Monday, March 5, 2012

Heavy Be The Rain : The Shotgun Diaries

Heavy Be The Rain
The Shotgun Diaries

My third game for Indigo Entertainment was another screamfest using John Wick's The Shotgun Diaries.  Set in the very building we work at, the group of survivors had to gather their wits, weapons and skills to survive the zombie-infested city of Makati.   The game had five players, with Jigs playing the Sneaky Guy, Lei playing the Dangerous Gal, Storm playing the Fast One, and JP playing the Clever one.  Summer, who at first wasn't sure if she wanted to jump into the hobby still got a chance to be in the game as the Helpless character.

In this game, only Jigs and JP have played under me more than once.  Storm was in the Young Justice game, but only for a few minutes (He was the player whose name I forgot), so ultimately I had to get them all comfortable playing a game and getting scared at the same time.  Thankfully, I had the soundtrack to Silent Hill 2 and Eyes Wide Shut to help me out.  Not to mention the wonderfully frighteningly disturbing tracks of Penderecki whose Orchestra Works are fantastic for horror (Special mention to the song "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" which really captures a freaky scene down to pat.)

Since it was a one-shot introductory game, I gave the players each a chance to write an entry in the Zombie Diary to represent things they learned or experienced so far.  The first one to write was Lei who entered, "It is Raining Heavily" which wonderfully added a fearful aspect to the already scary game.  Rain cut down visibility and made the players truly want to stick together.  Summer had fun by adding, "Zombies can Drive" which made any moment of a car engine being audible a freaky moment.  The group decided to try to make their way to the nearby Church using a car a woman (The Strong Character) with a baby (Another Helpless character) was trying to take.  Enroute, however, the group realized they were driving past Makati Medical Hospital and soon enough, were debating over whether or not to stop for supplies.  That was the perfect moment for me to hit them with another shock moment.  A sixteen-wheeler truck showed up and slammed into them, forcing them to take refuge in the Hospital.  The truck, of course, was being driven by a zombie that barely remembered how to stop.

Once inside, the group broke into two groups (Oh no!) with one group keeping the door shut from the coming horde, and the other searching for supplies.  Quickly the players got into their roles with Summer playing the Fast character as an impatient guy who just wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.  Storm then added to the diary, "The baby is infected" which for me was another lovely stroke of horror tropes that perfectly fit the game.  The search for supplies lead to the two groups fragmenting, with the Fast guy finding a locked door which he decided had to mean a possible survivor.  The other group, formed by the Dangerous Gal (which Lei played as the infamously popular Miriam Defensor-Santiago of the Philippine Senate) heading to the upper levels with the Sneaky Guy.  They found their way to the cafeteria and there found a cloth rope tied to a pole hanging out the window, and all the tables bunched together to block the door to the kitchen.  Peeking outside, Jigs saw someone flashing a light at them and chose instead to hide rather than respond to it.  Lei heard clanging from the kitchen door and a voice suddenly calling out, "Please let me out.  Help me," over and over like a recording.

Back by the entrance, JP struggled to keep the door shut.  While his Cleverness got him to consider dragging the heavy shelf to block the door, he realized it was either he struggle to do that, or have the Strong Girl handle it while he struggled to keep the door shut.  The Helpless Girl then offered to keep the baby close, a declaration which had Storm gleefully (or evilly hehe) cheering out.  That made everyone suspect the baby was infected, which meant it was time for another diary entry.  JP then added, "Some zombies can grapple with their tongues" which was a staple ever since Left4Dead entered the genre.

Storm finds a zombie in the room, and realizes she must have locked herself in after realizing she was going to change.  As he runs to escape her, I have her strike at him with her tongue!  Storm evades fast enough and makes his way back to the others by the door.

Back upstairs, Lei decides to open the kitchen door, contrary to everyone's freaked out responses.   In horror, they all learned of the young 7 year old sampaguita girl who seems to be the source of the repeating voices.  Infected with something squirming in her stomach, the thing mimics human voices to try and lure people close.  The child begs to be relieved of her burden and Lei quietly shoots her in the head.

By then, every player began to panic in a determined choice to survive.  As the others struggle to defeat the tongue-lashing nurse, Storm bolts and decides to try and save himself.  The door crashes open as the "Tank" zombie in the game finally reveals itself (a beast I decided cost me five whole zombie clock points to call out) and sadly brings JP's human story to an end.  To my surprise, it was around this point that Summer suddenly couldn't resist being in the game anymore.  She began to offer suggestions to others and so I awarded her with her own sequence of fighting against the zombie baby.

Horror works best when humor is weaker.  And it was around here it became clear that the players were using humor to try to lessen the fear.  Usually in horror games I remind players to tone down the laughter to maintain the dread.  But since the group was mostly knew, I decided to let them have the fun and just celebrate the experience.  Then JP added in the diary, "All sanctuaries have at least 2-3 zombies in it!"

The game ended with Lei being the sole survivor, as the government agents moved to save her and the rest were left to die.  JP had his revenge when I had him return as a zombie and he delightfully hunted Storm down for his earlier betrayal.  And Jigs, for trying to hide from every threat found himself escaping from the zombies by leaping into a trash chute.  The hospital was then bombed to contain the contagion by the government troops and as a finale, Jigs awoke to find people huddled around his numb form.  It soon dawns to him that the people are all zombies, his body is mercifully paralyzed from the fall, and he feels nothing as they devour him with glee.


Some system changes I made which I felt made the game work better for new players include:
1) I reduced the Zombie Clock by one whenever the players willingly embraced their roles.  It became a reward for willingly going for the horror genre.  With most not accustomed to role-playing yet, the simple reward actually had them working together to make the horror scarier!

2) The Zombie Diary was used as a storytelling device.  Each player had a chance to write in it something that I could apply in the game.  For some, I announced the entry and let them all know.  This worked well for freak out moments like knowing some zombies retain the ability to drive.  For others, like the infected baby, I kept quiet about it until the players began to suspect it.  It made for delicious role-playing and in many ways got the new players emotionally engaged more than expected.

3) Evading death with Supply loss.  Since most players start out thinking the storyteller is the antagonist, they rarely throw themselves in deeper holes for the drama.  So most of the time, when zombies do hit successfully, I go for the kill.  To offset this, I allowed them to survive a killing blow with a loss of a Supply die.  It represented a health pack being torn apart or a gun blocking the blow but being thrown away and the like.  It seemed like a good system, to be honest, and worked nicely to keep the drama going and the players wanting to help each other out.

4) Google Maps is your friend.  Especially for the Clever character.  It makes a great resource for mapping out the route to be used to escape.  And it does add greatly to the fun of the game.

Once again, thank you John Wick for creating this wonderful game.
And those who are interested can check out this site for more about it.

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