Each one of the games I ran got a Radiohead title. For the epilogue, I chose a much deeper cut for the title in Harry Patch (In Memory Of). In order, then, the titles for the games were: Morning Bell, Give Up the Ghost, A Reminder, Jigsaw Falling into Place, Myxomatosis, The Gloaming, (The Sky is Falling In) an alt title, (Your Time is Up), You and Whose Army, and (In Memory of). It makes a small mix album, perfectly accommodating of a few additional tracks for secondary sessions or side-stories surrounding other characters or whatever.

The game was obviously not supposed to last this long - I thought it'd probably be a three-shot and wrapped up in a few days or, at most, over the course of a few weekends. As it is, if you've look at the list of game names, you can see that it wasn't exactly composed of a huge number of individual games or sessions; we probably sat down ten times to play in about five or six years. Two years passed without me running a single game. We'd be in the car and one of us would say, "Man, I want to run/play WoD. Maybe we can do it soon." Grad school was not kind to anything that wasn't grad school, though. I think that's the nature of the beast. Even before that, though, we weren't in a good state for it. There would be several days we had the time, but the subject matter was often very heavy, and we would just pass on it.

Despite that, I've found the sessions I ran with Kay to be absolutely crucial to cementing very important ideas I've had about horror gaming, what I like in systems, what I consider to be good scenes, and what I want out of my own writing. My notes are extensive for how short the game actually was, and they probably would have been impossible to derive for me, this time, without the game being 1-on-1, but now that the game is concluded, they'll serve another purpose. Past that, I really feel like my pacing could have been better, that I could have worked out my issues with mechanics better, and that some elements I was hoping to push were a bust and that the closer I worked directly with the rules for this iteration of the core mechanics, the happier I was with the results of any particular scene.

At this point, for example, I feel strongly that the fight between Kay's character Henry and three cult members outside, in a Kroger parking lot in mid-November, with Henry simply trying to escape and three of these guys rolling damage against the car windows was easily my favorite action/combat scene I've ever run. Maybe my second didn't involve combat whatsoever, but it involved Henry trying to escape an interloper into a house with an innocent bystander in tow, and the results of looking for a weapon inside a house's kitchen and trying to hide from room to room. Both of these scenes were more exciting to me than the eventual dramatic conclusion with the cult leader, and I feel strongly that the reason for that is how interactive and fluid the environment was in these scenarios. Combat and action are dull when it's just rolling dice, and it's exciting and interesting when there's risk, and when there's more demanded of the characters than simple mechanical defeat of an opposition.

The most critical dynamic in horror tabletop gaming, and possibly in all tabletop gaming, is the dynamic between a credible threat to something the character holds dear and character agency. I'm soft when it comes to character survival in itself - especially 1-on-1, I have never felt that the game dynamic would have felt particularly improved by the potential death of the protagonist. I say never only because of the scenarios I've run; I could easily see many situations where PC death is a valid option. In this game, the threats were to bystanders, or what would happen if the antagonists were successful, and in most cases Henry was only important because he was interfering; for most of the game, he could have stopped at any time, but doing so would have meant death or danger for others - just not him. So the stakes themselves were rarely directly critical to Henry's well-being. That frequently posed interesting questions for Kay, then, which was to weigh personal level of involvement and willingness to confront danger versus the well being of others. To this end, there's an understanding between player and storyteller in that we both know that if Henry doesn't bite, the game doesn't really proceed - except that it might if we work together to determine what will happen in the game world and what the ramifications will be when Henry's standing still. In a lot of these cases, then, there's a willingness to involve oneself with the metagame or even understand that there's a metalevel to the game at all.

I postponed the last session (not the epilogue but the combat session) for a really long time just because I have a problem with ending campaigns. I've run a few games - Awakening and Changeling: the Lost - where I was deeply unsatisfied with the final session. I am not especially good at running combat scenes (I'm working on that a lot with the new Exalted games, and I'm not there yet, but I will be) and so I'd do the same thing I've seen done a lot which is to dump a large enemy and maybe some half-thought out smaller enemies at the players without particular regard for the play dynamic. The Mage characters fought a minor archmage. The Changeling characters fought an antagonist who intended to become a member of the Gentry. In both cases, the leadup and the environment were the stars of the show for sure - the Hedge environment was a hit, and the penultimate sessions for Mage did a pretty good job in escalating the tension. In the WoD game, Kay was very happy with the final result and I was still... not as happy.

I feel like the big bad became well developed and appropriately statted in the time it took me to finish the session, but that the fight itself wasn't as dynamic as it could be. It resulted in another roll the dice and mark the damage conflict, which I guess will happen sometimes, but could have been more interesting. This is a matter of having previously written myself into a literal hole, since the conflict took place in a small cave in an offshoot of a steam tunnel. My thoughts on that are, well, you know, sometimes that last conflict shit is a little underwhelming - the actual confrontation is straightforward, it's cathartic - Henry was never supposed to make friends, he was never supposed to just up and confront the cult leader, he was never supposed to just shoot the motherfucker in the exact same way that, inside the narrative of a typical horror flick, he wasn't supposed to burn the magic book and say, "Well, that shit's just too dangerous to be left intact." And he did. The result was that they successfully marched into a dangerous environment, were well-prepared, and just outright solved the problem with no additional casualties. And look, the book explicitly says "did the character learn anything?" and "did the character formulate a plan?" and "did they put themselves into danger heroically?" and he did, so why wouldn't both character and player reap the narrative rewards of that kind of behavior?


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