Jul 082014

It’s the third session of my Monster of the Week campaign! Last session found here.

We pick up right where we left off: behind the Gas’n’Sip, with a “Subtractor” monster bearing down on the hunters.

Stuart has out his cell phone already and tries to snap pictures of this thing in action. Beatrice is backing away, trying to get a read on the situation. Galvan ain’t got no time for that. He grabs one of the car-husks sitting around out back — yes, grabs the whole damn thing — and uses it as a battering ram against the monster. A car’s heavy, tho, and has a lot of momentum, tearing free of Galvan’s grasp in the process. It passes partially through the creature — the thing’s semi-solid — and brings down big chunks of wall and doorway onto it, pinning it into place temporarily.

The unmanned car-husk swerves and tumbles into the garage beyond, touching off sparks and starting a fire.

Stuart puts away his phone having gotten what he could, and scans the area, looking for what might be going on besides a reality-destroying shadow-thing. And he spots it: someone’s making a break for it from the garage. Stuart draws his sidearm and fires, pop pop pop! The third shot hits his target in the shoulder, and with a yelp the man drops.

The group starts to beat a retreat as the shadow begins boiling back out of the rubble, Galvan in the lead, Stuart bringing up the rear. As Galvan and Beatrice confront the man out front, they see he has a hole in his hand and a silver sphere rests on the ground before. “Get the big one,” the man says, and the sphere zips towards Galvan, ripping into him as Galvan charges forward.

Beatrice uses some sort of arcane “whammy” ability and shoots a beam of white not-light at the orb, momentarily blasting it into a torus shape before it recovers. “On the other hand, go after her,” says Leon — yep, it’s the mechanic — and Beatrice recognizes his voice as the “auditioning” man who threatened her with a knife not too long ago.

After a few test-shots with text-laden ammo prove ineffective, Stuart comes round to join the other two. He sees Galvan bearing down on Leon as Leon makes a break for a nearby car. Stuart brings up his gun and fires, at least trying to delay Leon. Leon gets to the car as Galvan catches up with him; the interior of the car floods with flat inky blackness the moment Leon touches the handle; and Galvan brings his hammer-fist down, audibly breaking Leon’s back. Leon rolls to the side, moaning, but seems less affected by the broken back than you’d expect.

At the same time, Beatrice has tussled with the silver orb a bit, and is unaware that the shadow creature has surged up behind her. It’s looking grim, but Galvan threatens Leon with further pain if he doesn’t call his creatures off. “Skedaddle!” says Leon, and the creatures fold up and wink out of existence.

The group starts talking with broken-backed Leon, trying to get him to give them details about the “audition” he mentioned. He plays it cagey, talking about how most people aren’t real, not really real, as if that excuses the deaths that have cropped up recently, and treating Beatrice like she’s the one in charge, given that (as he puts it) she’s “able to toss around primal negation like it’s easy”. He can see that she’s pretty ignorant about these matters, though, and will answer her questions if she’ll just step into his office (indicating the blackness-filled car).

Stuart meanwhile quietly uses his phone to send some information to his contacts at MI-13 and has a brief conversation with them; they keep the channel open and install some apps to analyze the situation as it presents itself. They’re not entirely sure what’s up with the car, but they’re pretty sure it’s a portal and if Stuart’s willing to let Beatrice go in there it could provide some valuable intel.

Beatrice uneasily agrees to Leon’s terms and has him enter first because she doesn’t want him at her back. She opens a phone call to Stuart before she steps in, but it cuts out the moment she’s inside, unseen by her friends as it just takes a couple steps to be completely enveloped by the car’s blackness. While she’s away, Galvan and Stuart take a few measures to make sure the garage doesn’t go up in flames behind them (it had started to), and grabs some of the records from the office with an eye on continuing their investigation, modulo whatever comes from Beatrice’s conversation with Leon.

Inside the void, Leon is already a good ten feet away from Beatrice, and she’s not able to close the gap with him. Distance works funny in here. There’s a car-door-shaped white shape behind Beatrice; it doesn’t get any further away from her as she walks forward. They talk.

Leon reveals that he’s doing the audition to join with the Editors — spellcrafters, seemingly, who specialize in editing reality to produce one better suited to their goals. The “Cutting Orbs” are something Leon’s brought in as a “tool” for what he’s doing. He also refers to the “Hungry Shadow” as a tool, though he seems to admit he doesn’t entirely control or own it: “Let’s just say I’ve got it on a lay-away plan.” As far as the people who’ve been killed as part of this audition process go, Leon is glowery and tight-lipped: “They brought that upon themselves.” Oh, and Galvan is a harbinger of an apocalypse. There are many potential apocalypses, though.

All the while, Leon’s back seems to be straightening out. He’s healing as part of being in this void. Beatrice accuses him of this, and he shrugs and smiles, owning up to it. Finally, he says, “Look. You’ve screwed up my audition hard. I’m willing to reinstate our truce so I can salvage it, or I need six hours to take care of final matters and get out of town.” Beatrice isn’t quite sure how to respond to that and starts feeling out her options, when Leon opens up a white rectangle behind him, hand behind his back. “Six hours,” he says, and steps through. Beatrice quickly works out that if she dives through after him, she’ll be stranded who-knows-where and without her support — or she can turn around and go back the way she came. Safety wins out as a concern, and she takes the second option, rejoining her friends.

They talk about what she’s learned and go over what they’ve gathered from the shop. Also they get pizza, which this time doesn’t end up catastrophically burned by a stray magic spell.

Looking at the record of repairs they see that Bruce Gallow has brought his car in a lot. Like maybe it’s a lemon but more likely he’s been visiting Leon at the shop using car troubles as a cover. Cross referencing a few bits they get his home address and head on over. It’s afternoon, not end-of-work time, and there’s a mini-van in the driveway. Donning some of the trappings of a cover identity, Stuart goes to check on the house, ringing the doorbell. Nobody answers. Looking around he sees that something black is covering one of the upstairs windows. He heads back to the car, briefs the team, and repositions the car away from the house they’re about to break into.

They manage to time things such that nobody in the neighborhood catches on as they vault the back fence and approach the house from behind. There’s movement inside, which draws them closer, carefully. Sliding open the patio door is done easily enough — it wasn’t locked. They see the source of the movement: a shirtless man in his underwear — not Bruce — opening the fridge and getting out a beer. He calls out, “Honey, you want anything from here?” and doesn’t get an answer. Then he says, “Cool!” and closes the fridge, walking over to the bottom of the stairwell. A pile of leaking, opened beer bottles lies at the base of the stairs. He goes sort of blank-faced for a moment, drops the bottle he’s currently holding, and walks back over to the fridge, only to repeat the same process.

Looks like he got “eaten” by the Hungry Shadow, and he’s operating with a holographic brain stuck on a loop.

The team decides not to confront him just yet, and they head upstairs while he’s busy at the fridge end of his loop. Upstairs, they approach the master bedroom. The door’s closed. Half-ecstasy/half-discomfort moaning comes from behind the door. Stuart tries opening the door, carefully, quietly. The black, writhing silhouette of a woman lies on the bed, making the sounds. After a couple moments she breaks her inarticulate noises to say, “For fuck’s sake, ignore the damn doorbell!” and then resumes her writhing.


Stuart ponders what to do next — that’s a Hungry Shadow on the bed with what’s left of Janet Gallow — when he notices that it seems like someone’s in the bedroom closet. The Hungry Shadow gets wise to his presence right then, tho, so he can’t do much about it right away. It surges off the bed with a kind of shriek and races right at the doorway. Stuart slams the door! There’s a SPLUT sound, and the Shadow starts to seep through the solid mass of the door, slow and inexorable.

The team takes a side jaunt into one of the kids’ bedrooms that shares a wall with the master bedroom. Stuart points about where he thinks he saw someone in the closet, and Galvan… well, Galvan goes right through the wall, doing incredible structural damage, and dragging Leon back through it all. Turns out it was a load-bearing wall Galvan went through, and the ceiling in the master bedroom caves in as what’s left of Janet says, “For fuck’s sake, ignore the damn doorbell!” one more time.

Leon’s screaming now, too: “No, no, no! Not now, not yet!” He howls in pain and/or rage, and his arms begin to bulge with spherical growths. Hell no, that’s a ton of cutting orbs he’s trying to bring into the world! Galvan grabs Leon by the head and lifts him, squeezing… squeezing… Leon keeps screaming back, and even when his head gives way and goes soft, he’s still screaming, still very much alive. Eventually the head is too soft and he slides out of Galvan’s hands, a broken flesh-mess on the floor, and the spheres are waking up inside of that flesh, roaming around, causing Leon’s body to ripple. Stuart throws his coat on top of Leon, since it has text printed all over the interior lining, in hopes that it’ll work as a barrier to the orbs.

Beatrice does some quick thinking and consults her lore. Leon is probably remaining alive because of his link to the Shadow; if the Shadow can be destroyed, so can Leon. But how to destroy the Shadow? Well, theoretically, it could be destroyed by burning the inscriptions — Leon’s magic seems to be very text-driven — but it’d need to be all the inscriptions and it’s pretty likely Leon created more than one. But if Beatrice could get ahold of one of them, she might be able to work a spell that reached out to the others and burned them all at once…

Quickly, she rummages through the screaming Leon-corpse-thing’s pockets and pulls out a wallet. In the wallet there’s a picture of Bruce Gallow; on the back of it is scrawled something that hurts her eyes to look at, in a language she can’t read. Must be the thing. Now for the spell, as the Hungry Shadow pushes at the doorway to the kid’s room. Seems that there’s some kind of metaphysical barrier preventing it from coming in right away… but Beatrice has to act fast all the same. She crumples the photo, lights the picture on fire, and swallows the burning inscription. It hurts! And burns! And travels down her throat, where it begins to transmute from physical pain into metaphysical pain, settling right into her heart chakra, connecting out into the world, out to other parts of Grant Falls where Leon has stashed the other inscriptions, and they all go up in flames…

[EDIT: Left this paragraph out! Can’t believe it! Adding it now!] … and in so doing, a little part of Leon settles into her own being. She feels as he felt. So very much in love with Bruce, and Bruce with him. Bruce unable to leave his wife and family because the family means so much to him. Bruce wanting his relationship with Leon kept secret. Leon’s dabbling in magic intertwining with that relationship. Bringing him to destroy those who would jeopardize what Bruce wants. The woman from work who figured out their secret and threatened to expose them. The men — first Orson, then another — tempting Janet to stray, to seek a divorce, which would wreck Bruce and separate him from the kids. And ultimately Janet herself had to go, of course. But all born out of love, all of it, love that Beatrice now feels for Bruce, a gay man she has never and probably will never meet, a love twisted by magic and darkness and the appetites of the creature …

… The Shadow seems to recognize that this has happened, and breaks into the room, expanding outwards, scream-shrieking. Tendrils weave towards Stuart and Galvan; Stuart is forced to jump out the window to evade it, and tumbles down through an awning onto the patio. Galvan pumps shotgun blasts into the thing as it closes on him; he then grabs the entire bunk bed and slams it into the creature. It wraps around his arm and leaves it feeling a little… unreal… but then crumples under Galvan’s assault and withers away.

Leon stops screaming.

It’s clean-up time: Janet’s looping lover appears to have vanished during all the commotion upstairs, but this mess needs to be covered up. Stuart goes downstairs and rigs the furnace to blow in a few minutes’ time, and they clear out. When the house does go up, though, it’s HUGE, way out of proportion with what should have happened, and a rain of fire (see, Galvan spent a point of Luck, and that’s bad news when you’re playing the Summoned playbook) pelts the neighborhood for a good half hour afterwards. The group gets the heck out of dodge, but not until after they break into the police HQ that night and retrieve the evidence being held as part of the investigation into the missing bodies.

They destroy it (or at least don’t return it) after viewing it: Double Tee is working the night shift, and someone walks in under some kind of concealment magic; TT never notices that he’s there, and the magic makes it look like this person’s back is always to the camera, even when he’s moving in a way that it’s clear his back isn’t actually pointed that way. The bodies get moved out of the field of view, and that’s that.

As they head out of town, Beatrice contemplates what to do with the vial of harbinger-of-an-apocalypse blood she’s collected under assignment for the Order, and Stuart gets a contact from MI-13: “Job well done. We have a new assignment for you. We need you to hail a cab.”

Credits roll.

This session wrapped our first mystery and debuted the use of an alteration to the Use Magic move that you can read about here. Tho Use Magic only happened once, I’m really happy with how it better fit the flavor of the game I’m trying to run. (Yay player feedback that it wasn’t doing that previously!)

Here’s the continuity list given as we roll forward to the next mystery:

  • There’s at least one audition going on, for a group called the Editors.
  • The Editors are near as you can tell some sort of supernatural edit-the-world/reality faction, and you have to audition to get into their ranks.
  • Leon at least didn’t believe that people counted as real, given what folks like him and the Editors can do.
  • Beatrice is maybe a potential candidate for being one if she wanted to commit to it. This seems tied to the “primal negation” she can hurl around (her big whammy).
  • Galvin seems to be a Harbinger of AN apocalypse.
  • MI-13 aka Stuart’s ex girlfriend wants the group to “hail a cab” as their next assignment.



Jun 292014

Derek Sivers just posted this thought about the philosophy of customer service: https://sivers.org/cs

“This isn’t some sales technique, it’s just good human behavior.”

Derek nails it, which is no surprise if you know anything about him.

It’s also worth noting that if you like Evil Hat and you like what Evil Hat does, a healthy portion of that appreciation likely flows from our customer service focused philosophy, in one form or another.

We don’t limit it to our customers either. When we’re hitting all our marks, functioning exactly according to plan, then everyone in any interaction with Evil Hat gets a great “customer service” experience. Freelancers working for us (ask around). Business partners (the Campaign Coins guys, whose Kickstarter for Fate Point tokens is coming up soon, have told us we’re one of the best licensing experiences they’ve had). Licensors (Jim Butcher and the Atomic Robo guys have been happy with what we’ve created for their IP — in part because creating games that they’re not just satisfied with, but actively happy about, is a major goal for EHP).

While we can’t send everyone away happy from an interaction with Evil Hat — that’s just how reality works — we do everything we can to make sure that the vast majority are happy; that they get a personal, human touch whenever interacting with us; and that we’ve done something for them, customer or not, that makes them more inclined to say good things about the Hat whenever the topic comes up.

This is why, ultimately, when folks ask me how to replicate something Evil Hat does — Kickstarter being the most recent and most frequent example — I start with a bit of a “quip”: “First, take ten years building a fan base.” It’s a quip, because it’s funny and quick, but it’s true. Every bit of our success flows forward from the fans; and fans come about as direct and indirect effects of the “customer service everywhere, all the time” perspective.

Interested in replicating that? Read up on Derek’s article, and get to work making his philosophy your own. It pays off, and it feels great.

This post is a duplicate of what I posted on Google+. For further discussion, see the post over there.

Jun 192014

It’s the second session of my Monster of the Week game! First session here.

Between sessions we realized that Galvan was totally on the wrong playbook for what his concept needed to be; we switched him over to the Summoned playbook, which offered nearly the same starting advantages/damage output/etc as Monstrous had for him but a better progression path for his concept. Good stuff, and a pretty seamless swap.

So anyway, their car was falling apart and a murderous silver orb was zipping right at their faces.

Stuart pulled the car into a hard turn, ducking, causing the orb to vector over the steering wheel and out the driver’s side window. The car’s engine was still missing of course, and they had some momentum they still needed to address. The hard turn pointed the car at a strip mall parking lot, struggling with a dying steering wheel, Stuart forced it to point at a “Do Not Enter” sign, uprooting it (but slowing the car) and smacking sideways into a parked car. Stuart hit his head as the airbags deployed, getting a nasty knock, but the others made it out of the crash pretty well.

The orb was still coming.

Galvan grabbed gear out of the back of the car, while Beatrice snagged her tome and backpack. She picked up where she left off, frantically trying to find out what could really hurt this thing. Turns out it’s… text! The printed word. Inscribed on blades or ammunition, stuffed in gun barrels, you name it. The symbolic significance of text and the binding of it in writing somehow messes with these things. Great!

The orb got on top of them. Galvan hefted the “Do Not Enter” sign and smacked the thing center-sphere with the words on the sign, knocking it for a loop and driving it under their car.

Which smelled of leaking gas.

They ran and got a safe distance before the thing went up in a big ol’ WHUMP explosion. Stuart grabbed a shotgun from Galvan and vigorously stuffed the car’s rental agreement into the barrel, and took aim as the orb rose from the flames and headed right at Beatrice. BLAM!

(The player rolled snake eyes, of course, and decided to spend a point of luck to change the roll into a 12.)

The thing shrieked, shrank, and imploded, ripping a vacuum-void-portal looking thing into the air briefly before vanishing for good. Monster killed!

A pickup truck reading “Muncie’s Gas’n’Sip” pulled up around then, with the driver, Bill Muncie, being surprisingly laconic about these guys carrying guns (and a friggin’ sword). Said his mechanic, Leon, despite being a real wizard with auto repairs probably couldn’t fix their car on account of it being exploded, but he’d be happy to tow it for them. The group felt they needed a ride more than a tow, and asked him to do both, with the ride happening right goddamn now please. Seeing as he was gonna get paid either way, Bill was happy to oblige.

Back at their hotel, the group tried to work out their next steps. Between the two orb attacks, Galvan had gotten cut up pretty badly (with unstable injuries) and needed to recuperate. Beatrice worked up a minor healing spell to help with that, which at least stabilized his wounds and afforded her the chance to collect some of Galvan’s blood as had been secretly requested by her sect.

Stuart headed to the business center to print up Ulisses or something like it to give the group a big pile of text to use if needed, and ordered up some pizzas too; Galvan recuperated; Beatrice went to get ice and drinks.

That’s when the guy with the knife showed up behind her.

He told her to get out of Grant Falls, and gave her a day. Sounded scared. Talked about how this was his “audition” and he wouldn’t take kindly to her trying to horn in on it. Then he beat a retreat — she turned then, trying to get a glimpse of him: middling height, looks like he works with his hands, face concealed with a trucker hat and dirty bandana. He ducked into a public restroom and (presumably, later confirmed) vanished.

Beatrice returned to the room, as did Stuart with 5 pizzas in tow. She filled them in, and they went to examine the bathroom. There they found signs  (a crisply bisected boot-print) that the doorway had definitely been turned into a portal, short term, and something moist on the door’s lock — the man had used some of his spit to build a link to another door, somewhere, Beatrice surmised. She grabbed a sample.

Stuart headed over to the liquor store/bar across the road to grab a bottle of scotch and see if he could talk to some of the locals. Beatrice and Galvan returned to their room. There, she tried casting a divination/location spell on the spit, but it went bad — maybe she hit some sort of arcane tripwire? — that boiled all the drinks, burned the pizza, and caught the map she was using on fire, setting off the fire alarm and sprinklers.


Stuart meanwhile rang up Double Tee, the coroner who was under review due to the missing bodies, and invited him out for a drink. TT showed up a bit later and talked about how he knew they weren’t CDC. Stuart said enough for TT to peg them as ghost hunters, and talked about a few matters related to the case. Tho an autopsy hadn’t been performed on Orson Phelps, TT recalled thinking his head felt a little “light”. Possibly pointing at a missing brain?

Stuart decided to ask the rest of the team to come over so they could pool info. Galvan declined (recovering!), but Beatrice came over after doing what clean-up she could with the room. Naturally this is when the invisible man paid Galvan a visit, calling him the “Harbinger” and asking him if he was willing to switch sides, after sussing out that Galvan worked for Stuart, not Beatrice. Galvan declined, after sussing out that this disembodied voice belonged to someone who was likely being auditioned to.

Long story slightly less long, Galvan ended up heading over to the bar too, a few minutes behind Beatrice, to tell the team that their location had been compromised. Turns out TT recognized Beatrice from her “SpookyBeats” vlogging days and given that they were going to see if they could help him clear his name, offered them crash space at his place. Plus, medical training meant they could get a little extra off-the-books medical care.

So that’s where they moved their base of operations. On the way they saw a location they recognized as the restaurant where the speed dating event that Orson Phelps had attended the night before his death, and resolved to return in the morning.

Which they did, sans TT, who had to get to work (where they continue to bury him in paperwork).

At the (empty) restaurant, things were still set up for speed-dating events. They figured out where Orson Phelps had sat the night before his death, and Beatrice cast a spell to give them a glimpse of what happened that night. The spell honed in on the most significant event at that table; Stuart sat in Orson’s seat, while Beatrice sat in the other taking the role of a woman named Janet. For Stuart and Beatrice it was like they were suddenly actors who’d memorized a script very well, and so they played out the scene. Lots of small talk, Orson sharing information they already knew with Janet, and Janet fiddling with that spot on her finger where her wedding ring decidedly wasn’t, distracted a bit by looking around as if to see if she recognized anyone. Was she speed-cheating?

Coming out of the spell, they looked at their list of speed dating attendees: this Janet was Janet Gallow. Okay… anyone with a name of Gallow at the sports club? No idea, they haven’t gotten a membership list from there yet. But they also checked the list of employees at Suzie Belter’s company (she’s the one who died of a heart attack), and found a Gallow! Bruce Gallow. Janet’s husband, perhaps? The connection that binds all this together?

Beatrice looked Bruce Gallow up on Facebook and found a picture of him and Janet and their two kids so, hmm, definitely seems to be some sort of connection here. Janet’s clearly significant to Orson’s demise in some way, or so the spell seemed to indicate by choosing her to replay. Bruce’s page shows him talking about some business trips, a big project at work, and car trouble.

Hmmm, car trouble.

Meanwhile, while Galvan wrote words on his sword (more text!), Stuart surreptitiously connected to MI-13’s knowledge base to chase down the “empty head” thing TT had mentioned the night before. If that’s what was going on, then it was likely they were looking at a “Subtractor” of some sort — a class of summoned entities that are theoretical only, having never been encountered in the field. Apparently when they consume a part of a person, they replace it with a mostly-functioning “hologram” replica that disguises the truth of what’s been done. Once the hologram is confronted in some meaningful way — put under strain, essentially — it collapses and winks out of existence.


The team discussed next steps and circled back around to the fact that the guy with the knife was in overalls and maybe had grease on that bandana across his mouth… and the fact that Bill Muncie showed up when he did after their crash seeming a little convenient… and Bruce Gallow talking about car trouble… yeah. Heading to the Gas’n’Sip seemed like the right way to go.

So they went there, but the convenience store portion was closed up with a “Back in 20 minutes!” sign, and the garage was closed and locked up too; it looked like someone might be doing something in the backroom storage area inside, but they decided not to try to get their attention just yet. They circled around back to see if they could get in the back door, and before he went to kick in the door, Galvan took a moment to assess the situation. The windows at the top of the door were blacked out, and not by paint: this darkness seemed to have some motion to it. As he kicked in the door, it whooshed and vanished into undulating darkness which seemed to be emitting regular “roiling stomach” noises, but otherwise remained covering the doorway, possibly barring passage. Looking around quickly as they collectively backed away slowly, Galvan developed a hunch that this thing wasn’t going to be too upset by him punching it with text-covered fists, and that the better way into the garage was going to be by going in through the convenience store.

That’s when Bill Muncie came around the corner. “Hey there, can I help ya?” — He looked at them blankly, like he didn’t recognize them at all. They explained they were here to see the burnt-out husk of their former vehicle, and that he’d towed them here. Galvan began proclaiming, “I challenge you!” just as Bill looked over his shoulder at the burnt-out husk, puzzlement creeping into his voice.

“What the hell?” asked Bill, before winking out of existence, entirely.

A howling hunting cry erupted from the shadow in the doorway — the Subtractor! — and it attacked.

To be continued.

Continuity list given to the players after the session:

  • Y’all have moved base of operations to Double Tee’s place; you’ll help him clear his name, he’ll get you free medical care.
  • Orson (brain victim) speed-dated with Janet Gallow. She appears to be “speed cheating” on her husband, Bruce Gallow.
  • Bruce works at Sallie’s company (heart victim), and has frequented the Gas’n’Sip with car trouble, or so he claims on facebook.
  • Text-inscribed or infused ammunition or weaponry kills the orbs for real.
  • You’ve been visited/threatened by someone who’s doing an “audition”, and an invisible guy who called Galvan “the Harbinger” and tried to get him to switch teams. Unclear if they’re the same person but it doesn’t seem quite right that they are.
  • Subtractors are a class of monster that remove parts (or, apparently, all) of their victims, replacing them with mostly functional, real-seeming “holograms” that collapse if forced to challenge their existence. So a victim can continue to be alive after its brain or heart has been consumed, but certain mental efforts or heart monitoring can cause the victim to drop dead suddenly as the challenged body part ceases to be.
  • Subtractors haven’t been encountered in the field before, but MI-13’s knowledge base has some information on them under the theoretical creature category.
  • Something’s up at the Gas’n’Sip, maybe having to do with Leon, the mechanic.
  • Bill Muncie ran the Gas’n’Sip; he was alive when he picked up the group from their car wreck that started the session, but had been completely “subtracted” by the time y’all encountered him at the Gas’n’Sip. He was forced to confront this and winked out of existence, entirely.
  • There’s a Subtractor at the Gas’n’Sip, and it’s attacking you.
  • Galvan “read a bad situation” at the Gas’n’Sip: he spotted the Subtractor before it “woke up” (danger you hadn’t noticed yet), he knows that the Subtractor isn’t the thing most vulnerable to him but the guy who summoned it likely is, and that the best way into the garage area is probably through a door in the (closed, locked) convenience store around front. Acting on this information gives him +1 ongoing.

All told between the two sessions we’ve clocked between 4 and 5 hours of actual play-time. Things seem to be going along at a solid pace, and the mechanics are doing a fine job of making sure the mystery never stalls out. Good stuff.

I’ve also interviewed my players to see where I could improve. Some love the pace and feel it’s going nice and fast, others could stand to see it be even faster! And I’d do faster if I didn’t have a reasonable certainty I’d accidentally kill the party in the process. When I kill the party, I want to mean to do it.

This was also a chance for us to realize we haven’t been using the Read a Bad Situation move as much as we probably should, so that’s something to keep an eye on. I also personally need to work on making sure the player-side magic is just as weird (by way of its requirements) as the monster-magic they’re facing. This is one place where my Twenty Palaces sensibilities for the NPC magic and creatures isn’t lining up with the more Supernatural/Buffy style spellcraft the PCs have access to. I need to think a bit about how to address that. Next session is in two weeks, so I’ve got time.

Jun 052014

I kicked off my Monster of the Week game last night. Here’s a quick and haphazard recap.


  • Stuart is a Professional who works for MI-13. MI-13 is layered deep with bureaucracy and hidden agendas, but they’re great at providing him with caches of supplies and cover identities, which is good, because he’s “disavowably” carrying out operations on American soil regularly.
  • Galvan is a Monstrous character, possibly the product of an experiment or other initiative within MI-13. Stuart has been assigned as his handler. Galvan is, in essence, a modern-day Frankenstein’s Monster, only with more question marks and mysteries surrounding his origin. He looks like a burn victim.
  • Beatrice, aka “SpookyBeat” as she was once known online, is an Initiate, but has elements of (i.e., a move each from) the Snoop and Spooky playbooks. In essence I let her take her two “pick a move from another playbook” improvements right at character creation time, replacing those improvements with “pick another Initiate move”. Easy peasy. Anyway! Beatrice used to be an amateur paranormal investigator/vlogger who stumbled onto a haunted house situation that ended up having her confront this room that didn’t exist that was nothing but a flat black void that pushed something invisible inside her and (gasps for breath) made her pass out and then she woke up with a psychic attack power (The Big Whammy) that this super-secretive monster-hunting cult somehow knew she’d acquired and they came to her and brought her into the cult so she could get trained. She’s adorkable and her life is super much more complicated than it used to be.

Nobody other than Stuart really knows that Stuart works for MI-13, and Beatrice especially doesn’t know because keeping an eye on her is Stuart’s long-term assignment. She thinks he just happens to be this fellow investigator who happened to take the same martial arts class she did only he was good at it and she wasn’t. Also she has a fragment of a prophecy that indicates that Galvan is a big deal of some kind and so she’s sticking close to him just in case whatever it is starts to happen.

The session started with Beatrice whiffing on her “start of the mystery” move with her sect, which meant they had to ask her for something bad, and of course they asked her to get about a quarter-cup of Galvan’s blood (or “blood” as the case may be) and put it in this magical chalice thingy they gave her and no, they’re not going to tell her why or what for. (Beatrice went on to fail her other three rolls of the night, rolling snake-eyes twice. Impressive! And good for her too since we’re using the Dungeon World method where you mark XP on a miss, rather than messing with the stats-highlighting. Regardless she got 80% of the night’s 6 or less results.)

Click to embiggen!

Click to embiggen!

So after the characters were all established I started them off with the hook for the mystery, seen to the right. Yes, I goofed and gave one of the victims two last names. I decided to let that stand as a printing error by the newspaper, which I figure supports the whole “make the world seem real” principle as a GM.

As the characters discussed their options, I pushed at them a few thoughts about splitting up to cover more ground (“separate them!” says my list of moves) and they went for it, with a plan for Stuart to talk to the Sheriff, Galvan to investigate the morgue, and Beatrice to talk to the folks who ran the speed dating event. Their cover story was that they were Center for Disease Control investigators, and Stuart (i.e., MI-13) had happily provided the cover identities necessary to do so.

Beatrice hit cellular wi-fi to get a few specific pieces of information, which expanded some of their information base, and also triggered the move she’d grabbed from the Snoop playbook, so bonus there. They dropped her off at the speed dating offices and continued on to the police station.

Stuart and Galvan went to talk to the Sheriff, with Stuart providing their cover story and Galvan looking stoic (“he’s our specialist”). The Sheriff was naturally a little suspicious (as a bystander, that’s her threat-motive, in fact), moreso because Stuart rolled a 7-9 result on his Manipulate Someone move, and so she asked to talk to Stuart’s superior. Stuart tried to get her to take his cell to make the call, but nope, she had the CDC’s number right here, just give her the name. Stuart crossed his fingers and gave a name, and I used that as an excuse to have him roll his “request something from the agency” move. THAT did not go so well, so I decided that as his “get in trouble”, the superior was in fact a MI-13 operative but didn’t appreciate getting called, and took it out by telling the Sheriff to keep an eye on Stuart. That’s gonna have fallout in the next session, I suspect, given how this one went. But they got access to the files and permission to visit the morgue.

Stuart stood by while one of the deputies copied the files on the missing bodies. Galvan went downstairs to the morgue to investigate the scene and talk to Double-Tee (Tyrone Tyrone, which he doesn’t like being called because fuck you Mom and Dad), the guy who was on duty when the bodies disappeared. Double-Tee is getting buried under paperwork to do while the matter is up for investigation by a board of inquiry. He has no good explanation for why the bodies disappeared from the refrigeration units where they were kept, and besides he’s busy. Galvan went to “gather samples” but made such a hash of it that Double-Tee noticed and helped him out, especially after Galvan cited “first day on the job” jitters. Double-Tee is ALL about making sure folks just trying to do their jobs don’t get in trouble right now. Galvan quickly concluded that perhaps he wasn’t the right guy for this job after all.

Beatrice talked to the lady who ran the speed dating thing, Helen Smith, who also works a real estate agent job, and started up this speed dating thing as a way to make use of (and showcase) some properties that haven’t been finding buyers. Economic downturn and broken hearts! It’s sad times out there. Beatrice of course adorkably botched trying to get the list of speed-daters from Helen, which sent Helen off on a tear about privacy and needing to see a warrant. Beatrice got Stuart on the phone and he sorted things out with Helen, thank goodness, so she made it out of there with a little more information about Orson Phelps and a list of speed-daters that they might be able to use to find some sort of connection or common factor with the other victim. She headed off to Starbucks to consider her next move and wait for the guys to wrap up at the Sheriff’s office.

During all of this very little in the way of the Investigate the Mystery move was used. Taking a cue from some discussion on line, the rulebook, and the GUMSHOE system, I was pretty clear that unless they were asking questions that were from the move’s list of questions, the move shouldn’t trigger, and instead I should treat it all as “core clues” that they should just get if they asked the right question or looked at the right piece of evidence. This is a key thing for running a relatively hitchless Monster of the Week session, for sure! 

Back at the morgue, Galvan headed back to the stairwell when a silver golfball came tink-tink-tink down the stairs towards him. It reflected light all wrong, looking like a flat disc that he was looking at straight-on, but moved and rolled around like a sphere would. He reached towards it, and it levitated and attacked, trying to burrow into his experimentally toughened flesh, cutting right down to tendon and bone in an instant (turns out this thing is made of 100% cutting edges). He bashed at it with a gurney (Galvan is supernaturally strong) and knocked it to the other end of the hallway. They squared off against each other, and the silver orb grew in size to silver basketball form.

It charged at him. Galvan brought the gurney up as a protective shield, and the thing sheared it in half. He bashed the orb with one of the pieces, overhand punching the thing too, driving it down into the floor but earning a deep cut into his shoulder for his trouble. Double-Tee called out to ask if everything was all right out there. Stuart had gotten his photocopies and was on his way down when he heard the commotion, and came quickly. He arrived and had just enough time to … well, spill his coffee on the thing, before it yanked itself free. The thing had been weakened by its tussle with Galvan, and Stuart was able to get his gun out and hit the thing point blank; it evaporated in a twisting swirl of smoke.

… yeah. It was probably going to come back soon enough. Of course, more pressing, Double Tee was at the end of the hallway saying, “Y’all aren’t CDC, are ya?” and the cops were on their way down. TT gave Stuart a piece of paper with his phone number on it and went back to his paperwork, all nonchalant. Galvan and Stuart headed up the stairs, narrowly missing the deputies coming down in the elevator but running straight into Deputy Felicia Harlan, who — still buying their CDC cover story — saw Galvan’s wounds and said she’d radio for paramedics before heading down to join the others.

Galvan and Stuart naturally didn’t hang around for the ambulance, and booked on out of there, made contact with Beatrice, and headed her way.

Speaking of Beatrice…

While she was at the Starbucks she decided to use some table sugar to sketch out a quick ritual circle to see if she could gather some premonitions and divinations to help with the mystery. This was the first snake-eyes roll of the night for her, if I recall correctly. Instead, the table shook, the space inside the circle crumbled away to reveal a whispering flat black void that looked pretty familiar to her, and a strong foreboding sense that she should flee town. And with that she was knocked back on her ass — and nobody else in the Starbucks had seen what had happened, so this looked like a lady sitting down at a table, freaking out, and bothering the customers. She was asked to leave.

The guys picked her up and headed on to another location, discussing their next moves. Beatrice got out a book of lore and tried to see if it had anything on the silver orb thing they’d fought at the station. And thus came her second snake-eyes roll of the night. It was getting late, and a miss lets me make a move, so I decided to use this as my trigger for a cliff-hanger.

The car sputtered and started to veer, slowing down a bit, when suddenly a basket-ball-sized silver orb popped out of the hood, coming up through the engine block, killing the car (but not its momentum) and rolling straight towards the three of them trapped in their seats.

To Be Continued.

When I got home, I sent them a quick  “continuity list” for making sure we know where we left off when we have the second session in two weeks:

  • You’ve got a list of employees from Suzie Belter’s place of work
  • You don’t have a list of folks who work out at “Harry’s Hamhocks” or whatever it’s actually called, but you intend to get it and cross reference.
  • You’ve looked at the list of speed-daters, no overlap with Suzie
  • You’ve encountered one or two of the orb things, but haven’t yet managed to gather up the lore on what exactly they are or what their weaknesses are. You know they’re made entirely of cutting edges, reflect light oddly, and can change size.
  • You’ve got Double-Tee’s contact information.
  • Galvan has gotten hurt pretty bad. No medical attention yet.
  • Beatrice has a tome of arcane facts that she’s used for research, but no dice (literally, snake eyes!) yet.
  • Beatrice tried a divination but it went sideways and opened up on this whispering flat black void for a moment.
  • Stuart may have some trouble with the home office when he reports in; they intercepted the call to the CDC and may have told Sheriff Bellwether that she should “keep an eye on him”.
  • One of the orbs has just fucked up your (rental) car pretty bad.
  • Your car is still in motion. (Stuart is driving. Act under pressure time!)
  • The orb is coming right for you.

I’m not too worried about the act under pressure roll that Stuart’s going to be making — he’s a BEAST with the Cool stat, starting right out the gate with a +3. But he could always roll snake-eyes…

Jun 022014

So, somewhat quietly, for the last couple weeks I’ve been running a little experiment with the Atomic Robo RPG PDF. On DriveThruRPG I’ve given it a preorder-period discount that prices it at $11.99. On the Evil Hat webstore, the promotional price is $10.

Before we get too deep into this, I want to point out that this is definite grey-area; the agreement with them talks about getting equal pricing, but (IIRC) also allows for the occasional sales promotion, so I’ve been making the most of that. Today I’ve had my first communication with them where they point out that the price difference is “worrying” so I suspect I’ll need to move the pricing into greater compliance soon. Really that just means the discount will either get less steep on Evil Hat’s site, or the discounts on both sites will just disappear. (They’re both due to reset to the $15 baseline once the physical book ships, at any rate.)

At any rate, the experiment: I’m interested in seeing how much DriveThruRPG’s market positioning and service offerings make them the sales point of preference even if the same product is available for slightly less on our store.

DriveThru’s service offerings and market dominance is nothing to sneeze at! For many it’s the one place they’ll go to shop for PDFs, and they enjoy the ability to maintain both a “bookshelf” of purchases and wishlist of intended purchases across many publishers all in one place. But what’s the value of that, exactly? Or even approximately?

DriveThru has a pretty clear notion of the value to publishers. Depending on whether you’re exclusive with them for PDF sales or not (we’re not), their cut is 30% or 35% respectively. That’s a pretty significant chunka change, you might say. I’ve done enough e-commerce to nod and say, yeah, but the cost of running that site and providing those services and maintaining their market position makes that seem reasonably correct. It does mean that for the purposes of the experiment, even tho we sell for ~$12 through them, we’re making about $2 less per sale than the $10 item on our website gets, due to the cut. Someone talked to me about this on Google Plus when I first put the PDF out there, and I nodded happily and said (paraphrased) “if it’s worth $2 more to you to get it on your DriveThru bookshelf, it’s certainly worth $2 to us to make that possible for you”.

So how well have each sold? Well, given nearly simultaneous release of the $10 PDF through Evil Hat and the $11.99 PDF through DriveThru, the last few weeks have been interesting to compare. On the Evil Hat store, we’ve sold 68 copies. DriveThru, meanwhile, has sold 227 copies. Yeah: they’ve sold over three times as many, and given their position in the market that seems about right. I’m sure they effectively own at least 75% of the RPG-PDF-purchasing eyeballs. That’s why we can’t ignore ’em, at least not easily; within our wee niche of a hobby, as far as electronic products go, they’re the Amazon.

They deserve it, too. They’ve worked their asses off to get there.

But I do wish they’d let go of the notion of getting exact price equivalence between the publisher’s own webstore and their site. I’m completely happy to give them identical pricing with any other PDF vendor out there, but I don’t like the intrusion into my own “personal” sales space. We are no middle-man sales agent for our own shit, at the end of the day, and now and again I’d like to feel freer to translate that into an extra buck or two of savings for the big fan who wants to come and buy stuff direct from us. Because that takes extra effort on the fan’s part. We can’t provide convenience and breadth of selection and value-added services like DriveThru; buying direct from us is essentially a downgrade as far as all that goes.

We also get into the interesting space, here, that digital goods have no associated inventory. They consume a little bit of storage space while waiting to be sold, yeah, but that kind of storage is cheap and getting cheaper every day. They also consume bandwidth but largely only at the time of sale at which point one can argue the sale is more than paying for the consumption of resources.

If we sold these things like we sell physical books — on consignment, or in advance — then we’d be setting a (discounted) price that we get paid upon sale, and it’d be up to the vendor to figure out if they want to sell the product exactly at MSRP or eat up some of their margin in the interests of pricing a little more competitively. I have no illusions that moving to that sort of model would ever happen with digital sales, but I think it’d be interesting to see how it’d work (or not).

It’d also give the vendor the freedom to do a sale of our stuff without needing our permission. Right now, since the cut is applied to whatever the price of sale happens to be, so it’s shared proportionately by both vendor and publisher, DriveThru needs our explicit permission every time they want to run a sale featuring one or more of our things. (There is a policy for getting products on a “blanket permission list” so they don’t have to ask each time, but regardless, without permission given, they’re powerless to discount.)

I’m not sure I’m going anywhere in particular with this post so much as shining a light on some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about around this topic. Bottom line I find it pretty interesting that even without equivalent pricing DriveThru easily scores 75+% of the sales. And to be honest I would’ve guessed more like 80-90%; once the prices reset to their non-discounted form in what’s probably no more than a few days’ time, that may even turn out to be the longer-term trend. Maybe we “stole” those 5-15 percentage points by pricing ours $2 cheaper, but I suspect not.

At the end of the day, DriveThru is the big alpha dog on the block. Unignorable, always on the prowl, and the one you’ll always hear when they bark. Being the big dog means they get to do big things, pioneering things, and our hobby’s the better for it… even if I wish the structure of things from the publisher side was a bit more flexible now and again. :)