Bethan Is Tailed!

Photo by Vitor Fontes on Unsplash

Yeesh! It’s been two years since I last role-played the vampire Petit Louis and his little retinue. I would have thought maybe eight months ago, but checking the last writeup on Facebook, I find their Chicago adventure posted May 2022. One battle since  to play-test a new combat rule last July (see the Battle Bookmark), but no actual dive into characters and story. So here we go, from a doctor’s waiting room session, using HandiQuest cards with the GameMaster’s Apprentice Horror Deck and Dracula’s Get! (Bundle here.)

At the end of last adventure, Dane (bodyguard), Danile (driver), and Aaron (“techretary”) had hauled a wounded Louis out of a Chicago hotel to his limo, leaving Bethan (starlet) to distract the paparazzi while they fled. Bethan then left for the airport with all their luggage, where she bought the group tickets to Toronto as a smokescreen.

Bethan Alone!

For this new session, the GMA deck turned up a choice between a Basement and an Amusement Park as the group’s rendezvous point. Though the basement would have made an easier trip (Difficulty 6), the amusement park (Difficulty 7) sounded like a much better story, especially if abandoned! I asked the next card if it is, and “Yes.”

Okay, final destination settled. Now for the interim events.

My next card choice was between a graveyard (Difficulty 7) and a home (Difficulty 6). You can guess which one I picked. The travel catalyst on the next card said, “Hunters are Hunted,” which I took to mean that Bethan was being followed. Certainly the possibility would have occurred to her, so I made a Wits check, gambling her vocation to halve that 7. Fail 8. Bethan drove to a small country graveyard she knew of outside Princeton, Illinois, to see if she had pursuers. (I asked Alexa on my phone for a small town about 100 miles southwest of Chicago). She pulled over and cut her lights, keeping the engine running. And saw another vehicle do the same not far behind.

Spooked, she put the pedal to the metal, and they gave chase. I chose to use the combat rules to simulate the driving competition, using Bethan’s Grace d12, rationalizing it as drag race training for an old movie role. For the pursuers, I let the deck choose between a d10 or a d12, and it came up d10. (I made up a rule on the spot for letting the deck make that choice: turn up a card, and whichever result on the dice wheel was higher, that’s the die size I’d be using.) Bethan rolled an S11 (Success 11); they got an F8 (Fail 8). A failure and the lower roll! Sounds like they blew a tire! I thought it unlikely they’d wreck, but the next card said “Yes!” So much for those pursuers.

Next destination: Playground 7 or Underwater 6. The first best suited my amusement park theme, but she needed an opportunity to rest, and Underwater sounded like something out a spy movie she might have been in. Plus, living with a vampire makes a person resourceful. So Bethan had stashed some gear in a cave with an underwater entrance. The travel Catalyst came up “Lost!” Ugh. Apparently while ditching her pursuers, she made a wrong turn onto an off road.

(I’ve been there. On the way to a small convention in the 90’s, I took the wrong lane on an interstate that splits in St. Louis, and ended up driving for hours one night across the north of Missouri rather than the south. This was still the era of paper maps. I eventually realized the error and found my way south on county roads, but my oldest daughter was in the car and has never let me live it down.)

Next card had a “No!” among the odds, so chance no rest on this drive. Just wide open farmland, with no safe place to pull over. Ugh. Onward.

Next destination: Castle 4 or Undiscovered Land 4. Well, she was lost, after all, so it’s all undiscovered land to her. The Catalyst on the next card is “Moral Dilemna,” and the card after that has more “No” than “Yes” on both sides, so in HandiQuest terms this was an encounter rather than a battle, but one was “NO!” so she still couldn’t rest. I take this to mean that Bethan was driving through the night, wrestling with her conscience whether she should have gone back to shoot her pursuers after they wrecked. Whether she could bring herself to execute a helpless enemy if the time came. In the end, she decided that “What if’s” are a waste of energy, especially while lost in the night. So she found an upbeat play mix on the stereo and concentrated on her driving.

Onward to a Theater 2 or Base 4. I was starting to worry that Bethan was never going to have a chance to recover before her final destination, where there was definitely going to be some sort of fight (per the HandiQuest system), and a theater is also more suited to her history. So after driving nonstop all night, Bethan headed to a small-town theater where she had once stopped as part of a movie’s promotional campaign. She hoped to convince the owner that she was on an incognito solo trip, trying to escape media attention, and she needed a place to hide out and rest for a day.

Alas, that was not meant to be. Although the next card draw revealed an encounter, not a battle, it also had another “NO!,” so again no rest. (I was having some bad luck finding a place for her to rest up, to say the least!) I asked the deck why. It told me there’s a strike going on. I took this to mean a local church group was picketing the theater over some salacious movie. Bethan drove on.

(If I were hosting this adventure for another player or group, I’d invent much more detail for scenes like this, fleshing out the protestors, perhaps with their leader holding a conversation with our heroes, etc. But as a solo player, that was all sort of taking place as a looser narrative in my head.)

Next up, Archives 7 or Casino 6. Here at last my choice of lower number was a site that seemed to match up with Bethan’s history. Catalyst on the next card was “Being Followed,” which didn’t surprise her by this point. The next card, at last, was a safe encounter, allowing her to rest. So after a day and night of driving, she coasted into Las Vegas and took a room at the Palms, an off-the-strip casino where she was less likely to be recognized. (Per a Google search on my phone.)

Next up, the choices were an Expedition Site 4 or a House of Ill Repute 6. That 4 is really tempting, but trying to fit the expedition site into her adventure seemed a stretch. House of ill repute, on the other hand, matches up with the “Chicken Ranch” an hour outside the city. And given Hollywood’s more sordid side, I could imagine her knowing someone employed there.

Drawing a Catalyst for the journey, I found “Villain vs. Villain Fight.” Apparently, the vampire hunters dogging her heels and the paparazzi who equally intent on finding her ended up in a clash. Using the same “What’s their dice?” technique as before, I found the paparazzi d10 and hunters d12. I gave it one round of combat, just for flavor, as Bethan left, and lo and behold! The paparazzi were kicking ass!

And at last the abandoned amusement park came into view. The travel Catalyst turned up “Secret Orders Unsealed.” Hmm. It didn’t make much sense to me for there to be something in the glovebox or trunk she hadn’t opened until now. Instead, what came to mind was a tarot reading; I could imagine Bethan carrying a tarot deck in her purse, and in fearful anticipation of what may come next, she pulled into a rest stop to do a reading, laying cards in her frontseat.

I decided that if this roll came up successful, I’d award her a Boon for the supernatural drama. [If I were hosting this adventure for players, I certainly would’ve.] F8. Ugh. She was weakened even further, her nerves jittery and heart pounding, as she packed up the cards and drove into the park. I could only hope that Louis and the others arrived had before her. Thankfully, the next card said “Yes.”

So what would this final combat all about? Knowing that Bethan had been trailed by hunters all along, it was pretty obvious that they’d be the enemies in this fight. But how about some details? I checked the “Items” section of a new card, and read among them “Religious Icons” and “Prototype Tech.” Which made me imagine a group of priests backed by a Papal strike team with some sort of anti-vampire invention. What was that tech? Players in a regular adventure wouldn’t know, so I left it a mystery to myself. How many in the band? A pair of card draws gave me 4 priests and 6 fighters.

Louis being a badass vampire, and about half his retinue having some combat experience themselves, I decided to rank the priests as d10 and Difficulty 4, with the strike team members a tougher d12 and Difficulty 5. I would treat them all as “minor foes,” per the Game Host’s Guidebookmark, as I usually do for mass combats like this. Lots of foes means lots of excitement! While one die per means no bookkeeping.

Louis and Dane are Difficulty 5, the rest of the party just 4’s, but Danile and Bethan both possess a few attributes that had been raised by experience, though Bethan was still weakened by her journey. The Dracula’s Get sourcebookmark is based on the powers and weaknesses of Stoker’s Dracula, so Louis is repelled by holy items like those the priests were carrying. He directed his retinue to battle them while he kept the elite troops busy. Louis figured in a 4 on 4 fight, his servants would finish the priests pretty quickly and come to his aid.

I won’t go into all the details turn-by-turn here, just report that the priests managed to hold out for a full 8 turns, leaving Dane nearly dead on his feet, and the rest pretty wounded. Bethan held her own. Danile learned some new fighting moves, boosting a d8 Attribute to d10. Aaron proved nearly worthless, but he’d never been in a fight before.

Meanwhile, Louis found himself alone for the duration! He first turned to mist, resulting in one fighter mortally wounding another in a UV-laser crossfire. Recomposing, Louis spent the next several turns striking among them with Undead Speed, until a lazer shot grazed him and put that ability out of commission.  He turned to mist again, sized up the battlefield, and found only two of the strike force still standing. I risked his mesmerizing ability to control one of them, despite their undoubtedly strong will, and he succeeded! His new puppet shot the other one dead, then turned the gun on himself.

At the end, one priest had tried to escape, but Danile and Bethan mercilessly cut him down, to keep any information from reaching Vatican City.

Post Session Comments

When I first pitched to Larcenous Designs the idea of a bundle of Dracula’s Get! and a horror deck, I’d imagined a pairing with Demon Hunters. Not being a fan of slasher flicks, I hesitated at the regular Horror Deck‘s graphic design (especially that hockey mask). But I’m glad Nathan suggested this pairing. I fell in love with the Horror Deck during this playthrough: the abandoned amusement park alone was captivating!

As to why so long since last playing Louis et al., much of the reason is that the previous adventure left me at loose ends. I had no idea where they would hide out to recouperate and plan how to proceed. Did they have a retreat preprepared? That seemed likely, but where could be remote enough to keep a low profile, while also large enough to supply a Dracula-style vampire with blood? I set aside the question temporarily to work on publishing projects, and out of sight is out of mind, so two years went by.

Lately I’ve been taking my wife’s advice to work less, which has meant some time for solo play other than PC games on the Steam Deck. As you can see from my previous post, I’m starting to dig back through solo purchases I’ve made over the years, and with the subject of solo play, Louis has been on my mind again.

My plan hadn’t been to run Bethan alone, but upon reviewing the situation where I’d left off, it only made sense. Part of the fun of the previous session had been to get into the various humans’ heads, ending with Bethan debating with herself alone at the airport whether to stick with this vampire. Running her solo would give me a chance to explore her personality more fully. And I’m thrilled with the results.

Everything but that final battle occurred right there in the clinic waiting room. Even the battle’s setup. Eric Miller’s HandiQuest rules cards allow you to keep track of an adventure if you have to stop partway through. A GMA deck with pencil and scrap paper (or BNHP character card) is all you need, so it was easy to start up again later that evening at home.

I don’t expect it’ll be so long before the group’s next adventure. 🙂

 

#RPGaDAY2023 Day 8: Favorite Character

Some fantasy characters from the early 1980’s

At last! A fairly easy topic!

Back in the early 1980’s, when I worked in a factory, had few children, and the future was far distant, I actually had time to paint miniatures for my characters. (I’m not saying they were very good, but at the time they seemed so.)

Raedel Pinehaven

That guy in blue up front is the earliest I remember playing, a half-elf sorcerer thief, and the gal in purple just behind him, Mistress Goldleaf, was an elvish NPC, a full mage he developed a crush on. (The unpainted figure in black is a recent sculpt of him, a gift from my old friend and GDW colleague Steve Maggi.) Since that time, Raedel has shown up here and there as an example PC sheet in one of my own RPGs. Needless to say, I’m fond of him.

Twill

Originally the Pictish warrior just to the right of new Raedel, Twill went on to become a burglar, a second story man in various campaigns by various GMs, and sometimes in solo play since. He had a code of honor that basically cast himself as Robin Hood, though he was pretty much the only person on his “give to the poor” list. He once burned a merchant’s house down for having sent some bully boys to rough him up after one successful caper.

Petit Louis, Vampire

I no longer paint minis, so he isn’t in this lot, but per Dracula his image couldn’t be captured anyway. Let’s pretend he’s there but we just can’t see him.

Artist’s Conception of Petit Louis, Vampire

Louis is a bastard son of Louis 14, and was a courtly sycophant by necessity. He’s a small guy (hence “Petit” Louis), vampirized at age 17. And despite the new supernatural powers, he’s amused that feigning obsequiousness to the posh provides a convenient source of both blood and high fashion. Having only recently left the “court” of Donald Trump, Louis has been hanging out in Hollywood, grooming a starlet by whispering a word in the ears of a few movers and shakers. 

Currently he’s hiding out somewhere with his own little retinue*, recuperating from getting his ass kicked in a bathroom stall by a paparazzo dogging the starlet’s heels. (I had a series of really poor dice rolls, starting with failure to mesmerize.)

You can probably tell that this is my favorite character, originally statted out in the D6xD6 “Fear the Light” setting, now in the “Dracula’s Get!” setting for the Bookmark HP RPG. He’s shown up in a few TikTok videos a year ago, and will likely do so on YouTube Shorts soon.

* Retinue: Bethan Troise, Starlet, Lover; Aaron Burdex, “Techretary”; Danile Mclachlan, Driver; Dane Mclachlan Bodyguard, Danile’s brother

GM-Less Cthulhu et al

Cover images of Bookmark Cthulhu with Cut Up Solo Lovecraftian Dialogues and Cut Up Solo Case of Charles Dexter Ward You may have seen my mention of the “Cut Up Solo” oracle series by Parts Per Million. Each oracle is an automated spreadsheet of 5-word snippets from a public domain novel (such as Dracula) or series (John Carter of Mars, for example). It outputs a group of four 5-word snippets with each press of F9, and you browse the list to see what role-play scene it suggests to you.

It’s a great spur not only for solo play, but also GM-less group play. My old high school buddy Jim Cotton and I have adventured together on Mars, for example, and had great times with it. That was even the genesis of the mass battle rules on the Game Host’s Guidebookmark of the Bookmark HP RPG.

So you can imagine how happy I am to announce that PPM and I have launched a Cut Up Solo Lovecraft/Bookmark Cthulhu bundle on DriveThruRPG!

(A Dracula bundle is not far behind.)

No, Virginia . . .

“You can’t fool me. There ain’t no sanity clause!” Chico Marx

Bookmark Cthulhu is now live, just in time for the holidays! And in a break with RPG tradition, it has no sanity rules. What it does have is a system for steadily rising dread. That, and a way to rank Lovecraft’s classic monstrosities and create new ones of your own by using his most common adjectives.

Though madness is a common theme in Lovecraft’s tales, very few of his protagonists actually go mad. They suffer shock, they may feel themselves doomed, they may panic to the verge of madness, but they don’t end up in a sanitarium.

Instead, they suffer one of two maladies: loss, or dread.

In terms of loss, Lovecraft’s earliest tales take their protagonists to lands of dream, where some pass up a chance at happiness, and others find themselves unable to return. Many of his dream tales have no protagonist at all and simply relate a story of destruction. Dreamland tales are generally wistful narratives.

His later stories, however—what we think of as the Cthulhu mythos—occur in the waking world, where beings and forces more powerful and long-lived than humankind are discovered by a select few narrators. Narrators who tell of madmen and death, but who live to tell those tales. These are stories of existential dread.

The granddaddy of all Lovecraftian role-playing games is, of course, Call of Cthulhu. Its Sanity game mechanic is as legendary as it was innovative for the hobby. That steadily eroding Sanity attribute invokes a sense of peril that not infrequently results in death of players’ characters. The mechanic works so effectively, in fact, that most Lovecraftian RPGs since have mimicked it exactly.

But “customary” doesn’t mean “necessary.”

Bookmark Cthulhu replaces “eroding Sanity” with a “growing Dread” in every adventure. (Sort of like mental “hit points” compared to eroding abilities.) This feels truer to Lovecraft, and better suits the unusual mechanics of the Bookmark HP RPG itself. Which gives the sourcebookmark a legitimacy beyond simply mimicking what’s been done in games before.

Call me crazy, but I think it works. ¯\_(°°)_/¯