But... there was a "game" post up on the whiteboard by Krin, for Thrift Store shopping! I really wanted to go with them, but... but... Urban Shadows. And Madjay. My RPG side won this battle, this day. There is still part of me that is sad about missing thrift store shopping with another lover of the genre.
Urban Shadows (morning slot)
I've heard good things about this particular game, Urban Shadows being: an urban fantasy roleplaying game where you’ll play characters struggling to survive in a dark urban environment drowning in supernatural politics. I'd never played. And I've heard good things about Madjay as a GM, so had to jump into this opportunity. Also, this was the elevator pitch on the sign up sheet: "Buffy meets the Wire set in New Orleans". I mean, come on.
Players included Dylan, Michael, and Morgan. We created an interesting set of characters, all humans. The game revolves around factions, groups that represent communities of mortal and supernatural creatures: Mortality, Power, Night and Wild. Our group? Two of us were Power (an Oracle and a Wizard), two of us Mortality (the Hunter - or was it the Veteran? - and the Aware).
I played the Oracle, her name Kami, a half-Japanese half-Filipino street rat punk, been around for a few years, smoking lots of weed to deal with the visions and bad dreams. My powers: foretelling, psychometry (reading objects), reading surface thoughts of people, and so on. My first step was to upgrade my gear from "crappy car" to an "awesome bicycle".
We had Cole our Aware (played by Michael), who didn't know the powerful lineage he was from. We had Vivian our Wizard (played by Dylan) casting spells with magic scrawlings burning on cigarettes. And we had Bianca our badass Hunter (played by Morgan), also somewhat Filipino (and we got to exchange quips and throw some very elementary Tagalog around during the session).
Madjay started by introducing a character by the name of The Owl, someone we may be associated with who runs trade in magics and the like. We all created some bonds with each other and with The Owl. We rock up to home base of the mortals trying to take back this town from the supernaturals (a home base and an organization that many of us have worked for, to some extent or another), and find the front door busted open. Dead bodies. A possessed operative. Some violence.
We had some interludes and "downtime" type scenes, some attempts to investigate the goings on, and then the session ended with a good confrontation at the base of The Owl, an old cathedral of sorts.
Madjay kept this session tight and moving. We had 3 hours, and I've heard - since this time - that running Urban Shadows in a one shot is difficult to pull off. But it felt seamless.
Stras was around to take us to yet another local joint. This time we headed to a ramen place called Sushi Zanmai (normally a sushi joint, but only serves ramen at certain days and hours). Good eats and good times. I love that almost every meal I got to meet some new folks, or hang out with the old homies I don't get to see often enough.
Werebear: The Final Wife (afternoon)
So, a bunch of us found ourselves gameless in the afternoon. There were the seven of us: myself and Alex and Nadja and Andi and Andy and Andrew and Morgan. We pitched a few things, but 7 doesn't lend itself to just any game. I mentioned The Final Girl, and it turned out no one had played before. There was some trepidation, and I mentioned that the game could go gonzo, but I'd love to see it played in a thoughtful or more serious way, if people were up for it.
We went for it. We grabbed a room, and ended up: The wives in a polygamous family are heading up to a resort in the Canadian Rockies to meet up with their husband, who they don't know has been killed by a Were-bear (like, a person who could turn into a large grizzly monster). My favorite part of this process however was not the result, but how we got there. There were discussions about what tropes would be disrespectful, or just silly, and we tended towards avoiding some of that. The most important part though was that everyone was listened to, and therefore was bought into the story.
We had everyone create 2 characters a piece, and ended up with:
- Nicole, the first wife and a true believer
- Constance, the innocent wife
- Tyreen, the wife who solves everything with food
- Bernice, the eldest wife
- See-yung (aka Sally), the wife with quiet intensity, new to North America
The folks working at the resort and lodge:
- Roger, the friendly resort manager
- Marsha McClean, the butch groundskeeper
- Kathy, mother of two, owns the general store
- Piper, the sanguine resort maintenance person
- Sarah, the housekeeper with dark circles under her eyes
- Jack [she/her], the resigned cook
- Jean-Paul, the old hermit of the woods
- Hank, the bro-y ski instructor
During the three introduction scenes I already felt we had something really good brewing. Nicole (the first wife) was already set up as a matriarch that everyone else seemed averse to. See-yung started as quirky, maybe, but with a little bit of attitude. And the first scene between the resort staff - taking and dealing with a phone call about the missing husband - set a good mix of incompetence and apathy, and with Jean-Paul quitting and storming off into the woods.
We decided each scene would have 3-4 players in it, which left the rest of us few folks to be the audience in the cheap seats in the theater. Even this added some good punch occasionally.
First blood was at the grocery store, Constance and Tyreen (both wives) going down, as did Kathy and Sarah. Kathy grabbed her shotgun, and to be fair, Sarah did a bad-ass move of snapping a broom in half against a shelf to face the werebear, but all for naught. What really drove the scene was the Jaws and Alien effect... we would only get little teasing views of the beast: the reflection in the refrigerator glass door; a quick shot of a claw; a split-second view of large silhouette. And of course a pineapple can rolling on the floor.
The scenes progressed one-by-one as we took turns playing the killer. We lost various people, with survivors occasionally running into the dark woods. Morgan played the werebear in such an amazing way as it crawled, sniffing, around the wives' cabin. We had a great scene with Hank pissing off the second story balcony of the lodge, as the trees went down one by one, and then a vicious and sad encounter as Marsha falls, saving her love Jack from death. See-yung runs through the woods and finds a cabin, banging on the door, to find Bernice and a shirtless Jean-Paul; after which we had an amazing moment of guns and armaments and a chase with a pickup truck and subsequent crash. And Bernice sacrificing herself to allow See-yung an escape.
A the final moments we see a return of the resort manager Roger, clueless, on his little gold cart, as he runs into both Jack and See-yung. At one point the werebear, chasing Jack and Roger, has See-yung in its large maw. There is a river and a rope bridge that the two try to run across, but it becomes their doom as the werebear gets up on both feet, and rips the bridge out from under them. And that's when See-yung gets up from the ground, swaying, silhouette showing in the moonlight. And little pin falls to the ground as she throws a grenade rolling towards the creature. Like a pineapple can. A huge explosion blasting in See-yung's face. And darkness.
Honestly, it was the best game of The Final Girl I've ever played. There was something about how everyone was tentative at first, but became trusting based on our conversations, and just brought it. We had a few ideas that were nixed based on X-card style "nays", even someone nixing their own idea. And the intentionality was just excellent. When people felt low or winded, we didn't force them to play in the scene or play as a the director/killer, we just found the next person in line who wanted to be in the scene. It just really felt like we were all taking care of each other in many ways, and the result was fabulous. In retrospect, it was probably the highlight of my weekend.
Side note: Post-game, due to prior discussions, Andi had brought some crafts... in this case a coloring book and crayons! I really needed to unwind a bit and go into a quite mode for a few, and so flipped open the book to the first page. Starting back at me: a vicious bear. And hence, below...
Girl by Moonlight (evening)
After a relatively large meal, the blood rushing away from my head, with too little sleep over many nights, it was on to the next game. I mention this, because we were about to dive into some very cerebral territory, for two reasons: 1. This game is "Forged in the Dark"; which is to say, based on the relatively crunchy Blades in the Dark system. 2. Led by Nadja, we needed to process the overly hippie-weirdness that is plastered all over our AirBnB, and we ended up with a theme that required some amount of brain work. Both of these together ended up leading to an amazingly good session (especially after we struggled past our tiredness and into giddiness).
Girl by Moonlight is written by Andrew Gillis (who was also our GM), and is about magic girls (a la Sailor Moon). We ran with a specific playtest Series Playbook called In Darkest Night, which had a somewhat dark theme. We lived on a world where the rotting body of an ancient god was slowly covering the surface. It's agenda? Madness. How has our city-society survived? Partly by encapsulating Shaktilove (lowercase) by focusing only on the positive and "yes", and disallowing the expression of negative emotion. We ended up being the avatars of these perceived "profane" actions, like expressing fury, envy, despair and self-doubt. Oh yah, and our "daytime" personas worked in an internment camp for those affected by negative feelings, which we were there to suppress. Yep, somewhat dark.
We had Vantablack (codename Opal), avatar of despair, played by Nadja. There was Sunrise Starbeam (codename Fury), avatar of anger, played by April. Veridian (codename Seafoam... or maybe vice versa?), avatar of envy, played by Eric. And Nora (codename Sanguine), avatar of self-doubt, played by me. The playbooks also had some interesting dynamics. For example I was also a time traveler, and had come from the distant past, when our society and world were in a much better place. And it turns out I had known Opal's distant ancestor, who was my sister's lover.
The scenes we played were strange, and intense, and there was so much conflict between our characters... it was really enticing. But I think all of our brains were working at a slower pace than normal, and we ended up not get to do what would normally be a full session. I think Andrew was a little down by that, but honestly, the session was still soooo good. I have no regrets. And we got to work through some shaktihate.
From there it was back to The Big House, more coloring and hanging out. More love boat. And me eeking out as much sleep as I could, but still getting to the YWCA in time for Sunday's morning game.