revelation radio

The other night, the Rapture came to Methehatchee, Tennessee.  Four hundred and five souls, mostly teenagers, were seized with the power of the Holy Spirit and departed this vale of sorrows for paradise, twenty-nine minutes into the broadcast of Wild Bill Acres’ Rock ‘n Rodeo.  Other listeners, sinners all, slashed their throats with broken bottles, swallowed their tongues and choked to death, slit their veins to unleash the vermin within, or set fire to themselves.  Few of the Elect shall be troubled by their loss!

james, do you ever talk about stuff besides money and old comic books?

For the past couple of months I’ve been running a game of Sorcerer.  We probably had the climactic session on Friday, which involved a player committing mass murder via Bible verse on the radio.  Figure I’d talk a little about the game.

Trigger warning: this post involves well-meaning white people playing a supernatural suspense story in which race relations are very prominent.  Also it is crazy long.

It’s set in the fictional Methehatchee County, Tennessee, circa 1955.  Immediately after Brown v. Board of Ed. threw the political landscape into consternation, and right as Bill Haley, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis are setting fire to youth culture.  “Demons” are creatures of Southern folklore.

any time you thinking evil, you thinking ’bout the blues

In writing this post, I’m struck by how absolutely shitty all Actual Play accounts are.  If you’re not playing in the game, you’re mainly interested in highlights.  So I’ll give highlights.  You can see a fuller version over at the Forge thread.

Super short version!

Player characters:

* Tommy Joe Jackson.  White lunkhead, about 19, hoping to make a fortune as a rock ‘n roll musician, except that he’s not very talented.  To help with that, he’s got himself a Mojo Hand from Delilah the swamp woman.  The Mojo Hand, linked to the ghost of Tommy Joe’s friend Boyd Lutz, makes him one mean guitar player, but  requires him to resolve all of Boyd’s bad karma while it constantly connives to create teen anarchy.

* Zachariah Cosgrove.  A white, crippled faith healer who’s returned to his ancestral home after a long time away.  Cosgrove learned the power to command demons from Ol’ Saul, his mentor and father figure.  Out of hubris, he bound to him the imp Melchidezek, to show that he is beyond temptation.  (Melchidezek is shaped like a horse, has an insect’s head, the hair of a woman, and its tail is a baby’s arm.) Melchidezek can perceive people’s deepest desires, and also grants Zachariah the power to heal others–but demands that he feed it communion wafers stolen from Catholic churches..

whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on

Among many other things, these are the scenes that stand out.

Tommy Joe and his band get run off the stage at the county fair by the outraged Baptist Ladies’ Auxiliary; he abandons his friends and their equipment.  Kicked out of his aunt’s house, he ends up at his band-mates’ apartment looking to crash.  They refuse.  Tommy Joe physically beats his “friends” into submission, and tells them he’s moving in; they can sleep on the floor because he’s taking the couch.

Zachariah encounters the beautiful demoness Mavis Belle, and fails to recognize her for what she is.  She inspires in him a vision of the apocalypse, occurring in October 1962.  He sets off to prepare his mixed-race congregation for 7 years of trials and tribulations.

Eager to repair his musical career after this setback, Tommy Joe tries to placate the Mojo Hand’s need to lay Boyd’s spirit to rest.  So he goes over to Boyd’s old house, and kills Boyd’s drunk, abusive father with an ax while wearing the father’s KKK robes.  And then writes a song in the father’s blood.  And sets fire to the house for good measure.  But not before Boyd’s 8 year old brother sees Tommy Joe’s face, stabs him in the leg with a screwdriver, and runs away.

As Zachariah tries to lead a revival meeting to challenge the power of Jim Crow, his mentor Saul figures out that Mavis is a demon.  The congregation discovers Saul in a pentagram, chanting Solomonic rites, with Mavis half naked and tied up, and assume the worst.  Zachariah manages to barely defuse this situation.  Later, Zachariah ends up losing his virginity to Mavis in binding the girl-demon to his service.

Saul, horrified by what’s happened, banishes Zachariah’s imp-demon Melchidezek.  Zachariah unfairly blames Mavis for this, and ritually tortures her.  Mavis’s demonic desire is for power, Glorious Godfrey style, but her need is for genuine affection–and Zach has just trampled all over all of that.  She’ll get hers, but has to bide her time until then.

Delilah–the witch who gave Tommy Joe the Mojo Hand–had been Mavis’s previous master, and blames Tommy Joe for her rebellion.  So she sends a demon to possess Tommy Joe’s best friend.  Tommy Joe and his friend get into a fist fight inside a speeding car, and crash into a garbage truck at high speed.  Tommy Joe takes his unconscious friend out to Hangman’s Point to finish him off, but at the last minute realizes the kid’s not in his right mind and spares him.  Returning to town, Tommy Joe is arrested by the sheriff (and Grand Dragon of the Klan) for the murder of Boyd’s father.

Zachariah by this point has learned that Tommy Joe is a sorcerer, and sends Saul to recruit him into the apocalypse squad.  (Saul eventually helps Tommy Joe break out of jail via shapeshifting magic.)  Zach then takes Mavis to pay a visit to Tommy Joe’s manager and radio show host, Wild Bill Acres, who’s having a nervous breakdown on-air after Zach’s cousin Mehitibel jilted him.  Zachariah comforts Wild Bill, tells him to go home and rest, and invites Mavis to fill in and preach to the town.  When Mavis balks, Zachariah eats her out as she recites the Gospel into the airwaves.

Mavis is a demon; one of her demonic abilities is Hint, which in D&D terms is sort of like contact higher plane mixed with feeblemind.  Any target automatically knows the truthful answer to one question–but will likely be momentarily overcome by hallucinations, and may die from seizures. And she just broadcast this power to a county of about 100,000 people.

Figuring 1% of the population, mostly kids, were listening to Wild Bill’s show at the time, say 1000 people.  We did the math, and about 80% of the audience would be tripping out.  And of those, roughly 30-50% would die when their nervous systems just can’t handle that much Unholy Truth.

We paged through some of the NPC’s who might be listening, diced it out, and several died in spectacularly gruesome ways.

Eventually Mavis got tired, asked Zachariah to get her some water–and then clobbered him to get even for last night.  She was about to kill him when Saul and Tommy Joe conducted a banishing ritual across town to drive her out of this world.  It didn’t work… but it at least distracted her long enough for Zachariah to crawl away.

So now we’ve got a city in chaos, a child-bride demon prophetess on the loose, a shapeshifting rock ‘n roller, and a silver-tongued holy roller beaten within an inch of his life.  All of the backstory is now revealed.  It will be interesting to see how this shapes up.

11 Responses to “revelation radio”

  1. 1 Charlatan
    January 11, 2012 at 6:39 am

    1) I still wish I’d gotten in on the ground floor of this game, which sounds awesome
    2) Any post that starts off with Robert Johnson is a winner

  2. 2 maldoor
    January 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    This sounds like hella fun. I know nothing about Sorceror, but it obviously draws out the interesting from players. This is in no way a criticism, but I do observe that you have managed to tick every box in the list of topics to avoid from the excellent New York Red Box coolness policy (that you wrote).

    The idea of a radio broadcast of madness murmurs cthulhu in my ear…

  3. 3 Scott LeMien
    January 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    James’ rules are merely a placebo for the sensible to mask the madness lurking beneath.

  4. 4 James Nostack
    January 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I told the players at the beginning that I wasn’t considering this part of the Red Box proper, so we were tossing the coolness policy for the duration. They looked at me like, “Nobody cares about that policy.”

  5. 5 Joshua Krause
    January 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    My character is the rebellious rock ‘n’ roller Tommy Joe Jackson, who was originally envisioned as a version of Jerry Lee Lewis that really did sell his soul to the devil. Ironically, the other character wound up marrying a child bride and corrupting the town via the local radio station.

    This game has been great fun, but it’s definitely an uncomfortable type of fun in which you feel a little guilty about all the awful things that you’re driven to do by the game’s basic premise. I generally try to play good-natured, bumbling idiots, and I designed my demon, the Mojohand, to be pretty tame, but nonetheless, my character went from punching a pregnant girl in the stomach to wearing Klan robes and butchering a father in front of his eight-year-old son in just a few sessions.

    This sense of discomfort is compounded by that fact that we’re playing in a public cafe. A bunch of white guys in their thirties roleplaying racism in the segregated South tends to draw some unpleasant stares.

    Overall, the most distinct thing about James’s Sorceror game — and what I’d totally try to steal for my own games — is the pacing. Most games that I play in have a very regulated rising and falling action. This game started out slowly and consistently ramped up into a fevered crescendo with each scene until it finally boiled over into full-on batshit crazy in the last session. The action played out like an early Stephen King novel, in which you follow a group mismatched, broken characters through a small town as they gradually reveal a series of inter-connected dark secrets. Just as all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place in the last chapter, everything goes completely out-of-control and the body count skyrockets. It was a pleasure to participate in.

  6. 6 Scott LeMien
    January 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Oh fuck. Why did you have to go and make me wish I didn’t miss this game now, josh? Except for the Cafe 28 part, that is. James is nuts to run that game there.

  7. 7 James Nostack
    January 11, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Hey, I disclaim all responsibility about what you choose to do with your character. Mojo Hand wants you to kill a guy; okay, well, that’s a demon for you. One person might say: “Screw you, Mojo Hand.” Another person might say, “Okay, I break into the house, slip on some Klan robes lying around, and then murder the guy in front of his child.” And still another person might say, “I do all that, then write a song in his blood and burn the place down.”

    The astonishing thing to me is that all of this carnage has barely cost you guys any Humanity points. If God is watching, He’s not quick to judge.

    In hindsight, playing in public was probably a mistake. I’m usually too busy scrambling between characters, papers, etc., to notice others’ reactions but I wish we hadn’t made people uncomfortable.

    The pacing was largely player driven; I can’t take much credit. Tommy Joe’s story in particular got off to a slow start, but I too enjoy how it’s gotten increasingly crazy over time.

  8. January 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Holy crap, that sounds freaking awesome.

  9. 9 James Nostack
    January 11, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Obviously in this account I’ve smoothed over a rough spot or two, and it reads a little bit more focused than it was in play.

    As a GM, I was over-anxious at first because I hadn’t done any prep,/i> for the first session or two and was pretty much walking a tightrope. Once we got some more material I felt a lot more confident, and prep became a lot less of a chore.

    One thing I’ve learned in Sorcerer is that it’s better to think about bangs in terms of major NPC’s “strong moves” and “weak moves,” rather than thinking about bangs as simply these events that drop out of the sky (though there’s a small place for those as well).

  10. 10 Scott LeMien
    January 12, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Do you always start with weak moves and escalate?

  11. 11 James Nostack
    January 12, 2012 at 3:42 am

    I try to limit the NPC’s to their weak moves, and only move to the stronger ones when
    (a) the weak moves were insufficient to get what they wanted, or
    (b) other events in the session have already rendered the weak moves pointless

    I haven’t stuck with this 100% but it is a lot easier than my old method of asking myself, “What’s something fucked up that could happen now? Oh, heh heh, that’s pretty fucked up. I wonder who would want to make that happen?”

    In other words, I’m prepping based on what I know of the NPC’s and their agendas, rather than based on interesting outcomes per se. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s a little less work.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2012

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