Sunday, September 22, 2013

Changeling: Session 3

When we last met, our heroes were laying low after a bus exploded in front of their meeting place, and had failed at getting information from a notorious local drug dealer in hopes of finding their missing friend.

Police arrive at the scene, briefly question Alex (who had remained in Starbucks), and send him on his way.  On his way home, Alex purchases a burner phone and activates it.

Wally flees home and sees an unmarked cop car sitting outside his building.  Thinking better of it, he keeps walking and spends a few hours at the library.  When he returns, there is a different car, different cops.  He goes in anyway.  When he leaves for work that night, he again notes the car.  Once at work he calls the pharmacy from his cell phone to listen for weird clicks or other abnormalities, but all seems normal.

At around 6:00 pm, Drake, who is at one of his usual haunts with his friend Luthor, receives a call from Diggles, who apologises for things getting "a little heated", but Drake and his people have clearly shown that they mean business, and he's still interested in whatever Drake had proposed.  He wants to meet somewhere to discuss further.  Drake hangs up on him and messages the group, and they decide to meet in two days to discuss where to go from there.

Anyone watching the news that evening hears only a brief mention of the shooting in the park.  The big story is that officials have a major lead on the bus bomber and Mayor Bloomberg promises that the fugitive will be dead or incarcerated in 48 hours.

At home that evening, Alex receives calls simultaneously on his Verizon and burner phones.  When he answers the burner, his other phone stops ringing.  Again with the clicks and the breathing.  He messages everyone to alert them.

The next night, around 9:00 pm, Wally hears a knock at his door.  Through the peep hole he sees a man of Middle Eastern descent, wearing a red Adidas jacket, yellow shirt, and headphones.  Wally cracks the door, and the guy kicks it in, immediately drawing a pistol, followed closely by a SWAT team.  Notably, the SWAT guys don't aim at Wally but start focusing on his back wall, prepping an infrared camera, and small boxes connected with wire along the wall.  The Adidas guy brings Wally to another room, where they hear a series of cracks, voices, and gunfire.  In the mayhem, the Adidas guy slips a piece of paper into Wally's pocket and tells him that the city will be in contact with the building owner about the damage to Wally's property.  Adidas guy leaves.  Wally's neighbour the next flat over is dead.  Eventually SWAT clears out and is replaced by standard officers, setting up the crime scene.

Wally looks at the paper, which has written in pretty script "Sweet Dreams" and a black butterfly.  While he's trying to make sense of this, an officer tells him that it is apparently OK for him to remain in his apartment.  Wally confronts his landlord, Hank, who is in a panic about their meth production set up in the basement.  (Wally cooks, Hank sells).  Wally can recover the chemistry set, but the product will need to be destroyed.  Hank reluctantly agrees, and Wally goes down to the basement to clean up.

Others who are watching on the news notice in the static footage of the building entrance that Wally walks through the lobby and peeks out.  He is immediately flooded with messages from the group.  Wally sets about disposing of the product, and then heads to work with the PD's blessing.  While at work, he messages back, explaining to everyone what happened. Gareth offers up his shoddy couch as an alternative to sleeping in a crime scene, and Wally replies that he'll likely take the offer.

When he gets off work that night, Wally collects his chemistry set, along with some personal belongings, and brings them over to Gareth's apartment.  Wanting to be open and honest about things, he lets Gareth know what he's brought with him.  Gareth just laughs.  Wally departs for the time being, having only wanted to get the incriminating evidence out of his building; he will spend the night in his own apartment.  When Gareth brings up the What-To-Do-About-Diggles meeting the next day, Wally declines, having forgotten, and asks Gareth to bring him up to speed.

2:00 rolls around, and the group (including Goom) meets at the appointed bar.  Drake reiterates his conversation the other day, and everyone agrees that this is the best current means of getting information on Meagan.  Goom suggests meeting Diggles in an alley in Hells Kitchen, one he knows to have multiple points of egress in the event things go south.  Drake calls Diggles to propose the time (the following day at 2:30) and place.  Diggles is permitted to bring two associates.  He agrees, but comments that the whole thing seems a bit shady.  This decided, the group goes their separate ways.

Meanwhile, Wally is at his apartment, and has fallen into a deep sleep.  He awakens to total darkness, no light whatsoever, although he can hear his alarm clock going off (he hadn't set it).  He finds he can't move his mouth, but the rest of his body is functional.  He hears a rattle from his bedside table.  Freaked out, he bolts from bed, using sense memory to navigate.  The rattling growing louder, he throws open the apartment door only to encounter more inky blackness.  He returns to confront the rattling table, punching wildly at it, breaking things and sending his alarm clock flying.  Frustrated, he runs his hands over his face and feels... nothing.  No eyes, no nose, no mouth.  Indentations where features should be.  He opens the drawer and finds himself looking up at his smooth featureless face - his face is in the drawer.

Not knowing what else to do, he picks up his face and attempts to press it on to his head.  As he does so, there is a knock at the door, and the officer on duty in the other apartment leans in to ask if he is all right, having heard the crashing.  Wally can see, can speak, can breathe.  He reassures the officer, who departs.  Panicked, Wally packs and goes to Gareth's place.  Once there, he tells Gareth about what he hopes was a dream.  Gareth doesn't know what to say.

That same night, Alex awakens to find both his phones indicating text messages.  The one on his original Verizon phone reads, "No daddy don't go".  The burner reads, "Please please find me".

The following afternoon, Drake and Goom set up in the alley, and the others wait in a coffee shop across the way, to keep an eye out.  On time, Diggles shows up with his two massive bodyguards, all emerging from a blue VW Rabbit.
Imagine this swoll ride disgorging this...
Per our GM: "That photo exactly, but with a faux tiger fur over the shoulders and a blinged out 9 mm."
Seeing Goom in an upstairs window, armed, Diggles has his toughs stay back, and approaches with his hands out.  He starts to go into a long winded explanation of his distribution set up, saying they can get anything anywhere, as they are "the Facebook of drugs".  Drake thanks him and says his partners will be in touch, but in a show of good faith, can Diggles provide information about a girl they're interested in?  After being shown a picture of Meagan, Diggles acknowledges he knows of her and gives Drake what he has.  Beyond pumped about what he believes to be prospective new business, Diggles leaves.

Realising that her old place is near by, everyone gathers and heads out.  It is not a nice part of town, project housing.  They knock at her door, hearing music, but there is no answer.  Alex manages to pick the lock, and they enter to find the place ransacked, as though there had been a long fight.  In the centre of the room is a record player, playing an unlabelled LP on repeat.  Alex, Drake, and Gareth hear a flapping noise from the bedroom; upon investigation it is a piece of paper blowing in the air vent, the cover of which had been removed.  The bedroom is otherwise undisturbed.  Getting a boost from Alex, Gareth reaches into the air vent, pulling out a letter and a composition journal.

While the others investigate, Gareth reads.  The letter is from an "M. Butterfly" to "Appledore", dated November 6, 2013 (the group found the scattered pictures on November 7, the current date is November 20).  The letter is heavily existential, written from one abductee to another, referring to those that took them as The Vanishers.  M. Butterfly agrees with Appledore that the Vanishers are watching and will soon be coming for Appledore's friends.  Appledore is admonished for not following M. Butterfly's warnings and M.B. is sure that by the time Appledore has finished reading, (s)he will be gone again.  Still, two pieces of advice are offered: 

1. Stay close to the sky. 
2. Never visit the mole people.

 The composition notebook is Meagan's journal from the past few months.  In it she reveals she returned to her home town, met up and hung out with her "twin" (the thing that looks like her and took over her life).  Among other things, she also mentions a quilt she's had since childhood, which has gone with her everywhere - Gareth sees it on her bed, taking it with the intent of giving it back to Meagan - and which she stole back from her doppelgänger.  She spent some time in California, where she encountered M. Butterly.  While she was travelling, she was the happiest she's been in ages, although she inevitably came back to NYC.  She writes about the group, and seems to grow ever more paranoid.  After a couple of false starts, she finally signs on with a boat (the school at sea), thinking she'll be happiest there - one of them was called the Appledore.  Along the way she also makes a comment that her best camera has been acting up.

She also makes note that M. Butterfly directed her to check out  a club on the lower east side of Manhattan where she might find more information about the Slender Man who took her. It’s some club called “The Box: Theater of Varieties.”  Her final entry, dated November 6 reads, "Wa-right. Went to the Box. Place completely ate my head. Being followed. Scared. New letter from M. Butterfy."

Drake goes down the hall and speaks to one of Meagan's neighbours, an older black woman.  She said that Meagan was nice, but she hadn't heard from her in a while.  Drake makes something up about possible boy trouble, but the neighbour says she had never seen Meagan with a boyfriend.

Before the group leaves, Gareth also collects her camera, the one that had been "acting up".  He takes a shot of the record player, and notes that there are now two pictures on the SD card.

Everyone returns to Gareth's apartment to bring Wally up to speed and to take stock of what they've learnt.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Get Lost

For the first time in all my roughly 30 years of existence, I do not have cable TV.  That's probably a lie, actually, as I was born in the early/mid 1980s, there's a chance we may not have had cable initially.  But I digress.

When M'Colleague and I moved house last year, we decided that we don't need it, as between us we have easily 200+ movies on DVD and VHS, as well as several dozen complete or getting-there television series from the UK and US.  Anything else we might want to see can be found online, whether on network websites, Hulu, Amazon Instant, etc.  No, we don't even have Netflix, and you can shut up now because you're not the first person to raise an eyebrow.  We also don't have smart phones.  What can I say, we like being out of touch.

What this brings me to is LOSTLOST, the infamous ABC drama about the unlucky group of plane crash survivors who find themselves on a weird ass island in the middle of... somewhere.  We are watching LOST right now, and are just nearing the last 8 episodes of the second season. 

For me this is a retread, even though I have owned the DVDs for ever.  I watched LOST faithfully from the beginning right to that bitter fucking end, as it aired, never missing a single episode (except one, because my cable went out or I had rehearsal or something, but that's now been rectified).  Every character death, every reunion, every mystery uncovered, solved, left unanswered... I had never been that dedicated to a television programme, and haven't been since; never that emotionally invested in a series of fiction other than Harry Potter.  As I told M'Colleague, before him LOST was my only other serious long term relationship, and I was with that bitch for six years. 

Laugh, I do, but it was about that serious.  I followed the between-season ARGs, and spent any time I wasn't in class, rehearsing, doing homework, or (after Uni) at work religiously reading through every fan theory and looking at screen grabs at the message board hot-spots.  For the record, "Sledgeweb's LOST... Stuff" was my main squeeze, although sadly the board archives seem to be largely gone now.  I also listened to every one of Damon Lindleoff and Carlton Cuse's official LOST podcasts each week.  Hell, friends and I would even have season premier and season finale parties, complete with Dharma Initiative food stuff, tropical fruit salads, and so forth.

I don't want to get too far into reminiscing about it, though, because of S.P....  He's never seen LOST past the first two seasons, which I had lent him years ago.  He's heard things about the later seasons, but it is random disparate information without context.  So not only am I getting to relive this with all my knowledge of what lies ahead, finding new connections and all, but I also get to see someone discover these things for the first time.  Trust me when I say it is insanely difficult keeping my mouth shut about a lot of things.

I have to say, it is well weird watching it without commercial breaks, not to mention the things I'm uncovering watching them so bunched together.  How did we do this before?!

Dharma Initiative beverages, crisps and peanut butter, as well as mints.  Also fruit salad and "polar bear wrapped in boar", a.k.a. bacon-wrapped beef.  We thought ourselves dead clever.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Changeling: Session 2

When we last met, the group had finished playing get-to-know-you, and was just starting to deal with the disappearance of their friend, while reeling from the chaos of a major explosion right outside of their old meeting spot.

44 Hours After the Bus Exploded

Drake had reached out to a contact of his who works in Atlantic City, asking what he could find out about Meagan.  He learns that she had a record, pot possession, and that she was known to have been in contact with a local dealer known only as “Diggles”.  Obviously that’s an alias, but no one seems to have any other information on the guy.  Drake figures this is better than nothing, and thanks his contact.

Wally is at work, manning the CVS prescription counter, and it is a slow night.  He jerks awake suddenly, realising that he’d dozed off.  He looks down to find that while he was off, he’d been writing furiously on an empty prescription bag.  A chemical formula.  Just as he’s trying to make sense of it, the pharmacy phone rings.  He answers it, but there are only a series of four clicks and then a dial tone.  He thinks nothing of it and returns to the formula.  Suddenly it clicks.  He knows.  It is the formula for whatever was in the bomb the blew the #7 bus two nights before.  And whatever was in the bomb was mostly solid state rocket fuel.

The phone rings again.  This time it is an old woman, a regular customer, inquiring about her prescription, and after she hangs up, he hears it again – four clicks followed by the dial tone.  Suspicious, Wally carefully takes apart the receiver (it is an old phone, permanently connected to the wall base with a curling cord) and finds two small components soldered in, components that are clearly much newer than the ancient phone.  He wraps them carefully in a latex glove for later examination and checks the phone still works.  It does.
That night, Alex is working at a homeless shelter, something he does from time to time, hoping to find his daughter.  As he’s cleaning out a massive soup pot, his cell phone rings.  He answers, but only hears four clicks, and then dial tone.  Twenty minutes later, it happens again.  Never any caller ID.  By the time he leaves the shelter around 9:45, he has received more of these unusual calls, and as he steps outside, it happens again.  Only this time, across from him in a dark alley, he sees a black panel van start up, and inside is the silhouette of someone lowering a phone from their ear.  The van moves off, and Alex notes that it has no license plates.  He immediately texts the group members, inquiring about the strange calls, and gets a reply back from Wally.

Gareth is in his studio apartment, working on a new piece of sculpture, news radio on in the background, still listening to coverage of the explosion investigation.  They’re zeroing in on a suspect, they say, and the attack is definitely domestic and not Islamic in nature.  The chemical signature is providing great leads, and they can report that the suspect is a white male between the ages of 16 and 35.  Morgan is in her shop, doing readings for late night customers.  Neither receives any calls, suspicious or otherwise.

Goom is asleep in a maintenance tunnel.  He awakens to hear heavy rain and notes that his wristwatch has stopped.  He hears a groan in the distance and advances towards it.  Around a bend in the tunnel, he sees a male figure in a canvas coat, arms akimbo, long greasy hair in his face, kneeling.  There is a puddle of water around him growing ever larger, and the sound of falling water is coming from him.  Goom double back to get his gun before investigating further.  The man begins to shake, and the closer Goom gets, the more violent the shaking becomes.  As Goom comes around to face him, the man’s head snaps up – his face is melting like a candle.  Goom knows he looks familiar, he’s seen this, and as this thought crosses his mind, the man’s body just dissipates, becoming one with the puddle.

Goom sits up suddenly from where he’d been sleeping in the maintenance tunnel.  There is no more rain, although he notes he has wet himself.  He collects his meager belongings, intending to burn his soiled sleeping bag in an incinerator.  When he looks down the corridor where the man had been, there is no evidence of the puddle, although the exact canvas jacket is there.  He takes that, too, to burn it.  

The next day, Morgan goes out to find a new spot for the group to meet, as they don’t feel comfortable at the old building any more.  She finally gets a Christian book store to agree to host, after hours.  The shop will be empty, although there will be an employee staying around the front, just to keep an eye on things.  No offense meant, of course, but they have to be careful.  She informs the group of the new meeting place via text messages, although she leaves a note for Goom at a diner he had specified for them as a drop point for communications.

When the group next meets, they discuss the strange calls – Alex has continued getting them and had gone to a Verizon store to get his phone repaired.  They gave him a refurbished phone as a loaner, and he still gets calls.  Wally brings up his insight about the explosive formula, and they all figure that it was rigged in such a way to only take out the bus and everyone on board, not actually wreck the surroundings.  They also talk at length about Meagan, and what to do about finding her.

Drake mentions the lead he had gotten from his contact, and when he mentions the name “Diggles” Gareth snaps to attention.  He knew a dealer named Diggles, back in the late 80s, during the height of his heroin addiction.  This guy, actually Mark-something, was a notorious idiot with a strange business model – he wanted to be the “Dominoes delivery guy of drugs”.  He had apparently been inspired by some guy in the 70s who ran a grilled-cheese-and-Mary-Jane delivery service, although Diggles had designs to take it beyond Manhattan, to service the whole NY-NJ area, and beyond.

As the group is departing, the young girl at the front of the store comments darkly about some advert on TV:  A famous magician (think David Blaine or Criss Angel), Konstantyn, will be holding a “Christmas Day Massacre” live on NBC in Times Square.  Konstantyn, as it turns out, bears a striking resemblance to Alex, who acknowledges that this is the guy who replaced him and ruined his family.  With this knowledge, they all (except Goom) head for a bar.

After some time at the bar, everyone but Morgan and Gareth notice a kid on a bike pull up outside of the bar and enter.  He’s a character – spiky hair with frosted tips, an oversized puffy coat, basically an idiot.  He approaches a table of college kids, hands them a brown paper bag, and leaves.  When the others comment on the guy, Gareth notes that this seems very much like the fashion that Diggles might have adopted, although the kid is easily 25 years too young to be his old dealer.  Drake questions how someone would have gotten to be so close with the guy who sold him drugs, but Gareth just shrugs it off.

Over the next few days, the group goes about their separate business.  Wally confronts his landlord, Hank, who he knows to be a small time dealer, if he knows a guy named Diggles, and Hank confirms that he does.  He is not, however, on good terms with Diggles, as he has taken a lot of good business from Hank.  When Wally informs him that some people are just interested in talking with him, Hank hands Wally Diggles’ calling card – a sticker with a pot leaf on it, a phone number, and his slogan.  Hank asks if these people are going to teach Diggles a lesson, at which Wally just shrugs.

The group decides to meet outside of their regular meeting time, selecting Aberdeen Park Square, an open public area, to have a picnic and discuss new developments.  Wally offers up the sticker, and Drake calls the number, smarming his way through a series of lower level guys until he speaks to the man himself.  He tells Diggles that he’s interested in “starting a franchise” and wishes to speak with him.  Diggles, all the while spouting off forced thug-speak, agrees to meet him the next evening… at the very same park they are sitting in now.  Drake agrees and, ending the call, lets everyone know.  A message is sent to Goom in the usual way.

So the next day, there they all are again, though not together.  Goom is feigning sleep on a park bench, curled under a blanket.  At the appointed time, a black Escalade with pot-leaf spinner rims and underbody lighting pulls up.  A large guy steps out of the car and waits by the open door.  Drake approaches and indicates he is the guy who called, and Diggles (who is inside the Escalade) says that he wants Drake to get in so that they aren’t seen talking in public.  Drake refuses, as he’s not sure what Diggles, or more importantly one of his two overlarge body guards, might do.  Diggles goes through some show of pulling a gun and waving it around, but Drake doesn’t move.  They go back and forth about the matter for some time, ultimately culminating in Diggles actually shooting at Drake. 

Shooting at him – not actually shooting into him.  Diggles has a thing about firing his gun sideways, which kills his aim.  Drake dodges and runs around the vehicle for cover, and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

From under the blanket, Goom brings out a M-16 assault rifle and expertly fires a single shot into the Escalade’s engine block, killing the ride.  Diggles and his goons flee, wildly firing shots behind them.

Gareth, Morgan, and Wally scatter, returning to their own homes.  Drake, shaken, similarly makes tracks.  Goom, with his rifle… disappears.  Alex, however, who has been sitting in a Starbucks across the street, takes out his phone and calls 911, staying on the phone with the dispatcher until authorities arrive.

Changeling: Session 1

We've started a new game, now that Deadlands has come to an end.  The same group of players is now wading into a modern-age game using White Wolf's New World of Darkness Changeling: The Lost rules.  I've taken on the task of writing the session recaps, as our GM liked it so much when S.P. did them for Deadlands.

It is definitely weird, being in the Now, with cars, and cell phones, and other lines of communication beyond telegrams, letters, and shouting, as we've been stuck in the 1870s for the past two years.

Every Thursday night at 10:00, a support group for abduction victims meets in the basement of a church in Manhattan.  These aren’t your run of the mill abductees (if there really is such a thing) these people have stories that are strange.  Off.

A young woman named Meagan – Rule #1: no last names – runs the group.  She’s a wild child, a lone wolf, never content to stay in one place for very long, although she’s been heading up this group for the past several years.

Also in the group:  A young woman named Morgan who favours the Gypsy styles that go along with her chosen profession of fortune telling.  Wallace (Wally), a Korean kid who works the over-night shift at a 24-hour CVS pharmacy and has a scary aptitude for science.  Gareth, a skinny freelance artist with a history of drug use and the track marks to show for it.  New to the group are Alex, a guy who works odd jobs, primarily in the janitorial sector, and is looking for the daughter he left behind when he was taken, and Drake, a dark and smarmy fellow who works as a private accountant.  There’s also a strange fellow known only as Goom, who works at the church cleaning things.  He’s quiet and suspicious, always cautioning the others to live off the grid and under the radar so that They won’t find them.

Meetings progress about as normally as these things do.  People share stories of daily struggles and small triumphs.  Alex had a panic attack at work and had to spend the rest of his shift cleaning toilets.  Gareth just had a mildly successful art show in the Village.  Meagan shares  that a former member of the group, a fellow now known as Michael “Mickey” O’Shannahan, recently committed suicide.  He had been close to Meagan, sort of a sponsor.  Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he’d been medicated until recently, though it was debatable whether that was truly effective.

The group all acknowledges that they know they were replaced in their old lives by Others.  Others who look like them, who sound like them, who have taken over whatever it was they each were doing at the time they were taken.  Others whose existence means that they can each never go back to what they used to have, can never be who or what they were before.  Others who, it must be admitted, are all far more successful than those that were taken might ever have been, abduction or no. 

Are they mad?  Of course, some of them are.  But not all of them are filled with the venom that Drake seems to have.

Three weeks into our story, Meagan announces that she’s ending her time in NYC and handing over the group to Morgan, the next most senior member.  Meagan will be shipping off with a “School at Sea” to teach photography.

The next week, the first without Meagan, the group convenes at the church as normal.  When they go into the meeting room, however, an unsettling sight greets them:  Scattered maliciously about the room are several copies of seven photographs, all of Meagan.  One of them, on the seat she usually occupied, has had the eyes cut out and black permanent marker scribbled across her mouth.  Turning the photograph over, they find “TOUCHED” scrawled in permanent marker.  None of the other pictures have been vandalised.

The group discusses whether or not to call the police, ultimately deciding against it, because what would they say?  There’s also a healthy amount of paranoia among the group, which helps sway that vote.  Gareth collects one of each photo, as well as the defaced one, and tucks them into his ever present sketch book.  Others take some of the photos as well.

It is decided not to hold group tonight, as they don’t know what might be lurking around.  Everyone makes their way out of the building and up to the street.

That’s when the bus explodes.

The #7 bus goes up like a torch, spewing scraps of white hot metal and debris into the air.  The fire is hot, so hot, and all the bystanders in the area (including, of course, our wayward foundlings) scatter.  They notice that it is not all entirely bus materials, some of it is biological.

With emergency sirens starting to scream in the distance, Wally finds himself grabbed and pulled into an alley – he takes a wild swing that misses before he realises that it is Goom.  Goom mutters something about keeping low and not letting anyone find them before he ultimately disappears into the shadows, presumably going back to wherever it is that Goom lives.

The group all return to their respective abodes, keeping close watch on the news.  Over the next several hours, nothing of note is said.  The word “terrorism” is never directly stated, although the officials suspect it is an intentional bombing, and they are closing the harbour, bridges, and airports, and are looking for multiple suspects.