Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Mouse I, Chapter XI

Shiv in the Dark

“Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done!”
Orleans Parish Prison sheriff’s deputy

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

Mouse: Mouse numbly stares up at his cell’s ceiling. He tries not to move too much and bites his knuckles to stop himself from making any pained noises. His ass feels sore and raw with blood. He isn’t sure how long it’s been since his rapist left the cell, but restlessness and agitation gnaw away at him. Part of him wants to deny this even happened. He wants another smoke. He wants anything to help him forget.

Sleep finally overtakes him.

GM: Mouse’s dreams are gray and numb. He wakes up to find a thick and rough hand clamped over his mouth.

The lights are out. The jail cell and common area past the door are shrouded in darkness.

It’s far from quiet, though. Mouse can hear inmates breaking wind, babbling to themselves, masturbating, snoring, and singing mindlessly off-key songs. Iron doors slam and shake as crazies howl apocalyptic insights like dogs baying under a yellow moon.

Mouse: Mouse’s first reaction is to flinch with wide-eyed terror. He looks up at the shadow-shrouded figure clamping his mouth shut. It’s night, or so Mouse assumes. His yells for help weren’t listened to last time, would they be ignored again?

GM: The terrified inmate sees only darkness. A faint voice in the distance cackles, “That’s whaaaat sheeee saiiidd…” but his immediate cell is silent except for a loud and heavy snoring coming from the bunk above him.

He feels something slim and plastic-like being slipped into his hands.

Mouse: Confusion only adds to Mouse’s fear. He stays silent as his pianist’s fingers wrap around the plastic-like item, trying to figure out what it is. He strains his eyes against the darkness.

GM: Its depths are impenetrable, but his fingers brush against a sharp metallic edge. Metallic slamming, shaking, and screaming sounds in the distance.

The hand withdraws from his mouth.

Mouse: Mouse notices the sharpness and recognizes what he’s been given. Something to defend himself with. He mouths a silent thank you to the mysterious shadow.

GM: His only answer is distant farts, grunts, screams, and cackling laughter.

Loud, wheeze-like snoring continues to sound from the bunk above him.

The cramped cell smells of dried blood, bile, and semen. Pain stabs through his ass. He feels queasy and lightheaded.

Mouse: A dangerous, almost insane thought crosses Mouse’s mind as the smell haunts him. His eyes are still open as he waits for them to adjust to the darkness of the cell.

GM: The outline of his bunk bed becomes clearer. Loud, wheeze-like snores continue to sound from the upper bunk.

Mouse: The young man tries his best to remain quiet despite the pain. He lifts the sharp object closer to his eyes and wonders what he’s doing. He’s just getting up to pee, right?

His eyes, though, are wide. He knows what he wants.

GM: The hilt is a cylinder-shaped piece of plastic. A long and cruel-looking shard of chickenwire glass is fastened to the end by duct tape.

“My sooouulll is a paperrrr baaag… at the boootom… of your garbage, caaaaaaaaaan…!” a distant voice manically sings.

Mouse: It’s enough. It’s enough for Mouse to do what he wants to do. Doesn’t he?

It’s instinctual, the way his grip tightens around the shiv. His heart beats hard against his chest. His hands shake. Does he really, truly want this? Is this just… desperation? Maybe there’s another way. Some other way that doesn’t involve looming over his rapist’s bed and stabbing him repeatedly until he’s dead.

Mouse doesn’t have an answer to any of those questions. But his body moves on its own. His body knows what it wants, even if his mind is too scared to admit it.

It doesn’t want to be a victim anymore.

GM: The only response to Mouse’s dark thoughts is his cellmate’s steady, wheeze-like snores.

Mouse: It happens in a blur. The scared, wide-eyed young man soundlessly lifts up the shiv and plunges it down. It’s a blind, haphazard attack, but it still gorily punctures his cellmate’s neck with a thick spurt of blood.

It’s an almost out-of-body experience as Mouse watches himself undertake the grizzly deed like a floating spectre. His hair is a mess. He’s coated in bile and blood and filth. It’s surreal. It’s therapeutic. It’s utterly terrifying.

He doesn’t dare breathe as he pulls the shiv out and stabs down again, adrenaline pumping through his veins.

GM: The glass-bladed shiv stabs into the man’s neck with a sickening shk. Mouse can’t see what tattoo it punctures in the dark, but he feels his cellmate’s lifeblood fleck over his face—warm, wet, and coppery.

The man screams.

He reflexively grabs his sheet and half-drags, half-throws it across the air to entangle his indistinct attacker. A thud hits the ground. Mouse pulls the bedding off himself just as the man’s grasping, tattooed arms grab for his scrawny shoulders—just like last time.

Mouse: It happens too fast. Mouse isn’t made for violence, and his chest hurts from its thumping. He loses track of where he is, what’s happening—it’s all a blur.

GM: His back hits the fluid-crusted mattress. His attacker pries at the shiv in his hands. It almost seems to happen in slow motion as Mouse watches him agonizingly tear the chickenwire glass blade from his grip. The man’s eyes are bloodshot and furious. He screams something in Spanish Mouse doesn’t understand. Couldn’t understand. He feels the man’s spit fleck against his face… and then a sudden stab of agony as the shiv sinks into his belly. A second warm flow of blood pools over the mattress he was raped on.

“¡Te alimentaré tus putas bolas!” his wild-eyed cellmate froths, blood and spittle flying from his mouth.

Mouse: Mouse can only a give a high-pitched, guttural scream. It almost feels like he’s been punched and had the air knocked out of him, but it hurts so much worse. He’s being stabbed. The man is stabbing him. He’s going to die.

“I’m sorry!” Mouse yells as his cellmate screams unintelligible obscenities. Tears run down his face. “I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me! Please!”

Mouse can almost taste the man, he’s that close.

“Please don’t kill me!”

GM: There’s another stab of agony as the shiv sinks into his chest. Mouse feels blood welling up in his mouth. Everything is starting to go dark—and it’s not from the lights being out.

Mouse: Am I going to die in here? he thinks once again, gurgling pathetically as he continues to cry.

“I’m sorry…”

He tries to fight the man off of him, maybe he can make a run for it… but he’s not strong enough… he’s never been strong enough…

GM: His cries for forgiveness go unheeded as the furious-eyed, pain-maddened man howls like a demon and drives the shiv towards his throat.

Mouse: As Mouse cries, he reflexively ducks his neck out of the shiv’s path. It hits the bed’s metallic frame with a too-loud, too-brittle scraping snap that seems to sound several times at once. He continues to loudly wail for mercy and help.

“I will do anything! Please stop! Help!”

Wait. That noise. Mouse jerks his eyes towards the steel bedpost and sees shards of the shiv’s glass blade littered everywhere. He continues to scream, “HELP! HEEEEEELP!” while trying to squirm free of the man’s grip. He can make a break for the cell door. He hopes beyond all hope that whoever gave him the shiv left the door unlocked.

GM: His rapist’s grip is as iron as it was before. The profusely bleeding man bellows incoherently in Mouse’s face and clamps his fingers around the screaming boy’s neck. He clamps them tight, and squeezes. They blister like heated iron as Mouse’s head swims. His vision starts to go dark.

Mouse:HELP! HEEELP! HEEEEEEELLLPPP!!!” he continues to scream as consciousness fades. It’s difficult with his attacker’s iron-like hands around his neck, but it’s all he can do.

His mind continues to race. He remembers listening to Becca talk about a Women’s Studies class she took. That feels like a lifetime ago. The unbidden thought seems odd until he connects it with something she told him from that class: “It’s more effective to yell there’s a fire than it is to yell for help.”

Mouse didn’t pay much mind to that idea at the time. It sounded too pessimistic to be true. But it’s obvious by now, after all he’s undergone, that the world really is that self-interested and devoid of kindness.

FIRE!” he screams at the top of his prodigious lungs. “FIIIIRE! FIIIIIIIRE! FIII-IIIIIRRRE! FIIIIIIIIIII-RRRRRRREEEEEEEE!”

And Fizzy always said his music practice was useless.


The sound of footsteps is the last thing he hears before darkness overtakes him.

GM: The door to his cell flies open and cacophonously slams against the wall. Three guards burst in, brandishing nightsticks overhead. Their faces are impossible to discern in the darkness, making them seem spectral apparitions of terrifying violence.

There are no shouts to break it up. No questions. No demands. The billyclubs simply descend—on Mouse and his violator.

The first nightstick smashes over the wounded man’s already bloody face. It shatters his nose with a hideous crunch and messy spurt of red.

The second nightstick descends towards the man’s biceps, but harmlessly clangs against a steel bedpost as Mouse’s gurgling, profusely bleeding cellmate lunges out of its path. The guard curses as the impact runs up his arm, causing him to actually drop the weapon.

The first guard barks a hard laugh. “My old man always said! Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done! ‘Target nerve clusters,’ fucking pussies these days!”

The third nightstick descends towards Mouse’s biceps and quadriceps with two quick, snapping blows. The young man’s muscles scream with numb protest.

Mouse: A defeated gurgle escapes Mouse’s lips as the first hot strikes true. The first of many.

He loses his voice, his sense of time, and his whole body becomes heavy. He struggles for breath. It’s like his body forgets how. It’s terrifying. Beyond terrifying.

He knows what’s coming. It comes slow. But it comes.

He’s a powerless audience to it. To his own demise. To his own end.

GM: As the nightsticks descend upon Mouse in almost surreal rhythm, the last of the lies fall away.

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die.

That’s not what Mouse sees.

There’s only one, seemingly impossible question that rings through his mind like a billyclub against the steel bedpost:

How did his life come to this?

To this, being raped and beaten to death on a jail cell’s vomit-, blood-, and cum-crusted mattress?

The past few hours, days, all seem like one nightmarish blur of beatings and threats and cops and everyone who can take a shit, finding some reason to take that shit. The crowd of gawkers at Tulane. The desk chick at Josephine Louise House, what was her name, calling the police over him. Bert Villars, extorting him for money and selling his debt. Bud and that evil little girl, Sue. Becca not returning his call. ‘Cat’ and ‘Giraffe’, those women who looked at him like he was so strange. His roommate disappearing. Maybe he could’ve helped against the cops. Bentley, hanging up on him. Ha ha, she still lives with her dad. Why does she even do that? They’ve got money. She could easily move out.

What happened? When did he cross the threshold, from a normal life as a normal college student with a bright future ahead of him, to… this?

There was Cécilia Devillers. He played that song and left flowers outside her apartment door. He thought it was sweet. She didn’t. She thought it was stalking. She was terrified of him. Did she call the building’s security on him? Or did they just show up? Who called the cops and sent his life flushing down the shitter?

It’s odd he was even there, come to think. Who left the door to her building unlocked? Who let a total stranger just wander down the apartment hall?

Then there was Emmett Delacroix, who asked for money, who he called Cécilia wanting to help. Fizzy always said he was a piece of shit. Fizzy spat on his card. He hasn’t thought about Emmett Delacroix in a while, come to think. Raising money for his legs just slipped his mind, after that first arrest and plea bargain and sentencing. He had other problems. Maybe Em was just using him all along anyway, like Fizzy said he was. Fizzy had beat up the man and called him a sack of shit.

Maybe that’s it.

He was always the sweet, dumb, harmless kid to Fizzy, his mom, and the RidaHoodz. He could never really do any wrong. Nothing on the level of stabbing a man to death in his sleep. He wasn’t capable of it.

His family sheltered him. He went to a good private school, the kind his brother never went to. The teachers who hovered over him so attentively, who were in constant contact with his mom and other helicopter parents, all knew what and who he was: just a sweet and harmless kid. Tulane was more of the same. Just because his professors didn’t send him emails about missed assignments didn’t mean he’d left the protective bubble that sheltered him all his life.

But the moment he did, the moment he stepped outside, he saw what happened. Cécilia Devillers, her building’s security guards, Officer May, Hector Berganza, Judge Boner, that acne-faced public defender, Judge Malveaux, all those cops: to them, he was Emmett Delacroix. A shark. A predator. A sack of shit.

The realization strikes him like the billyclubs raining down on his screaming, bleeding, broken flesh:

They were right.

All of the people who hurt him. All of the people he believed did him wrong.

His entire life was a lie. The world isn’t a fair or kind place. It’s a jungle ruled by the law of the jungle: kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Hurt or be hurt.

His family shielded him. Lied to him. All but told him he could be weak. That there was a place for the weak.

Blood-spattered nightsticks descend upon his fading vision in almost slow motion. He knows better now.

Innocence is weakness. Sympathy is a lie told by vipers like Emmett Delacroix. In the real world, no one plays romantic songs and leaves flowers outside unfamiliar girls’ doors. They only do that to get close to foolish victims—or foolishly reveal themselves, through their softness, to also be victims.

Victims get raped and beaten to death on a cum- and bile-stained mattress. That is the world. Being raped on a filthy prison mattress. Being beaten to death on a filthy prison mattress where you were raped. That is the real world. That is the entire world.

Bones crunch in Mouse’s ears as the billyclubs mercilessly descend. He supposes it hurts. That’s not particularly novel, so far as his last few days ago. He might be going numb from all the pain anyway. Blood flecks across the cell’s dark walls. Laughter sounds from the indistinct visages of his jeering tormentors. He knows they are but symptoms of the world’s sickness, helpless actors in a perverse and grisly cosmic drama that mandates but one law: kill or be killed.

Mouse’s time to exit stage from that drama fast approaches. The terminal black curtain already descends. There are but two roles he may play as he takes his final bow: victim or monster.

Aren’t there?

Mouse: It’s his last symphony. A bloody swan song.

“Ama… zing grace…”
How sweet… the sound…"
That save… a wretch… like me…"

It comes out in strained, fruitless gurgles. His eyes are wide with fear, but also dawned by understanding.

“I once… was lost… but now’m… found…’
“T’was blin… b’ now I… see…”
“T’was Grace tha… taugh… my heart… to… fear…”

He can’t remember the rest of the lyrics…

The only thing keeping Mouse alive for now is watching his rapist suffer the same fate. He can rest assured that for all the pain he’s suffered, and is currently suffering at the hands of the pen’s overzealous guards, the one who finally made him snap will likely die here, too.

It’s his sole solace as the blows descend and he hacks bloody pulp from his lungs. Perhaps the next world will be kinder. Perhaps there is nothing but darkness after this. Mouse doesn’t know.

He eyes the broken shrapnel from the shiv tried to end his cellmate’s life with.

But at least he can die knowing something else.

Electricity seems to surge through his veins as he wills his dying body up. He grabs at the biggest piece of shrapnel and ignores the edge slicing into his pianist’s fingers. He will make these final few moments his own. He jolts forward, lightning quick, to slash the glass across his cellmate’s throat.

At least he can die knowing the man who raped him is dead, too.

GM: And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Mouse can’t see much. Everything is going black. His rapist lies on the ground. The man’s face is a sheet-white, blood-smeared, smashed-in ruin as he feebly holds up his arms to ward off the guards’ merciless blows.

He doesn’t realize another one carries even less mercy.

He doesn’t even seem to notice as the chickenwire shard in Mouse’s hands stabs towards his too-red, ruined throat.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.

The guards do. There’s more shouts. More noise.

T’was grace that brought us safe thus far

The billyclubs descend.

And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home

Pain in his head. Something wet trickling down his temple. He’s getting used to pain. It’s an acceptable cost. That feels almost freeing, knowing pain isn’t stopping him anymore. That feels like it could open up a lot of things, not to be scared of pain.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me

A warbling voice dimly sounds, as if underwater.

“Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done!”

I once was lost but now am found

There’s more blood spurting across his face. Distant screams. Fire in his fingers. He doesn’t need them anymore. It wouldn’t matter now that Bud threatened to break them. This is his greatest work. His magnum opus.

T’was blind

He’s not Mouse. Fizzy’s little brother. He’s Mercurial Fernandez. Criminal. Killer. Dangerous man. Dangerous enough the guards are killing him. Dangerous enough his rapist is screaming now.

There’s worse things to die as.

but now I see

That’s funny.

Was blind

He does remember the lyrics.

but now I see…


Jack Feedback Repost

The first thing that comes to my mind when reflecting on Mouse’s last moments is a section written in The Players’ New Players Guide called “Embrace the Suck (When You can)”. The second thing to come to mind is the following section called “The House Always Wins (The Nature of Establishment)”.

I don’t think there’s a lot that can be done when your character, specifically in Mouse’s case, has dug themselves too deep a hole to get out of, and when they unwittingly make opponents who are more powerful than them in every facet, be that physically more powerful in physical confrontations and brawls, those of insurmountable means and money in the halls of power and their kangaroo courts, or against those with allies far greater and more dangerous than any you possess, there isn’t a lot of alternative options to take other than take your licks, mitigate the damage, and wait for an opportunity to turn things on their head. I still stand firm that I made the right call in a narrative sense to have him regain some agency and attempt to murder his rapist, intending to put a stop to him being a human punching bag. The alternative was letting Mouse continue to be the victim, which was becoming a tired trope as it was for him. In a lot of ways, I felt like he became a lot more interesting and intriguing as a character in his final moments than any other time during his play. He wasn’t in a position to be cheered on or supported until the very end. I especially liked it when he thanked his rapist for the smoke, which was a build-up before Mouse finally snapped and decided to try to kill his cellmate in his sleep. Some poorly timed botches killed that sudden shake-up for his character in its crib, though. Weirdly, the biggest pick-up I can note in hindsight while re-reading this log is that Mouse apparently didn’t have a clean bum after shitting in the shower, which is weird considering he could have cleaned his bottom in the shower, right? Weird after-thought, right? :P

Anyway, I think the crux of Mouse’s troubles begin and end with us being on different pages during his initial build. I genuinely thought that a mortal story would be a lot lighter in tone, building Mouse without much combat utility and a more carefree personality under this assumption. It’s probably fair to say I am not the only player in the game so far to assume a mortal story would be a lot lighter in tone, either. Mouse started off as a dumb college kid, with a pretty sheltered life (his father was a pastor and he attended private schools all his life), and he ends up getting raped to death in prison. I will reiterate that a lot of the problem is that we weren’t on the same page with me thinking a mortal story would be a lot, lot lighter in tone and, well, it really wasn’t. This seems like a running theme. Amelie starts play off as a young blacksmith attending a private school and ends up getting hazed to the extreme, sent to prison, and practically turned into a skeleton of her former self – because she tried to make friends with some rich white girls and went to a haunted house. Emmett ends up without legs after puking on an underworld boss. The biggest issue the game has is it can be extremely punitive, which certainly has its place (as it adds some drama and grit to a very dark world, although I think it’s at times used too much to the point that one mistake can lead to an inescapable death spiral), but on top of this most of the named NPCs predominantly come across as hyper-competent. You simply can’t make any enemies in this game, because at times it feels like you’re at war with Jackie Chan / Niccolo Machiavelli hybrids. This can make the games already punitive nature just downright difficult to navigate at the best of times. You mess up once and it’s really hard to get back up. I feel like as a player it’s too easy to get boxed into playing the safest option every time – if we want our characters to survive. But very rarely is that the most interesting option. Even then the safest option can spring some traps, anyway. Witiko Falls was a lot better at mortal level play, and the main reason why I think it succeeds on the mortal side a lot better than Blood and Bourbon is that there could be elements of horror but it never felt like the world was out to get Kurt. There’s drama, but the stakes are low. The only time the stakes got higher was when Hazel finally met VV face-to-face, and she immediately became a Mage. Alice, during her short run near the beginning of the game, is actually a good example of you running low-level play well. Alice’s biggest concerns were making friends, trying to impress and compete for a girl she liked – and the most dangerous thing she faced was a slightly peeved ghost that she was able to easily run away from. She was a ghoul, but I felt like every challenge she faced was far more easily overcome and far less monstrous than anything Emmett, Amelie, or Mouse faced as mere mortals, which have all felt like meat grinders more than anything else.

These criticisms more-so apply to the game’s mortal and neonate side of play than higher levels (like Rocco, Cletus, Jon, or any large player as an aside). When bad stuff happens to older vampires, you usually have the tools to fight back – be it allies, resources, and large dice pools – and higher stakes should be expected at higher levels of play, anyway. However, I feel like the stakes and challenges are as high for a mortal as they are as century-old vampires, and I don’t really like that. I feel like it takes away from the shock of being made a vampire, too. It’s pretty difficult to convincingly play up the horror of being made a vampire when you’ve already faced some pretty grim shit, so getting embraced becomes more surreal than horrific at that point.

I am actually reluctant to play out much of Arthur’s mortal life, or at the very least fast-track most of it, in fear that things will turn into a cluster-fuck before he’s even embraced, honestly. We don’t have a good track record so far.

I hope that makes sense.

edit: this got lost in the shuffle, but I really did appreciate the amount of detail and humour included in Mouse’s subsequent “role-play obituary”. I liked it enough I even included the line “not a pervert, just black” on his character page as a quote. I have to wonder how awkward it was to combine Mouse’s face with Harambe, guessing you weren’t photoshopping this in a public place like a coffee shop or library, lol.

Mouse I, Chapter XI

Calder Feedback Repost

First, you absolutely made the right call in having Mouse stand up for himself by killing his rapist in his sleep
No one likes a protagonist who just meekly takes it
There are some times it’s okay (and even compelling) for a protagonist to take it
Lou in particular was/is a total masochist
But one who does nothing but take it loses sympathy
Mouse did a lot of that, and I agree that the moment he tried to kill his rapist was one of his better moments
His best moment, in fact
He did a lot of careening from one disaster to the next with outraged disbelief
It was when he tried to kill his rapist that we saw some real change and growth on the character’s part
Which he did ultimately succeed in. He didn’t deliver the killing blow himself, but 5L is no mean wound
And made it all too easy for the OPP guards you Declared into being to inadvertently kill him
His and their stats are posted here
The criticism that NPCs opposed to PCs (as opposed to NPCs in general) feel too competent is one that I think has basis, as a lot of players have brought it up
As well as how much they enjoy it when the GM hits that sweet spot between “flawless Machiavelli” and “incompetent buffoon” like Matheson
Ie, a canny and cunning elder who still loses his shit and makes irrational decisions
If you look at the stats for Mouse’s rapist, though, I think you’ll find they’re actually pretty modest
Strength 3/Brawl 2
Mouse should normally have been able to kill Axel in his sleep
The thing was… you ran into a truly horrible spate of bad luck
All those botches
Botch to resist when he raped you, botch on your breaking point roll, botch on your grapple roll when you fought, I think at least a couple more
That bad luck was only further compounded by some pretty good luck on the GM’s part
Axel’s pool to hit Mouse’s 6 Defense is actually a chance die
You might recall Mouse dodging the first time Axel tried to grapple him, which should have happened 90% of the time
Instead it happened 33% of the time. Of the three total rolls he made to lock Mouse into a grapple, he rolled a 10 twice
Luck of the dice can do some pretty fickle things
By and large you used solid tactics backed by strong understanding of the rules to kill Axel
Like making an All-Out Attack during your surprise round when you won Initiative
Declaring Mouse had some training with knives
(Bad luck foiled your Declaration there too)
Declaring the shiv shattered, bringing in guards shouting “Fire!”
Asking for Willpower at the right time and getting a refresh
While you might have been able to do some things better, like Declaring the shiv broke before Axel stabbed you, you ran a tight ship with good tactics that would’ve been more than sufficient to carry the day if you’d had average luck or even so-so luck
You had rotten luck, and I’m not sure any level of tactics would’ve been enough to overcome that
Not even just bad luck on Mouse’s attack rolls and Declarations, but also the roll to see how many guards attacked you vs. Axel
And getting a result where all three attacked you

Mouse I, Chapter XI
False_Epiphany False_Epiphany