Out where the buses don’t run…playtestish

This week our regularly scheduled DM was feeling under the weather so we played something else.  I volunteered to run Out where the buses don’t run, a module released earlier by the Digital Orc

I didn’t have time to re-familiarize myself with the module, although I’d looked it over last month and had the jist of it down OK… it did however turn out that I’d never really studied the map, and did not recall some important details…

Anyway I decided to try out the super-simple “Optional Resolution System” as the core mechanic of the game.  PCs were handed a d6 and a note card.  The note card was for their character’s name, background if any, and inventory.  The d6 was rolled first for initial Luck Points and then was the die they used to try to do stuff.  Simple as pie. 

The players (John, Matt, Chad, and Aaron the new guy) were all told, they need to come up with a character — someone from roughly the present day, who might be out at an isolated, old mansion late one afternoon.

John made an amateur TV producer, scouting a supposedly haunted house for his ‘paranormal reality TV show’.  His character was more interested in recording the odd events than participating…he even stood by filming while a ghoul attacked.

 Chad made a gas company employee, there to investigate a gas leak at a house where the gas should have been turned off some time ago.  His character had a pack of cigarettes, but no lighter, which was a running joke, as there are no open flames in the house; at least, no normal fires…  He also proved to be the ‘moral compass’ of the party.

Matt made a mute young man, who had been hitchhiking, and was looking for a lift or directions.  He would turn out to be a fairly nice guy, but kind of stabby. (“I stab her in the head, just to be sure…”)

Aaron’s character was a college student, pranked by his friends who told him a party was going to be at the house.  A typical fraternity/party boy type, he only put down his beer to arm himself later on with a dead cat.  As play progressed we realized he was also the ‘doomed black guy character’ in this horror scenario — always going first and drawing monster attacks. 

I was really tickled that everyone willingly made characters with various weaknesses and quirks.  I suggested a few ideas but they mostly came up with these characters, which play on various horror tropes, on their own while I was busy looking over the maps.

I know most readers don’t care for play-by-play accounts of sessions, and I don’t want to spoil the plot for people who might play this module some time, so I just note some highlights and problems.

I should get the problems out of the way first, and mention that we had a great time playing this.  My wife heard wild laughter coming from the basement all night, and dryly observed “You guys were really having a ball, huh?”  In fact the time flew by, for me at least, so I think we were all having fun.  But the module could be better.

First, this Dylan guy should fire his editor.  There were errors in several places of the texts (the Luck Points optional rules give a 1. and 3. but no 2.!); the key (room 20 mis-cites a critical verse from a book); and the random tables (one typo and a few more errors citing the verse in question).  What a mess.

Third, the module’s resolution depends on the PCs figuring out that they need to do something.  The get a load of clues as to *what* the thing they need to use is, and *where* to use it, but the *how* is up to them to figure out.  They might figure this out on their own, but there are a few things in the module that might actively dissuade them from the ‘correct’ solution — notably a cemetery scene that will punish them for doing the thing they’ll need to do, and the larger issue that some of their clues about what they need to do are coming from very suspect/hostile sources.  Nothing that makes the thing unplayable, but definitely a hinderance.  As GM in other circumstances I would have probably just dropped some hints about the *how*, but they seemed on the verge of figuring out, and I wanted to see how it played out as written.

So some of the highlights of the game, for me anyway, were:

  • Aaron’s character killing a cat, and then using it as a weapon until the party slew a knife-weilding witch.  He threw the cat at the witch to distract her, and before that he used it as a ‘cat mace’ to bludgeon a ghoul.  (I made the cat hit on a 4+ but only damage on a 6)
  • The party realized, after killing a witch that jumped out at them, that they’d just killed someone, on camera, and were probably pretty screwed if the authorities ever showed up.
  • The random effects from the telephones and other features in the house kept the party on edge, especially when the phones began ringing. 
  • The module references a dozen or more classic and/or cheesy horror movies, and players noticed a lot of them in play, leading to quick discussions of various movies, Bruce Campbell, etc.  The comedy/horror mood was not really hurt by these ‘distractions’ and in fact probably helped contribute to the hilarity of the game.
  • My inept accents/voices for the various deceased relatives of PCs provided some comedy relief too. 😦
  • The party bravely sent a comatose, helpless pregnant woman through a whirling vortex to who-knows-where… as a humane alternative to Aaron smashing her head with a shovel or Stabby Matt stabbing her to death, in order to prevent the birth of her possibly demon-spawned baby.  Heroes indeed!

I think my one fear, going into this, was that in my mind horror really works when you care about what happens to the characters, and we played this pretty silly.  But I think the investment the players had, just coming up with a character, was enough to make the menace/fear real in places, even if we mostly played it for laughs.  I would strongly recommend trying this out.  I’ve already given Dylan some feedback and he’s planning a revision, so you might wait until the next the revised version if you like ‘complete and ready-to-play’ modules.  By then it may be available for sale.  But if you are willing to adjust a few things on the fly, this is a really fun one-shot game, and would be very easy to adapt to any published horror game, whether or not you want to use his ‘optional resolution system’.

Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 10:16 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I laughed out loud reading this post (in a good way). Sounds like a blast! I fully own all of the errors you mentioned and will fix them soon. Thanks so much!

  2. I tried to reply to this yesterday from my tablet but had some problems.

    I really enjoyed the one shot. I always like trying something new and I had never done any kind of horror type of game prior to this. I think the majority of our group will try to plant some comedic relief into just about anything we play. I had no idea my lack of a lighter for my cigarettes would become such a reoccurring point.

    I also didn’t think the pen and clipboard would turn out to be such a useful tool for “Mute” to communicate with the rest of the group.

    There were definitely lots of laughable points. I think the suspense was there in almost everything we did still though. We were almost always cautious when open doors or picking up phones. Hell I was even afraid to touch the book we found and simply used my tools to flip through the pages to inspect it.

    I liked the play test aspect of the session. The game never really felt like a play test from a player’s perspective but then we had a nice round table discussion after the fact to discuss what we liked and didn’t like or what might cause problems for other gaming groups.

    Great times were definitely had though!

    • Chad,

      Thanks for the comment. I liked when you said “I liked the play test aspect of the session. The game never really felt like a play test from a player’s perspective but then we had a nice round table discussion after the fact to discuss what we liked and didn’t like or what might cause problems for other gaming groups.”

      I really really wish I had been a fly on the wall.

      May I use your above quote (with citation) on my blog for a play-test post?


      • By all means Dylan use what ever you’d like from my comment here. I am hoping to do some more stuff like this with the group in the future when our normal Campaign isn’t running for whatever reason.

        I am one of those people that like variety and change so little tangents of other games like this is refreshing for me.

        Thanks for the comment and the adventure! 😉

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