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Germans and St. Bernards

Well, Rhys, Kev and I had our second game of InSpectres today, and Vickie joined us for her first! (Well, first since 2003.) With the team turning a loss on the books, RPI owner Albert dcided to bring in some new blood; specifically, Lieutenant Ingrid "Iron Maiden" Irony, German Army Logistics Corps (Retired), to bring things into line and get the firm turning a profit. We kicked things off with an Employee Interview; as Albert was busy, he got Jim-Bob and The Shark - the two people Ingrid would be whipping into shape - to interview her. (Interesting, RPI now employs two ex-armed forces types - army and navy! I smell future rivalry...) Things went pretty smoothly; I must admit, I partway left Rhys, Kev and Vickie to it while I rolled the dice and consulted the Client Contact table.

The results were "Angry, Government Official, Abnormal Weather, In a Sketchy Neighbourhood." A little thought gave me Gary Pitsley, Councilor of Urban Management for Cairns City Council, that kind of bull-necked political shit-kicker who's always having a bad day and lets everyone know it. The abnormal weather was a blizzard (which is about as abnormal as you can get in Cairns), and the sketchy neighbourhood was the back-end of Parramatta Park.

Okay, some highlights:

  • The new troubleshooter waking Jim-Bob and the Shark at 5.30 AM, even disassembling and re-assembling the Shark's front door lock (roll of a 6 on Technology).
  • Unfortunately, Ingrid's attempt at motivational music didn't quite work out; the Kombi's stereo system played her cassette tape of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" veeeerrrrrry sllloooooowwwwly, spitting tape everywhere as it went.
  • The decision that the RPI offices were atop a call centre, with lots of fatigued operators milling about the front, coffee and cigarettes in hand.
  • First reaction on getting the council job? "Call the press!" They managed to sell the exclusivity rights on their story to a local TV station (I should have immediately seized on the whole "COPS" angle and ran with it; I'll save that for next time's Interview phase) who sent a mobile crew out to cover the story.
  • The Kombi van was almost immediately equipped with a set of flamethrowers (to clear the drifts of snow, you understand) and a snow-plough. (The RPI logo was still scratched to buggery, though.) The PCs also decided to explore the snowdrift in appropriate cold weather gear - wetsuits.
  • The Shark put the moves on the reporter, who, as it turned out, was married to the cameraman, who broke his arm after trying to punch the Shark's lights out. (Lesson: do not mess with the Shark's mad kung fu). If I start playing the reality TV angle, reporter and cameraman are going to be recurring NPCs.
  • The spectral figure of a climber in cold weather gear, who could be seen at varying stages by Ingrid, a St. Bernard (who appeared out of nowhere, but turned out to be the climber's dog, whom he'd left behind on his last trip) and Jim-Bob. At one point, the dog was even possessed by the ghost of the climber.
  • A mad dash down to Sydney to recover the climber's body - he'd died during an assulat on Everest and had been buried in Parramatta instead of Parramatta Park - which was promptly cremated upon returned to Cairns and buried in the ground beneath the centre of the blizzard. Problem solved.
  • Gary Pitsley losing his job after the TV station turned RPI's story into a council slum clearance scheme, complete with flamethrower-touting van spewing flames in the general direction of derelict (albeit snow-covered) housing. (He is so going to be a recurring NPC.)
  • After Cleanup and Vacation, the company wound up back on the six Franchise dice it started with (plus one St. Bernard, who does regular runs to the local bottle-o to top up his supply of brandy), and the Shark managed to earn himself a Cool die!

Now a couple of notes:

  • The session was fun, although it didn't quite fire as well as the first one. I think I wasn't exactly driving things as well as I could have. Throwing yeti at them right off crossed my mind but - silly me - I mentally vetoed it before it got out of my mouth.
  • I think that maybe the earning of a heap of Franchise dice in the client contact session didn't help. I'm also wondering whether it's possible to manage the opportunities for dice rolls early on in the session; after all, if conflict resolution holds that dice should only be rolled when there's genuine conflict of interest between characters, and the client wants the RPI lads to solve his/her problem, there's no need for a roll just yet. On the other hand, it's rather hard to imagine an Academics or Technology-related situation that's also a "conflict of interest". (Then again - evil machines...)
  • Finally, not one single person used a Confessional this game. Again, maybe it was a result of the not-quite-firing thing; I'd also made it known that going for the "scaredy-cat" confessional after losing a Stress roll was a no-no. Still, playing up the reality TV angle might encourage the post-job-intreview mood some more.

What will I try next time?

  • Coming up with Stresses on the fly was a little awkward last session. I might try rolling the client contact chart beforehand, come up with a basic idea and a few Stress situations related directly to it. I'll also come up with some generic "small business problem" type Stresses, you know, audits, ISO certifications, fun stuff like that, and possibly drum some personal-life-related Stresses up for the PCs.
  • The aforementioned reality TV angle - maybe even kick off with an intro by the reporter and a theme tune of some sort. (Hey, Vickie, Rhys, Kev: Any suggestions? Ideally something Australian.)
  • Having a good look at my players' characters and coming up with some Stress situations relating directly to them.

Or I might just wing it again. InSpectres is heaps of fun as is, and I don't want to choke it by over-preparing.

If you liked this post, please check out more RPG Notes


Theme tune? How about Skyhook's 'Horror Movie?'


Now that's a wicked idea! I'll have to get the CD from somewhere...

For our international readers, here's a link:

Hello Rob,

I've played InSpectres enough times to suggest what works for me with that game, both in pick-up games or with a more familiar group. It's a fantastic convention game, and usually gets everyone involved in what's going on.

First of all, I make a point of rolling on the client chart at the table and reading the result out loud for everyone to hear. Or at least make sure that they know the immense amount of prep that goes into the game for the GM by giving some example clients before I roll up the real one. That way they know that I don't have any more idea than they do what's going on, and the point of the game is for them to tell me what's wrong. My clients are usually vague ("Oh, it was a... pulsating... pink light, I think") so the players can run wherever they want with it ("Rolling Academics... a 6, yeah, it's a squid lord all right!").

You say "if conflict resolution holds that dice should only be rolled when there's genuine conflict of interest between characters", and that's not how I play InSpectres at all. The only time I have the players roll is when they want to advance the story somehow, either because nothing is going on or because really bad stuff is going on. An example of when nothing's going on is when the characters arrive at the scene and I describe things they see, but don't give any clue how to interpret the clues. Or I describe a perfectly normal scene, and have them roll to find that weird clue they're looking for. Depending on who wins the roll, either I or the player gets to introduce a curve ball that takes the story in some new direction.

Sometimes the player says that she's looking for footprints in the garden, and if she fails the roll she will still find the footprints, only something bad will happen as well (maybe her character unwittingly follows the footprints to the vampire lair or something). I've never rolled dice for disagreements between characters in game, only for determining who gets to decide what happens next.

An important part of that is that the player's narration has to advance the plot and take the group closer to finding out what's behind it all, otherwise I won't hand out franchise dice (even if they rolled 5's or 6's). On the other hand, the narration right doesn't mean that they can't take suggestions, and usually the rest of the group is more than helpful with those. So I very rarely hand out franchise dice for suiting up, for example, that phase is only to get "ammunition" for later narrations. Getting the poltergeist scanner doesn't take them closer to figuring out what's going on, but it gives them the opportunity to get out in the field and use the scanner to determine what's happening.

Confessionals can be a bit hard if they feel "tacked on" to the game. I like to figure out what the confessionals actually are. A favorite is that they're post-mission debriefings for InSpectres main office – that's why people can talk about what's going to happen in the next scene, because they're being interviewed afterwards. Or you could have confessionals as "captain's logs" or letters in a Lovecraft-inspired game, or something. As long as you know what the character's doing when it's in the confessional chair.

One last thing; are you familiar with Keith Johnstone's book Impro? I learned a lot of good stuff in it that I'm using for InSpectres. The most useful concept is the chain of "Setting up a routine", "Breaking the routine" and "Reincorporation." When no rolls are being made you're just following the routine, and every person the group talks to or every clue they find only confirms what they already know. But when they get franchise dice, that's when you have to break the routine. So they're following a werewolf when someone gets dice – cool, maybe the person decides that the werewolf is the boss's brother, or is in fact just a LARPer or something. The routine is broken, and the group is closer to figuring out what's going on. Reincorporation means that you shouldn't forget what's happened before, but instead try to weave it into the narrative. If you use every new roll to come up with a more strange explanation of what's going on you're going to leave a lot of loose threads afterwards. If they question someone in the beginning, an old harmless lady, have *her* come back and be the werewolf. That's a lot more interesting than to introduce some new guy the "audience" has never seen before.

Oh well, take from this what you can. I really like InSpectres, it's one of my favorite games, and I hope you're having fun with it.

- Jonas

Hi, Jonas. Thank you for reading, and thank you for posting a response!

I’d just like to respond to your last point first, if you don’t mind, by writing (ahem): “Fuck yes, am I having fun with InSpectres!” I should really, really be doing something about another session soon. Things have been a little bit busy lately, though.

I see your point about confessionals, and I think that really was the problem with them in the last game. I am going to take a couple of steps to incorporate them into the overall structure. Firstly, we now have the setup for the show format; with the former weathergirl now promoted, she’s going to set up her own TV show based around RPI’s adventures, so we now have the perfect justification for Confessionals. I have the idea that the next session’s “Employee Interview” will actually be the reporter pitching the show to the RPI lads.

Secondly, it turns out that we have an older VHS video camera which would make the perfect Confessional prop. (I’d like to get it working again sometime; apparently it needs somewhere around $80 worth of repairs.)

I’ve seen mention of Impro now and again (I think a few folks on the Forge are raving about applying its techniques in play at the mo), and I’m sure I’ve read or heard about routines, breaking and reincorporation in the past. Might see if I can pick it up from somewhere. As you have it, I assume it’s available outside the US?

The whole Rolling Dice issue – it’s interesting that the whole “get dice if you move the plot along” idea gets mentioned in octaNe, but not InSpectres. It’d definitely help slow the pace of the game a bit, but I wonder whether it really ought to be slowed any. Also, the whole “conflict of interest” business is more than just about disagreements, if you get my drift – “okay, guys, let’s investigate this haunted house and find out what’s going on” and “I need to get those meddling InSpectres out of the house before they discover my secret!” (with Technical and Academics rolls being expressions of that conflict) can be a conflict of interest as much as an argument between an InSpectres agent and a ghost. So maybe we’re just saying the same thing in different ways…

I also keep wondering whether there’s encouraging the franchise to prosper” and “Stressing the PCs like a bastard”. There’s this old-school GM in me that keeps saying, “Maybe you should be balancing Stress versus progression in order to make sure the game can continue in an extended fashion”, but I also feel that that’s the wrong approach for InSpectres, that I should be putting the narrative screws to the PCs at every plausible opportunity. It’s a conundrum…

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