

Anyone who loves story-driven games and experiences mounting terror while playing Jenga will love Dread, my new favorite gaming system. I have written a couple of games for Dread at this point, and I thought some of them might be good enough to share with y'all.

Attempt Number One: Marvelous Marvin's Circulating Circus. This plot was a bit too railroaded - the actual game play didn't go anything like I planned. The character questionnaires were modified (*cough*stolen*cough) from ones posted online, so I can't really take any credit for them.

Setting: Night has fallen over Marvelous Marvin’s Circulating Circus – the last patron is long gone and the faux street lamps that illuminate the grounds have been extinguished. Behind the performance tents, light are winking out in the trailers that house the performers and crew. A stray cotton candy cone rolls across the scraggly ground, until it fetches up against the side of the big tent. The broad stripes of the canvas tent are faded at the best of times, but by the cold light of the moon they are merely different shades of gray. The interior of the tent, as seen through the fluttering entrance flap, is black as pitch.

None of you recalls who Marvin was, or if he even existed at all. The only thing one could call “marvelous” about this circus is that it still exists. Every month, one thing or another tries to shut the circus down – PETA demonstrators, failed safety inspections, or local law enforcement. Luckily, right now you are currently set up in a remote area where the jurisdiction lines are a bit unclear. Somehow or another, Marvelous Marvin’s Circulating Circus has managed to stay ahead of its troubles… for now.

Introductions: It’s bedtime. Where are you?

And then it happened! Suddenly, the night is pierced by a blood-curdling scream. The animals in their cages immediately take up the cry, drowning out the original sound with their noises of alarm.

Pull – you realize that the sound is coming from the fortune-teller’s tent.

No Pull – all you can hear is the screaming of the animals. Someone had better go calm them down, before they get out of hand.

Fortune-teller’s Tent: As you near Lady Selina’s tent, the breeze carries to you the scent of patchouli and cooking sherry. But there is another scent mixed in with the usual musky order, and it is not until you are almost across the threshold that you recognize it – fresh blood. Opening the flap dimly illuminates the interior of the tent. The fortune teller’s equipment appears to be in ruins, and there is no sign of Lady Selina (or as you know her, Gertrude).

Item/Pull for light – as soon as you can see what happened, you wish you hadn’t. Lady Selina’s table is overturned, and its base bears three deep gouges. In one corner, a chair lies shattered and a tapestry has been pulled from the wall. And in the far corner, you see a pair of legs protruding from a voluminous skirt. As you get closer, you see what is left of Lady Selina – she is covering in bloody wounds that have turned her torso into so much raw meat.

No Pull – you can’t really see much inside the tent. Maybe you should check on the animals, make sure they are alright. 

Animal Cages: When you reach the animal cages, you eyes begin to sting from the stench of urine in the air. A few animal handlers have been roused from their beds, and they are moving between the cages in a futile attempt to soothe the savage beasts.

Item/Pull to soothe – one by one, you get the animals to settle down. Within 10 minutes, the night is quiet once more.

No Pull – the caterwauling of the animals grows louder, and you see that you can be of little help here. Best leave it to the animal handlers themselves.

Item/Pull to investigate – you notice several empty cages with fresh bedding inside. Reading the placards indicate that these cages belong to the dancing poodle puppies, a camel called Camellia, and a pair of trick seals.

Pull to investigate further (Pull two if animals not quiet) – looking around the room, you see that the poodle puppies are huddled in the far corner of a cage marked “Jaguar.” Hearing a loud bleat, you turn to see Camellia’s head emerging from a cage marked “Monkeys.” The trick seals bark miserably from a large cage marked “Lion.”

Animals have escaped! It’s then that you realize that Charlie, the lead animal handler, is nowhere to be seen. The door to his trailer is locked, but you can hear his distinctive snoring from within. The door is not locked. You find Charlie sprawled across his cot, still dressed and reeking of alcohol.

Pull to investigate – The smell of beer is coming from Charlie’s clothes, which are slightly damp. As you approach, your food taps against something that has rolled beneath the bed. It is a can of beer with a strange residue around the mouth.

Item/Pull to rouse Charlie – Charlie sits up with a gasp and looks around at you in confusion. When you explain the situation to him, he is livid. “It’s those damn activists, I tell you! We can’t let the cops get wind of this… they’ll shut us down for sure! Which animals have gone missing?”

If the characters tell Charlie the correct animals, he will share the following wisdom. The Trapeze Artist will know ONLY general information about the animals, based on his training in Biology.

  1. Jaguar – The funny thing about jaguars is that they love to swim. The not-so-funny thing is that their bite can crack a man’s skull. Josephine is just a little kitten, though – a couple stern words and she’ll calm right down.
  2. Monkeys – I’d be careful of those critters. They like to climb up high and drop… projectiles. Like most spider monkey bands, they’ve got a lead female – her name is Penelope. She’s wearing a pink bow, and if you can catch her the others will fall in line.
  3. Lion – Actually, I don’t have much to do with that beast at all. He came along with that new Lion Tamer we hired… Fanny? Frankie? She kind of keeps to herself. Maybe you should check to see if she’s in her trailer.
No Pull – Now Charlie enjoys a drink, but he’s always been reliable. He loves those animals more than his own children, Evangeline and Charles Jr. This is strange…

Lion Tamer’s Trailer: The lights of the Lion Tamer’s trailer are off, and the door is locked. When you knock, there is no answer.

Pull to break in – There is almost nothing inside, apart from the cot and a small dresser. The only decoration in the room, indeed the only personal touch, is a giant glossy poster for the circus. It features a grinning Marvelous Marvin, who beckons for you to join him under the big top.

Pull to search – Taped underneath one of the dresser drawers, you find a small vial of clear liquid (If characters find Charlie’s drink, they realize that the residue on his can of beer matches the substance in the vial. “Wily” Pete can identify it as rohypnol.). Between the mattress and the box spring of Frances’ cot, you find a notebook filled with the words “Fantastic Frances” over and over again.

No Pull – Frances clearly isn’t in her trailer. Maybe she’s in the staging area for her act.

Tracking: Clearly, you must round up these animals before anyone (else) gets hurt. If the characters wish, Charlie will contact the police – but it will take them a while to get all the way out here.

  1. Jaguar
Pull to search (pull two without Charlie’s help) – As you approach the midway, you hear a distant “splash.” It sounds like it’s coming from the dunk tank… As you get closer, a pair of glowing eyes appears to be floating atop the dunk tank seat.

No Pull – You wander down the Midway, looking for any sign of Jospehine. Suddenly, a shadow atop the dunk tank springs to life and attacks!

Pull to escape, attack (two characters must succeed), or command

  1. Monkeys
Pull to search (pull two without Charlie’s help) – Now that you know what you’re looking for, you see evidence of the monkeys’ presence throughout the fairground. A torn awning here, a broken signpost there, some unidentified stains… well, everywhere. This trial of destruction leads you towards the big tent – the highest structure in the circus.

No Pull – As you search the grounds, you pass through the big tent. Without warning, a heavy beam falls towards your head.

Pull to dodge projectiles (repeat after each 2 attempts to attack/catch), attack (each takes down two of the ten monkeys), catch Penelope (pull two if any monkeys have been killed)

  1. Lion
As you head towards the staging area for Frances the Lion Tamer, the sky opens up and releases a deluge of freezing rain. How does your character react in this split second?

A flash of lighting suddenly illuminates the crouching form of a n old male lion, not five feet from you.

“Not to worry,” a voice purrs. “Henry is very well trained. He won’t attack… yet.” From around a corner emerges Frances – a tall, long-limbed blonde woman. In the intermittent flashes of lightning, you can see that her usually plain features are twisted with a manic gleam. She holds in one hand a menacing whip. As she gets closer, you can see that her clothes and face bear traces of blood.

“Henry and his friends made quite a mess, I see. Well, it’s nothing a little elbow grease can’t fix! It was time for me to take over, anyway – Papa Marvin told me so, in my dreams. But I promise you, I’ll try to keep you all safe. No one else has to die.”

Although Frances seems unhinged, her eyes are alert and focused. She is watching all of you carefully, twitching her whip hand occasionally and smiling a huge, toothy smile.

Pull to distract her (pull two unless they respond to her rant)

Take over? “Yes, it’s my birthright – didn’t you know? Can’t you tell? I’m Marvelous Marvin’s granddaughter, Fantastic Frances!” She bears absolutely no resemblance to Marvin as he is depicted on the poster.

Safe from what? “That’s the best part, I’m so glad you asked – this circus is going to be reborn, turned into something new… an all-animal circus! Monkey trapeze artists, gorilla strong men, bears in clown make-up – it will be… fantastic! Papa Marvin will be so proud.”

Frances’ eyes lose a bit of their focus, as she becomes lost in daydreams.

Pull to attack (pull two if not distracted) – when Frances falls, the old lion stands up. He comes over and nudges her lifeless/unconscious body. When he gets no response, he likes down with his head on her chest and closes his eyes. Just then, you hear sirens in the distance. 

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