Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cult of Chaos Write Up, Free RPG Day Edition: "The Space Between"

Greetings, readers, yesterday was Free RPG Day at many a Friendly Local Gaming Store - it certainly was at mine, Just Games Rochester.  Store owner Matt wrangled almost a dozen GMs into running games at the store to mark the event, with a table thick with prizes for people who ran games, played games, or just spent $10 or more on merchandise in the store.  Unsurprisingly, I was there to run Call of Cthulhu (though I did get to play in a very enjoyable "tournament" of Dungeon Crawl Classics as well), choosing "The Space Between," by Scott Dorward, as the adventure I'd be running.  This adventure can be found in the collection "Nameless Horrors" for those who want to follow along.

Dramatis Personae:

  • Blake Tevis, sleazy producer, PR spin-controller for the Church of Sunyata
  • Daria Nowland, frustrated producer, member of the Church of Sunyata
  • Julia Cortese, assistant to the director, member of the Church of Sunyata
  • Spencer Shull, "fixer" for the Church of Sunyata
The Church of Sunyata is essentially Scientology with the serial numbers filed off, with members striving to become "empty" of their "woes" to achieve enlightenment.  The public face of the Church is John Trav- I mean, Craig Steele, a retired movie star, who is bankrolling the production of a film called "The Space Between," which is being produced wholly with Church talent and crew and is rumored to be a recruitment tool for the Church.  

The lead actress, Verity Harrow, has gone missing, and production has ground to a halt.  The Investigators decided to go to Harrow's apartment to look for her - and are met by a Church security guard, Tyrone Goode, who is very apologetic, having been offered $1000 by Harrow to drive her from the Church's Celebrity Retreat to the apartment to "get a few things." Spencer begins to get very uncomfortable with this, as he did not know Harrow was at the Retreat and believed it was his job to know.  

Meeting Harrow inside, they soon discover that something's terribly wrong with her - her skin feels rubbery and yielding, like an underinflated balloon, and there's a line of sutures down her back.  A call to Brian Musgrave, the head of the Church, gets them the order to bring her back to the Celebrity Retreat.  

Daria Nowland decides instead that it's more important for Harrow to finish making the film, and drives her (with Julia Cortese) to the set.  Julia starts texting Spencer that they're heading for the set, and Daria's efforts to take the phone from Julia results in them rear-ending another vehicle while going 45 on Rodeo Drive.  

Verity Harrow bursts like an overfed tick, spurting tendrils of inky blackness - not so much black, but the absolute absence of light - from her mouth and eye-sockets as well as her ruptured sutures.  Daria and Julia take off running as the tendrils begin to invade neighboring cars, the people inside them just vanishing, seeming to sink into the blackness.  

Spencer and Blake, with Tyrone in tow, give chase, eventually picking up Julia as Daria flees on a stolen moped.  They manage to call Daria, talk her down, and arrange a meeting at Daria's health food store.  Daria arrives first, retrieving a gun from under the counter and sitting in a booth, the pistol cradled in her lap.  

Blake seats himself opposite Daria, while Spencer and Tyrone come in the back, guns drawn, under orders from Brian Musgrove to bring Daria in to Sunyata Central at any cost.  Daria sees their reflection in the store window and panics, shooting Blake in the stomach from two feet away.  Blake sinks into shock, and Daria, experiencing a bout of madness at having shot someone, spins around, firing wildly.  She clips Spencer's ear with a bullet before being shot in the head by Tyrone.  As sirens wail, Tyrone and Spencer drag Blake to the waiting car, where Julia drives them to Sunyata Central.  

Under the guise of "medical attention," Blake is forcibly Emptied, his skin peeled off his still-living body, stitched up and filled with the Hungry Void.  When Spencer realizes that Brian Musgrove does not have his best interests at heart, he tries to fight his way out of the Church, getting gunned down by security guards.  

Craig Steele comes to Julia, and tells her she was very brave through this entire ordeal, and offers her a personal, "elevated" Emptying session, which she accepts.  It takes a half-hour for her to die as Steele skins her alive, stitching her skin back together into a semblance of life, filled with the Hungry Void.  

Unimpeded, director Jared Woodward finishes editing together "The Space Between," with footage of Verity Harrow's sacrificial Emptying being spliced in as subliminal images.  An advance screening is held for members of the press and local government, the imagery serving as a conduit for the Hungry Void, Emptying all who see the film, which soon goes into global distribution.  

the happy players in the aftermath of the session.

In retrospect, I don't think "The Space Between" was the right choice of adventure for me to run for Free RPG Day.  The players were all new to me, and while most of them had some Call of Cthulhu experience, they were used to playing it as a game of "we summon the King in Yellow, tell him he looks fat, and waste him with our tommy guns." One player actually lamented that this was a modern day scenario instead of 1920s, because in the 1920s his character could have a tommy gun.  

None of them, I think, were willing to take the premise seriously or think of their characters as devotees to the Church - at the very least, the idea of respecting the head of the Church never seemed to have crossed their mind.  C'est la vie.  Everyone had fun, at least, and that's what matters.  

The hardest part for me was having a player who was a backseat GM - he kept trying to tell me how Sanity Checks work and I finally had to say to him, "Look, I've been running Call of Cthulhu for almost a decade now, and I am running this session.  I need you to trust me to know what I'm doing, please." He settled down after that.  

So I think next year at Free RPG Day I'll run a pulpier Cthulhu scenario; still, I'm counting this session as a rousing success and an exercise in improvisational thinking - plus, we wrapped up in time that I was able to get to the charity picnic my girlfriend was working in time to get a hot dog and a s'more.  

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