Wednesday evening I covered for our regular Kapow! GM Keith, who runs an excellent Superhero RPG campaign over Google Hangouts. Actually, he's been doing it a good two and change years now.
Periodically I run something with the same group, usually when Keith is unavailable for some reason as was the case this time. This past week and next he is moving and so I stepped in with a planned two-parter.
Originally I had intended on running my Ghost Story RPG, 'Unfinished Business', but I decided to wait. A suggestion on a setting time and place by one of the players (Thank You Carl!) gave me a moment of Gaming Epiphany and I switched gears to another long time game idea I've always wanted to try.
Instead of a Ghost Story, I went with a UFO/Mystery/Period Piece set in the mid-1930s. The game had odd though overall effective pacing (I'll elaborate in an upcoming post) and generally went over very well. I am really happy with how it turned out.
Here's a session recap...
Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl. September 1936.
Years of drought, and dust storms have turned the great plains of America's heartland into a desert. Salt of the Earth farmers do the best they can to survive. Many abandon the state, and head west to California. President Roosevelt works to address the hardships of the struggling homesteaders as his New Deal plans seek to pull the United States out of the economic difficulties of the Great Depression.
On a lonely stretch of Route 66 between Oklahoma City, and Tulsa, Mr. and Mrs. Hildy and Archibald Dunkirk stop to fix a flat tire. Hailing from swank society Chicago, the married Reporter and Photojournalist duo have been covering the dust storms and the effect they've had on the fine people of the state of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, one such storm, a real doozy of a humdinger, is right on their heels.
Enter Deputy Sheriff Milton Stokes, out on the road looking for travelers stranded by the rough conditions. Getting reports of high winds, brush fires, and peculiar lights in the sky, Stokes comes upon the couple and tries to lend a hand.
Meanwhile, blues guitarist 'Albuquerque One-String' Simon comes upon the group. Taking the bus when he can afford a ticket, hitchhiking when he can't, he sees the people and cars ahead and tries to make a break for them before the devil of dust storm catches up to him (and them as well). He wants their aid and shelter in one of their vehicles, but he also wants to warn them just the same. Momma Simon taught her son right.
Simon is facing the storm and sees it a'coming clear as day, even though it is nearly dusk and the muted hues of land and sky make it all bleed together on the horizon.
Deputy Stokes and the Dunkirks realize trouble is truly brewing when the wind picks up out of nowhere, roaring to life, and drowning out all other sounds. Stokes runs to his car to report back on his location and that he's trying to aid some folks, but after a few moments he loses the conversation to static. The sky grows darker and the headlights of his car flicker. The Dunkirks' own car radio gets louder, then inaudible, then back to normal in a blink. At normal decibels it is completely drowned out in the din of the wind.
Albuquerque is getting close, so he shouts as loud as he can, but they just can't hear him. He waves his arms frantically and Hildy sees him in her car's rear view mirror. Taking off her reporter's hat, she dons a scarf, or kerchief, and long gloves, then rushes out to help the poor fellow. Archie sees her and knows he must go to his wife's aid (or he'll simply never hear the end of it)! Stokes focuses on finishing fixing the tire. When he's done he runs over to see the rest of them have formed a Human chain, attempting to pull Simon towards the police car.
Just then, a low flying plane, like a crop duster, sails just over Stokes' head. He can see some sort of light coming from underneath it. He can not hear it at all. Even with the rolling thunder of the wind, the plane seems quieter than a church mouse.
Stokes grabs the bumper of his car with one hand and Archie Dunkirk's arm with the other. Archie grabs Hildy. Hildy grabs Simon. Simon holds on to his guitar for dear, dear life! The Storm Arrives! Everyone is pelted in the back (Simon in the face) with sand, grit, dust, and debris. As the mysterious aircraft flies overhead, Stokes catches sight of another object some fifty feet up in the rapidly darkening evening. It looks like a ball of orange fire...
The storm is caught by a terrible cross wind and what seemed like it couldn't get worse, does. A wide tornado of gravel, dust, and dry grass forms around the group. For a brief moment - the blink of an eye - the beat of a heart - the group seems buffeted by wind, but relatively safe in the eye of the whirlwind.
Just as suddenly as it formed, the massive dust devil POPS! A thunderously loud explosion overhead breaks up the dust storm, slamming all the people on site to the ground, flat on their backs, with such force that they are all knocked unconscious...
End of Act I
Our players and characters are...
Hildegard 'Hildy' Dunkirk, Mrs. - Reporter, The Chicago Eagle - Chicago, IL (played by Melinda S.)
A spunky, good girl with a heart of gold and a bank account to match, Hildy Dunkirik has the epitome of both a 'high society debutante' and a spirited, big city reporter.
'Roughing it' in the rural wastelands of depression era Oklahoma, she nonetheless strives to tell the honest, Human side of the the Dust Bowl's situation.
Archibald 'Archie' Dunkirk, Mr. - Photographer/Photojournalist, The Chicago Eagle - Chicago, IL (played by Stephen H.)
Likewise born with a silver spoon in his mouth (but one not as shiny as Hildy's), Archie Dunkirk has been given the opportunity to pursue his interest in photography. With a brave demeanor and a talented eye, Archie has managed to become well known and respected back in Chicago for his gripping photos that powerfully depict the plight of the common folk.
Archie is bit of a klutz with any machinery or equipment other than his trusty camera and photography gear. Nobody's perfect.
Simon 'Albuquerque One-String' Simon - Blues/Jazz Musician - Albuquerque, NM (played by Carl E.)
Born and raised in Albuquerque, NM, Simon Simon (Momma was a good woman but none too creative) grew up poor and largely uneducated. A self-taught guitarist with a second hand guitar, One-String Simon made money doing odd jobs and playing in dive cafes and on the street.
One day, Albuquerque received a letter from a famous musician in St. Louis asking him to join his band for a spell with the possibility of hiring Simon full time. The musician had heard Albuquerque play while passing through One-String's home town. The fellow was the leader of a blues band of some notoriety and Albuquerque knew this was the opportunity of a life time.
Packing up all he had (which was basically his hat, his guitar, and his one good suit), Simon alternated between bus, train, and hitchhiking to get where he needed to go.
Milton Stokes - Deputy Sheriff - Oklahoma City, OK (played by Mark O.)
An Oklahoma native and life long resident, Milton Stokes is an honest man doing an honest job for honest folks. He can't stomach it when folks in need go without. That's why he does what he does I reckon.
Stokes native status means he knows the people around these parts like he knows his own shadow. He's on a first name basis with all the bus drivers, the milkmen, the mailmen, the farmers, and the old lady who runs the motor lodge up around Sand Creek way.
When strange things start happening around the area, rest assured Deputy Stokes is on the case.
A storm, dead car batteries, a midnight rescue by a bus driver and his charges, an out of the way motor lodge, strange radio signals, and a series of lights in the sky later, and this eclectic group of strangers seem to have uncovered a mystery that grows stranger and stranger as the night wears on. The Dust Bowl is empty of water, but it might very possibly be full of...something out of this world.