Friday night we had the latest episode of Hunter – Shadow Wars.
It didn’t go all that well.
The pace of the adventure lagged, and there was much flailing about by the players trying to find the plot, and a full helping of player frustration throughout. All of which was my fault.
I made two primary mistakes with this adventure. First, I left things a little too open – I gave only the vaguest sort of hook into it, no real direction other than pointing to a place where things may or may not have happened, and didn’t work hard enough to correct the problem in play. Second, I inadvertently stuck in a couple of big honking PLOT HERE signs that were not intended to be part of the scenario, and I couldn’t figure out a good way to tie them in, so the characters spent the bulk of the session chasing down red herrings.
Now, the red herring thing is not necessarily bad in an investigation game, but it led to me violating one of the objectives of this campaign: keep the stories one session long, and the adventures episodic. By the end of the evening, they had just got to the actual plot I had developed.
I stole the main idea for the scenario from a White Wolf .pdf called Host of the Clutter, which deals with a pack of feral, sort-of-possessed house cats as the main threat. I liked the idea of the cats as antagonist, but completely reworked the everything else to tie it into the style of game this is and the backstory of one of the characters. So, the game started with one of the characters (who is actually a martian – part of a covert invasion force gone native) getting a message to check out a report of disappearances and UFO sightings in a little town about 80 miles out of the city. She called up the rest of the group (including a new player – welcome to the game, Vicki!), they did a little bit of research to figure out that there had indeed been a few disappearances, but not the dozens that the report had indicated, nor could anyone confirm UFO sightings.
Out they went. As they drove out, I gave them some background on the town they were going to in order to set the scene.
Here’s where I ran into some problems. See, I grew up near this town, and know a fair bit about it. Some of the stuff I changed to make for better game material, but the main point I was trying to bring across is a phenomenon that’s occurring more and more in small towns in southern Manitoba, especially company towns. They’re dying.
Pinawa, the town I used as the setting, grew up to support a test plant for a nuclear reactor that Canada was manufacturing and selling. Now the plant has closed down, and most of the people who worked there have moved off to other reactors and other jobs, leaving behind a town with fewer and fewer families, and more and more retired people.Â This is the vibe of the place that I wanted to capture; the town with fewer young people and more old people, a third of the (very nice) houses empty, thick forest spread through the town, deer so plentiful that they’re pests to the people who live there, deserted streets after dark, that sort of thing.
But you know what people latched on to, right? Something that was completely in my blind spot because of my familiarity with the area.
Yeah. Nuclear reactor.
Then when I mentioned another (relatively) nearby installation, Whiteshell Underground Research Laboratory (created to test the feasibility of storing nuclear waste in Canadian shield bedrock), they just couldn’t let go.
And who could blame them, really? These clues – unintentional as they were – were far more interesting than the actual clues about a missing child and an old woman dead in her home and partially eaten by her cats.
I tried to work the nuclear plant in, but had total imagination failure, and couldn’t come up with a way to connect it to the cat backstory that I didn’t want to change because of its connection to a character backstory. I kept looking for ways to drop some important clues in while the group was taking an illicit tour of the abandoned plant, but couldn’t come up with a way that wouldn’t invalidate the other clues and the story as it had already been exposed.
Of course, the next day, I had a dozen decent ideas. I just didn’t have them when I needed them.
So, the first three-quarters of the game wound up being a complete wild goose chase for the characters because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it on the fly. Don’t get me wrong; we had some fun and there was some great roleplaying and interaction, and nice building of atmosphere, but the plot did not advance.
Anyway, they finally made it to a place that I could throw the cats at them – the house of the woman who had died and been eaten by her cats. I put a few cats in the attic, and one of the characters got her face badly gouged when she stuck her head up there. Then, the cats fled, and they stayed at the house to do a little research, with one character outside keeping watch. The group found out a few things, such as the fact that the woman was the grandmother of the missing child, and that the child’s parents both worked for a Winnipeg-based cosmetics research company. The martian found a recognition sign on one of the company’s pages that indicated they were also doing weapon development for the invaders.
Which is about when I brought the cats back. A few dozen of them, moving in an organized manner through the woods, sending scouts ahead, crossing the open ground in small parties, and climbing the side of the house to creep into the attic. I tried to make the image unnatural and disturbing, and I think I pulled it off. When about twenty of the cats had made their way into the attic, the character on guard ran back in to warn the rest of the group, and they all got to face a blanket of snarling, spitting, strangely-organized feral house cats bent on shredding them. Individually, none of the cats were a real threat, but the numbers began to tell, and a couple of the group were pretty hurt by the time they chased off the swarm.
At that point, it was pretty late, so we called it a night. I’ve got to schedule the wrap-up session, soon.
And I’m going to make sure it’s more focused.