Tall Pines, Hive of Scum and Villainy

In the secluded mountain town of Tall Pines (game by Miles Gaborit), eighteen-year-old Kelly has been killed at the mall, pushed to her death in front of everyone, though no one saw who did it. The townsfolk prefer to pretend every thing is okay, but Agent Emily Barnes of the Federal Drug Taskforce has come to town to investigate the murder and uncovers more than she ever bargained for.

Tall Pines logo over picture of water fall
Tall Pines Logo courtesy of Self Critical Hits

Our story opens with local gigolo John Connely getting chewed out at the bar by the town’s therapist Jessica about how Kelly’s death doesn’t free him to work alone. Instead they need to figure out how to replace Kelly’s pivotal role in their prostitution/prescription drug ring, so they try to recruit Patrick, Kelly’s friend from the cheerleading squad. Meanwhile, Agent Barnes suspects deputy Alex Meyers is less than forthcoming about what is really going on, then confronts Heather, a classmate of Kelly’s who greets her at the door déshabillé, about the Adderall smuggling and the related ACT Down testing scam that she’s investigating. Heather breezily denies everything, but Barnes knows that this bad apple is guilty. Patrick tries to confess to Deputy Meyers that he and Kelly only pretended to cheer to bolster their college applications, but Alex refuses to recognize anything bad about town. At the big game, Agent Barnes is interrogating Patrick about their cheering fraud, when a blindfolded cheerleader named Marnie falls from the pyramid and dies.

Later, Agent Barnes meets John Connely at an abandoned cabin for a secret tryst, and Barnes blames herself for the accident at the game, but they also find a letter in Heather’s handwriting that says, “Please push her. I can’t stand it anymore!” At the de-griefing at the school, Patrick breaks down with Jessica and tries to harm himself, but she’s more concerned with who is supplying information to Agent Barnes and confronts John about it. Barnes finds a cache of money and Kelly’s charm bracelet in a recessed hollow in the railroad tunnel, leading her to believe Kelly was preparing to flee Tall Pines. At the funeral for Marnie, one of their classmates mysteriously catches fire lighting a cigarette and falls into the casket and burns to death. After three deaths, parents are in an uproar at the school board meeting, where parents and teachers agree to implement a curfew and consider putting house arrest ankle bracelets on the kids to track and keep them safe.

Patrick finally manages to confess to Deputy Alex Meyers about having brought bolt cutters to a mysterious figure at the entrance to the old mines. Agent Barnes follows Kelly’s escape route with John, who betrays her by threatening to reveal their relationship unless Emily gets him onto the Taskforce. Later Barnes and Deputy Meyers descend deeper into the tunnels but stop and light a candle at a weird shrine with a dead rat at its center. When Heather leads Patrick to the same shrine, she explains that Marnie had been the prophet of the Living Rat and had died because of Barnes interference. Water flows out from the shrine, and Heather holds Patrick under to drown him. Barnes and Meyers, following a trail through the tunnels, arrive just as Patrick perishes. Barnes draws her gun and challenges Heather about what she’s just done while Alex expresses doubts about whether this is the Living Rat’s will. As we fade to black, Alex leaps forward to grab Barnes gun and shots ring out.

Choose Your Own Crypt of War

We had time for a bonus game at our session on Thursday, so we played a quick session of Cheat Your Own Adventure by Shane Mclean called “Crypt of War!” Here is how it went:

Legend has it that War himself keeps a cache of magical weapons in this crypt, so you venture down to secure them for yourself. In the first chamber, you find an old suit of armor on display and choose to clean it. Once you’ve oiled the armor and made it shine once more, they thank you and challenge you to join them on a quest seeking a potion to restore their life. The armor tells you of the great loving relationship between them and their blacksmith creator so many ages ago. As you’re about to choose between corridors to explore, an undead army attacks! Grasping the suit as a battering ram, you barrel through the zombies and race down a corridor but fall through a trap door into the catacombs below. Orienting yourself along the walls, you find another room with a pedestal in the center and leap upon it, which activates a mechanism that corkscrews you into the air. The armor enters a chamber below the pedestal and emerges glowing with magical energy. They threatens to leave you stranded on the pedestal but you promise to be their new love, so they help you down. When you enter the pedestal chamber seeking the legendary weapons, the god War appears before you. You abject yourself before him and try to bluff your way into his graces. War sees through your deception but finds your gall amusing and thanks you for restoring his ultimate weapon to him. The god and the armor disappear in a flash of light, leaving you groveling in the dust.

The Final Communard Girl

Tonight we brought out Final Girl by Bret Gillan and found ourselves a group of hapless communists trying to create a utopia in a gated Florida neighborhood, but ended up being hunted down by that avatar of capitalism, the Monopoly Man.

Monopoly man wielding an axe and leaping from a pile of moneybags.
Photo courtesy torbakhopper at Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

In the introductions, we learn that Boris shot a deer, or someone dressed as a deer, the night before our story begins, and Janusz is digging into the details, while Josephus goes on about God. At the dining hall, Bigalou, a retired shrimp-boat captain, makes friends with Emma, the idealistic orator, who in turn develops quite the rivalry with Jane the teen who rebels by insisting on capitalist commerce. Elsewhere, Martine the enterprising beekeeper agrees to set up shop with Chad the alligator wrestler in a house shown to them by Belinda where a couple recently passed away. In the next scene, Leo the groundskeeper, Marko, Nic Caj, and Sol, keeper of the chore wheel, mysteriously die in our community graveyard when the Monopoly Man draws first blood.

Later at the abandoned railway station, a ghostly train tries to run down Bigalou, Josphus, Janusz, and Chad, but it is the giant metallic dog that gets it’s teeth into Chad and rips him to shreds. At a party in the basement of Chad & Martine’s house, the Monopoly Man appears out of nowhere and after several near misses, lands the head of his military flail in Belinda’s face. At the meeting house, Emma tries to rally the group but MM knocks on the door to foreclose on us. He stumbles miserably, failing to connect with his briefcase or his Monopoly money, but eventually manages to run down Martine. At the community pool, a race car and bevy of dogs try to attack us, but it is MM himself who finally reunites Josephus with his Lord. On a rooftop where we hope we’ll be safe, green houses begin to fall from the sky, just missing us, but Bigalou is felled by the Triforce piece from the Legend of Zelda edition.

Finally, in the stand-off on the Boardwalk at the beach, where we arm ourselves and use the sand to build fortifications, Mr. Monopoly arrives and proceeds to hack his way through the remaining communists. When Jane trips Emma, she ends up with an axe in her back, but that leaves Jane vulnerable too, so she gets ironed flat. Monopoly Man crushes Boris by dropping a hotel on him, and turns to face Janusz. But the mild-mannered reporter exhibits heretofore unknown talents and releases a samurai fury upon the arch-capitalist and cuts him down.

Marooned on an Archipelago in Archipelago

Tonight we played Archipelago by Matthijs Holter as a group of people who wash up on an archipelago of small islands, many having mysteriously appeared on, above, or near the islands from somewhere quite distant. Our cast starts with Siobhan Donaghy, a magical researcher and minor internet celebrity who has come to our island believing it to be someplace else. She is joined by Flora Madison who swam to the island after the cruise ship where she was the racket pro sank nearby. One day while swimming in the surf, she rescues Captain Mitch Leonard whose small passenger boat also sank as it neared the island.

Mitch is grieving for his lost crew and boat and only beginning to acclimate to the island when his cousin Fisher Walker, a former clown-in-training falls from the sky. He’d been skydiving over Arizona before he landed outside the slapdash Tiki bar the group had set up on the island. They decide that they must explore the island more including the inactive volcano they jokingly refer to as Machu Pichu.

Map of two islands connected by a sand bar and surrounded by Archipelago cards and phrases.

Siobhan and Fisher explore the foot of the volcano using her magical research equipment including a scanning device. Mysteriously, in Fisher’s hands, the device allows him to digitally capture whatever he points it at. He manages to digitize mangoes, a magically crafted rhubarb, and flaming lava lizards at Pichu. He starts calling the device his PokeDex and begins randomly capturing things wherever he goes.

When Jay Moscowicz, a tech entrepreneur whose web platform specializing in reaction videos—r.eac.tr—made him billions, cruised up to the island on his yacht to survey his most recent acquisition, the group think they might be saved. But when Jay, Mitch, and Flora try to motor away in his boat, things start to disappear including the helm used to steer the ship. Rather than blunder forward blindly, they return crestfallen to the island, which according to readings they took before abandoning the ship appears to be in a different location than what they had thought, a location called 47-G12.

One day a sand bar appears on one end of the island and Fisher, Flora, and Mitch cross it to find a smaller island and the ruins of an outdoor theater with the words “47 sons and 12 daughters” written on the side in Spanish. Fisher keeps putting more things into his PokeDex and reveals some of what he’s captured so far, including a wrecked ship and a ship’s helm wheel. But inside the theater, they find a giant rooster that turns on Flora when she tries to tame it, chasing her to the top of the ruins. Suddenly, a traffic helicopter crashes nearby and Fisher captures their camera having already snagged the chopper’s stabilizing rotor.

Back at the main island, Jay explores and marvels at its beauty and splendor; he begins to wonder if leaving is so important. On cliffs overlooking a beautiful cove, he finds a trickle of fresh water coming through the rocks. Later he goes with Siobhan to the volcano, where he learns that his assistant has disappeared. She convinces him that the volcano is the center of the magical nexus that is key to reconnecting them to the real world and getting them all home.

While Flora sits trapped atop the theater wall, Fisher is catching and releasing so many things in such rapid succession from his PokeDex, that the device’s sounds cascade into a musical crescendo unlike anything any of them have ever heard. Mitch is beginning to understand the ways of the island, and after he speaks of it with reverence and gratitude, a pillar of sand rises up to rescue Flora from her perch. “The Island provides” becomes his mantra.

When the crew reunite, Flora sends Siobhan into the theater to touch the rooster, saying it will be the best workout of her life. And Jay gets help from Fisher and his PokeDex to dig out the trickle into a sustained fountain of fresh water that perhaps they can tap to survive for longer on the island. In the climax, Siobhan takes them all into the well of Machu Pichu, draws a glyph into the dirt, lines the team around it with incense, and chants an incantation. At first it seems her ritual has failed, but then the glyph sinks into the ground and the lava begins to flow into the markings. As the rest of the well begins to fill with lava, everyone runs to safety outside the volcano, but each must now come to terms with the prospect of a lengthy stay on these islands.

Holiday Wars Under the Microscope

Index cards arranged on a table, with 6 cards at the top indicating Periods and cards below them indicating Events and Scenes
Index cards arranged on a table, with 6 cards at the top indicating Periods and cards below them indicating Events and Scenes

This week we played Microscope by Ben Robbins. We explored the history of a magical land populated by magical beings associated with various holidays, particularly Christmas and Halloween.

The Christmas and Halloween armies first clash during the terrible Holiday Music Wars. The turning point in the war comes when a Halloween army songwriter composed a powerful tune, based on the sounds produced by sleeping Bethany. This song inspires the Halloween army, led by Bethany’s feckless boyfriend, to victory.

Unfortunately, Christmas’s humiliating defeat in the Holiday Music Wars leads to the rise of the brutal dictator Santa. Santa’s rule is so devastating that Jesus defects to Halloween. Meanwhile, the elves of Santa’s Workshop form a union to fight for better pay and working conditions.

All is not well on the Halloween side, either. The long war has led to widespread unrest, with a revolutionary song being sung in the streets. Various covers of this song, including ones by Marilyn Manson and a group of Gregorian chanters, increase its popularity.

In the hopes of bringing about a decisive victory over Santa, Jesus attempts to recruit forces from other holidays. After an inquiry to St. Patrick’s Day is unsuccessful, he finds substantial support from Easter, and forms the Easter Army.

Ultimately, both Santa and the Grim Reaper / Jack Skellington are seriously wounded during a Halloween/Christmas battle. The Elves’ Union violently overthrows Santa and takes control of the Workshop. Zeus (under the stage name HeyZeus) attempts to fill the power vacuum, with support from the ambitious Mrs. Claus. Fortunately, the elves and goblins manage to unite, and they trap Zeus and Mrs. Claus in a snow globe, bringing in a new era of egalitarianism in the magical land.

Generous Play

Four playing cards with images of gamers on them and explanations of four play styles
Image courtesy of Rob Donoghue at Walking Mind

Rob Donoghue at his Walking Mind blog at the Evil Hat website writes about generous play as a play style:

most of my favorite players also subscribe to this model. They’re there to have fun, and they engage the rest of the table to help drive that fun. If you get a table full of people playing this way it can be a joy to watch as the fun-ball gets passed around with vigorous enthusiasm, and the desire to elevate each other elevates the whole table.

I was drawn to his distinctions because at Story Games Westchester, we are entirely on one side of the equations here: we employ generous, personal play or our games don’t work. We try to see what each other want to have fun and each move to accommodate that story, the mode of play, that content, but we also have equal authority and so we each have to advocate for our own play, our own fun. It works for us, or it mostly does.