Friday, February 28, 2014

That One Time I Had So Much Fun With a Horror Game I Published a Story About It

Every gaming group has its traditions. Maybe they start off as a zany idea, or you're all bored so you come up with a game that is a slam dunk which demands to be repeated. A friend of mine created such a tradition in my gaming group we refer to simply as a horror movie game. A simple, one-shot cinematic with a complete story where everyone dies at the end (unless that character becomes a monster in his or her own right). This week on Table Talk I'd like to tell you how this whole thing got started.

In The Beginning

The idea started because our DM Rob (yes, the same Rob who inadvertently got me a job offer from a sith lord) was getting really burned out. As a group we needed to take a break and get our juice back. My friend Alex offered to run a one-shot game in the tradition of some of his favorite horror movies, and the novelty alone got us all to agree.

What could possibly go wrong?
The Setup

We were told to make 1st level Call of Cthulhu characters using the 3.0 version of the player's handbook. For those who've never done this you choose a profession instead of a class, and aside from the skills and feats players receive from their day jobs, everything else is pretty standard. You're just normal people after all, and very easily broken. The only other instructions we were given was that the game was going to be set in a desert-style town, and that we should look to the movie Tremors for our inspiration.

Yeah. That's about what I said too.

The Cast

We are so screwed.
Christine, who was not a fan of horror movies and thus was a little out of her trope, designed the ideal "girl who lives" in the form of a graduate student out with her class on a field trip to study some unique flora and fauna. Rob, for reasons we shan't discuss, decided he was going to play a gun nut survivalist who lived in the foothills and made spare cash as a guide. If you've seen the movie, he was a younger, single Burt Gummer.

I wasn't sure what I was going to play at first, but I knew the guy's name was Mac. I was kicking around ideas at the table, and I said maybe I'd make him a Vietnam Vet. Just an old army cook, the sort of guy who liked his own cooking a little too much, you know? Rob insisted that I should make him some kind of special forces, behind-enemy-lines green beret type who used that as his cover, and out of spite I definitely made Mac just a cook. A cook who, when he got back state-side, opened the only restaurant in the little podunk town where this game took place.

Shit Gets Real

The day starts off normally enough. The grad students are all out in the open air, exploring and prodding stuff. Then they discover something weird... really weird. It looks like a bizarre goo, but further exploration suggests it might have once been an animal. The kids get the hell out of there in a big, big hurry, and hole up at the hotel attached to Mac's cafe. Their guide ran back home and barricaded himself in his underground bomb shelter, for reasons.

Nothing happens for a few hours in game. Everyone goes to bed. Mac is making a sandwich when he's attacked by bizarre, burrowing worm creatures the size of his middle finger. Three of them burrow into his leg, and he digs them out with a knife, courtesy of some fortunately timed natural 20s. Mac passes out. Our college student is likewise attacked, fails a sanity check, and goes completely comatose. The gun nut's basement explodes, and he's engulfed by something before he passes out.

The Party Comes Together

This won't look like a tree by the end of the story.
Our gun nut wakes up, snatches his biggest caliber solution, and jumps in his jeep before tearing ass for town. Mac comes to, and finds the hotel and his restaurant covered in blood and dead bodies. Our grad student snaps out of it, and almost loses it completely by what she's looking at. Mac grabs the girl and his rifle from under the bar, stepping out onto the porch. The jeep is in sight, but as it's driving the road starts erupting. Even with some creative driving, our survivalist takes a tumble and has to duck into the hotel on foot just as the worms start exploding out of the ground.

Worms, some as long as a grown man's arm and others the size of a car, come smashing out of the ground. Our party takes a few pot shots, but sprints up the stairs to the second floor of the hotel to wait for help. They wait. And wait. And wait.

No one comes.

Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

You saw that coming.
Since it became quite clear no help was coming, we did what desperate people all over the world have done for centuries; we tried to kill it with fire.

With a couple of molotov cocktails and an open gas valve we blew the roof off the hotel, scurrying out the back before the creatures could react. We ran across the street, hoping the dead worms and the burning building would buy us some time. We crashed into the supermarket, and managed to kill two more of the bigger ones before we pause and take stock of the situation. Mac, bloodied and bruised, pulled down a couple of common, household chemicals and put together some party poppers a friend of his showed him how to make when he was in the jungle. We sneak out the back door, and as luck would have it find a huge RV with the keys in the ignition just ready to tear ass out of town.

That Escalated Quickly

Did it ever.
We're on our way onto the road, trying to avoid running over any of the worms, when our survivalist has to make a fortitude save. Because Rob is, well, Rob, he rolls, snatches the die up, and informs the DM he rolled a 19. The DM asks for a second check, same result.

The gun nuts stomach bursts as the eggs laid in him earlier while he was unconscious hatch. A failed save would have resulted in vomiting them up, no harm, no foul. The college girl fails her sanity check, and goes comatose. Mac just keeps on driving, or at least he did until a worm the size of a buick smashed in through the side window. Faced with such a monstrosity Mac fails a sanity check. He has a PTSD flashback (I don't know why, but that's what was rolled on the table), and attacks the thing with a knife. It eats him, but the pressure of the worm's swallowing makes the improvised grenades on Mac's belt explode, killing the creature who killed him. The college cutie snaps out of it, and tries to run. She's brought down by worms and dragged off.

This is where things get strange. All the worms are gathered around a lake making a high-pitched keening sound. Something urges her to go forward, but a natural 20 on a will save says no. She limps away, and makes a second save, also a natural 20. She falls into a crevice big enough for a train, and crawls through the dark going she-knows-not-where. At the end of it are stairs, a door, and a survivor from the grad student party who's having psychic conversations with these worms. Those who are gathered descend on her as she screams, and the screen goes black.

The Literary Aftermath

When I created Mac I wanted him to be as normal as possible; just an aging vet who runs a respectable business. After some of the things he pulled off, and some of the crazy results he managed, I wondered what else there was to him. To find out I wrote and published a story about Mac titled Jungle Moon. The story is only .99, and readers get the first 40% for free. Take a look at this real Vietnam ghosts story on Smashwords here.

You know you wanna check it out...
Anyway, thanks for stopping by Improved Initiative for our latest installment of Table Talk. Got a game of your own you'd like to tell a story about? Let us know! We'd be happy to give you the limelight for a bit. Hope to see you next week, and if you'd like to keep up on all of our updates make sure to follow us on Facebook and Tumblr.

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