Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Three, Emmett Epilogue

GM: “In CASH? What is this, 1995?!” Lena sputters.

“A few years rather later. Knowing your brother, though, I’d rather not have any paper trail linking us,” Villars replies with an oily grin that all but dribbles down his face.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Ah-ah, if you want my advice, I’m billing you by the hour.”

“This is highway robbery. It’s a simple phone number!”

“Yes, it is. And yes, it’s that too. You do seem fairly desperate.” Villars draws out the pause. “Of course, if you’d rather Bud come by the house when you’re away, and find Em missing… he doesn’t like surprises very much. I suppose he could always stop by somewhere else. Like your childrens’ schools, to pick them up… what grade is your youngest in? Kindergarten?”

The leer on Villars’ face looks like he could swallow a spider without pausing.

“Bud loves kids. Why, he has a little girl who-”

“No! We’ll pay. We just… need a little time to get the money together.”

Villars grins. “Don’t worry about making my deadlines, Eveline.”

“You’ve got far bigger problems.”


GM: “Hello, are you Mrs. Merinelli?”

Lena looks between the two police officers at her front door. “I am. Can I help you?”

“Yep, by coming quietly. You’re under arrest.”

Lena blinks. “I’m sorry?”


GM: “So, let me try to summarize this,” the lawyer frowns. “You’d kept silent about your brother’s criminal activities for years. Your brother murdered Miguel Rodriguez in his apartment, and several other men with the aid of accomplices, over a cocaine deal gone sour. In retaliation, Rodriguez’ friends kidnapped your brother and cut off his legs.”

“He went to the hospital, and was arraigned for a variety of misdemeanors. He paid his attorney’s fees with a loan from… the Mob, and they threatened to kill his family—that is, your family—if he didn’t repay them. After he told you this, you paid his attorney $5,000 cash so that you could contact the Mob and pay them the $11,000.”

“I don’t mean to belabor the point, but… you realize how that missing money looks, the same time as this drug deal gone sour?”

Lena spreads two hands that are cuffed to the table. “I know it sounds ridiculous.”

“Well, moving around $11,000 simply isn’t possible for you right now. And the police protecting your family over your brother’s word is unlikely too. However, there is another angle to this. It’s possible that your brother was lying to you. Asking for $16,000 could have simply been an attempt to defraud you, before he was caught for murder. This Villars could have been his partner.”

“You think I actually trust anything he said?” Lena scoffs. “I’m just not going to gamble my children’s lives that he was lying.”

“Well, if you believe him, the most they can do is get out of town. As for your plea bargain, I think I can get you down to just five years as an accessory to murder…”


GM: A boy sobs against a man’s chest. “I don’t wanna move, Dad.”

The man gives his shoulder a squeeze. “I’m sorry, kiddo. I’d like to stay too.”

A girl cries. “W… why can’t we?!”

The man is silent for a moment as he tries to piece together an explanation. “Mommy lost her medical license when she went to prison. That means she can’t be a doctor anymore when she comes home.”

The man tries to say something comforting, about how everything will turn out all right. The boy cries some more. “I—I don’t wanna go. I don’t want her… to go. I don’t…”

The man struggles to keep his face composed. His failure gives his children their first memory of seeing their father cry.

“Neither do I, sweetie… neither… do I.”


GM: “…hello, sir. We’re here on behalf o’ yer brother-in-law. Might we step in?” the smiling man asks as he does just that, closing the front door behind him. Daniel Merinelli barely has a chance to yell before his guest sharply yanks his arms behind his back in a painful lock, while a young girl in cowboy boots plasters duct tape over his mouth.

“I helped!” Sue smiles.

“Thatcha did, darlin’,” Bud grins.

“Yessir,” he drawls as he casually breaks the thinner man’s left arm, “this is mighty overdue.”

“I’m a patient man, see,” he continues over Dan’s muffled screams, "and three months ain’t that long in the grand scheme. Long ‘nough fer things with yer family and the cops ta blow over. Lot o’ time fer your brother’s interest ta rack up, too. By ma count, he owes us thirty-one thousand, three hundred and eighty-four dollars, and twenty-eight cents.”

“That there is compound interest,” Bud explains as he breaks Dan’s right arm with another sickening crunch. “It makes the math all funny.”

The tape-gagged man gives a strangled half-scream, half-moan as tears well from his eyes.

Bud exaggeratedly cocks a hand to his ear. “Whas’ that? Yer gabbin’. I can’t understand a word yer sayin’.”

Snot leaks from the crying man’s nose.

“I won’t charge ya the twenty-eight cents, though. Heck, we can even roun’ down to jus’ three-eighty dollars. I’m a man who likes ta do things nice an’ even.”

Bud clucks his tongue as he looks around the home’s living room, dragging the shattered-armed man along by the scruff of his shirt. “Y’all ain’t as rich as I thought. Losin’ yer doctor wife musta tightened some belts. Still, ‘tween yer car, ’lectronics, and credit cards, I’ll get ma ten-kay investment more than back.”

Sue smiles and pulls off Dan’s shoes. Then his socks. Bud pats her head and drawls at his equal parts bewildered and moaning victim, “Sadly fer y’all, that ain’t all I’m here fer.”

Sue plasters some more strips of duct tape over Dan’s mouth.

“Yer brother’n law owes us some other interest. I’m here fer that too.”

Dan snorts more snot over his tape gag, his eyes wide and feverish.

“Thank ya, Sue, that’ll do jus’ dandy,” Bud smiles at the girl, then smashes her passed sledgehammer over Dan’s bare feet.

MMMMM!!!!!!!”

Bud brings down the hammer over Dan’s other foot.

MMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Ooh hoo, bullseye!” Bud whoops. Flecks of blood coat his wide smile. “Ya e’er hit the center o’ the big-toe-nail jus’ likeyat, an’ see the bits go a-flyin’ everywhere?”

Dan screams past the gag. “MMM-MMMMMMM!!!”

“Nah, don’t reckon you have. It’s like hittin’ one o’ em,” Bud snaps his fingers, “whatcha-ma-call-’em’s, at the state fair? Ah, can’t remember the name. It’ll come ta me, though.” His smile widens. “Things have a way o’ comin’ back ta me. They always do, in the end.”

Buds sucks his gums. “Shit, if ma eyes ain’t lyin’, I think some o’ yer toenail jus’ landed in that outlet!”

Dan brokenly sobs and convulses. His tape gag bulges as beads of sweat trickle down his reddened, snot-nosed face. His head shakes as choke-like noises rasp from his throat.

“Don’t go throwin’ up now,” Bud chides. “I seen more painful ways ta go, son, but you believe me, there ain’t many pansier ways than chokin’ ta death on yer own barf.”

The crippled man’s eyes roll back in his head.

Dan sets down the sledgehammer and walks up to the house’s stairs. He then turns and smiles, “Don’t go a-runnin’ now,” with a wag of his finger.

“Mmmm….!”

Sue smiles. “I helped!”

Bud comes back downstairs with two crying, squirming burdens slung under each arm. Duct tape is plastered over their mouths and hands. The broken-limbed man screams past his gag and thrashes impotently in place. Sue sets up a video camera, aims it at the kitchen, and skips off.

“They got chipmunk-cheeks like that ’cuz I stuffed socks up their traps,” Bud explains as he lays down the sobbing children on the breakfast bar, belly-first. “This part gets a lil’ noisy.”

The girl gives a muffled scream and kicks at Bud’s hands.

The big man clucks his tongue, scoops up both children under the crook of one elbow, and pulls open the freezer door. He tosses out ice cream cartons and bags of frozen fruit and vegetables, sticks the now even fiercer-struggling girl inside, then closes the door.

“Don’t worry, I’ll have ‘er out ’fore her teeth e’en chatter,” Bud remarks over her father’s renewed scream-muffles. “Yessir, she’s a-gonna get hotter’n sweatier than a sinner in church, soon ’nough.”

But flicks on the video camera one-handed. The little boy hoisted over his shoulder just cries.

“Y’all will ‘scuse Sue takin’ off. But ya know there’s people who’ll pay top dollar ta jack off ta this?” Bud casually asks as he slams Noah face-first onto the ‘set.’

Twisting the burner stove’s knob to 400 degrees only takes him a second.

The family’s screams last far longer.


GM: Em’s heard as much about prison as any moderately well-to-do white boy has. He’ll wear an orange jumpsuit. There are racially segregated gangs. He shouldn’t drop the soap.

Death row hasn’t been much of anything.

Death_Row.jpg
Twice a week, Emmett strips to his boxers and is escorted, handcuffed, to a shower where his cuffs are removed and he is permitted to luxuriate under lukewarm water for ten minutes. The rest of his existence is spent locked in a 6-by-9 concrete cage for 24 hours a day. The toilet is an arm’s length away from his bed. There are no windows or natural light.

At some unknown time, for Em has neither a clock nor other means to track the sun’s passage, breakfast carts rattle across the concrete outside. The first sounds of his morning repeat the last sounds of night—remote-controlled locks clanging open and clunking closed, electric gates whirring, heavy metal doors crashing shut, voices wailing, klaxons blaring. A prison’s maximum security wing has no soft or delicate sounds.

At that interval, a ruler-sized slot opens in Em’s featureless concrete box. A tray with powdered eggs, undercooked grits, and a plastic spork is wordlessly pushed through. Em never sees the face of whoever feeds him. It could be a man. It could be a woman. It could be Bud. Christina Roberts. Bert Villars. Maybe even Lena.

Em hauls back his tray and eats from it over the stumps that used to be his legs. Sometimes there is a cockroach for him to squash. When he is finished he returns the tray to the slot and goes back to sleep. Sleeping, he soon learns, is the best way to pass time on death row.

He can’t sleep for long enough. Later, though Em cannot tell at what time, more food is deposited through the slot in his cage. It is a thin sandwich, carton of milk, and runny mashed potatoes without gravy. Em can lose maybe another hour with a nap after lunch.

He has heard of a luxury called “the canteen.” Men in prison maintain a type of bank account where they can deposit money sent from family and friends. Once a week, such men can fill out an order sheet and spend up to $99 on cigarettes, chips, soap, soup, sandwiches, pastries, and even shoes. Their goods are delivered through the grill in their cells several days later.

Em cannot buy anything from the canteen. No one sends him money.

Dinner comes an unknown span of time after lunch. It consists of a processed pork chop, piece of liver, or half-raw chicken together with more potatoes. Potatoes come in each of his meals. Prisons, he soon learns, have a million ways to serve potatoes.

Visitors’ days are on Sundays. Em is authorized to receive a single visitor between 9 AM and 3 PM. The visitor can purchase items from vending machines and share a single hug or kiss (but not both) with him.

Em receives no visitors. Sundays are the same as any other day.

Em knows that he will eventually face execution by lethal injection, and his monotonous existence will come to an end. He does not know when. Some inmates are said to die of old age while on death row. The monumental task that is every condemned man’s burden until he is permitted to die is how to fill the hours until he can sleep again. His options are few. He can watch black and white non-cable TV, if he’s earned that as a reward for good behavior, but Em isn’t sure how he’s supposed to demonstrate good behavior. He can do his laundry by running his clothes through the toilet and hanging them up to dry. He can talk to himself, endless disembodied and mostly inane chatter. He can lie on his thin three-inch mattress and think. And think. And think.

Sleep eventually comes, and for a few hours, he has a preview of existence after he faces the needle. Then sleep recedes and he is back in his concrete cage. Another day on death row begins. It unfolds in almost exactly the same way, then it ends. More days pass. Then even more days. Maybe they grow into weeks. Maybe months. Maybe years. Em cannot say. He has no piece of chalk to mark the days with like he’s seen inmates do in movies. He can feel hair growing on the face he has no mirror to gaze upon. His constant companion, like a grim reaper hovering over his shoulder, is the knowledge that he will die. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps after a month. Perhaps after many years.

Eventually, he will get to sleep forever.

Emmett: For now, though, he dreams.

A king of two courts, a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not dream of walking. He flies, over New Orleans. He points and laughs at a vomit-streaked hustler with a badge. He cries over the Quarter, and his tears look like snowflakes, and Maya and Noah laugh and swallow them whole like pills.

He hovers over prince Talal al-Faisal al-Saud’s penthouse. Did that castle ever seem so close? He sits in Bud’s lap. “Hello,” he says into a phone. “Goodbye!" Breaking bones answer, and screams hang up on him.

He flies towards the sun. He can make it out of here, he knows. Nothing can keep Emmett Delacroix down. He soars. His wings melt like ice in untouched water, and he falls—he lands in a booth in Café Soulé, across from Christina Roberts. Anastasia is his waitress. She pours him a cup of cyanide. It smells delicious.

“Maybe you should try being smarter,” Roberts says with Villars’ rasping lungs.

“Maybe,” he admits. “Maybe.” He drinks. She tuts and her spoon gouges the crust of her soup, and she slurps, slurps, and he plunges forward, burning, scalding… hell smells like onions.

Clarice is on her bed, dying, though she doesn’t remember what that is. She doesn’t even recognize him. He leans forward and whispers, “You’re going to burn for what you did, you know?” She opens her eyes and whispers, “You too.”

Emmett doesn’t know where he is. Or when. Death row is like the womb; everything is noise and waiting, and he doesn’t know what for.

Too late?

It echoes, a meaningless question. There is no more too late. There is no arrival, there is no departure. He’s just a cripple stuck in time.

What should he say? Is he sorry? Only that he failed. Does that make him a monster? If that’s all a monster is, how do most people live with themselves? What should he have done different, anyway? Lied to himself, and not everybody else? If being a good person means being a fucking idiot like Mercurial Fernandez, then what the hell is the—

“Ha.”

Mouse probably doesn’t know he got arrested. Probably broke his back, asking for money. Oh, that’s funny. He’s still hurting somebody. Maybe Mouse will even try to have a concert.

“Ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHA…!”

Laughing burns his throat, but he swallows the pain like a pill. Everything is so goddamn funny. There is no punchline, there is no final bow. He probably can’t pull one off anyway, without legs.

“HA!”

They’re yelling at him now, to shut his mouth. They want him to die quietly, too. But there’s no quiet for people like Emmett Delacroix. They boo. He pays them no mind. He deserves a standing ovation. Somebody should throw him a bouquet. The noise inside his head is drowned in the laughter. He claps for himself, because nobody else will. And then there’s no noise at all, except the rushing of curtains, curtains for Emmett…

Curtains.


GM: A white concrete cross sits among a field of other crosses: the true crop of the Farm, officially known as Louisiana State Penitentiary. Each cross is spaced exactly three feet away from its neighbors laterally and nine feet longitudinally. Such sameness is only possible at a place like Angola. Even the dead still wear uniforms. Simple plaques are inscribed with DOC numbers, names, and dates by which sentences could no longer continue to be served.

Angola_Cemetery..jpg
The undertaker’s spade shovels on the last of the earth.

X989132
Emmett Delacroix
02-10-16


Previous, by Narrative: Story Three, Louis Epilogue
Next, by Narrative: Interlude, Mouse I

Previous, by Character: Story Three, Emmett XII
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline IX, Emmett I

Comments

Pete Original Feedback Post

I think Em, conceptually, is a difficult kind of character to play. Period. He requires both a fair degree of ability to think on your feet and quickly get into people’s heads (or make large intuitive jumps). Those are both skills that tend to evolve a fair bit with time and life experience, so I’m not terribly surprised you’ve struggled a fair bit in general. I struggle with it a lot, and making that ability to understand and manipulate people at a deep level the core (one could argue only element) of your PCs strengths set you up for a fair bit of failure as a baseline. As Cal observed several times, you are often in situations where you have very little to offer other people (even before he lost his legs and such), and that makes it extremely difficult to actually move them. You need some kind of leverage, and again, pure emotional understanding is iffy at best. I guess I’m saying that as a whole, Em feels like he sort of, as a character, set you up for failure on that front.

Em also feels like a character that deals a lot in a world you don’t have a lot of experience in. E.g. street hustling, high society, and the criminal underworld. I don’t actually know much about your background, but you’ve been pretty thin on filling in blanks with some of this stuff, so I’m going to assume you don’t come from any of those backgrounds yourself. Now, you can play a character outside of where you have knowledge in a setting like this (indeed, a lot of the fun is getting to do things you don’t get to do in real life) but it tends to require both a fair bit of research (lead in, and ongoing), and tends to make it more difficult as a whole to get into their head and respond to situations authentically. I think that was another element that set Em up for a lot of hardship with your play of him.

Finally, it felt at times like you were having trouble keeping up with all the things you had going on. I don’t know how extensive your sheet is in terms of notes hidden, but I can tell you that with Caroline, and with a nearly photographic memory, I still have pages and pages of notes on her sheet, plus the stuff I have written out as well. It helps me keep up with things, remember things, and generally keep immersed in the character, especially when relatively little time has passed for her relative to the time that I’ve passed in real life (which gives me time to forget things, because I’m old). Plot threads build up. Details get buried or lost. Notes are your friend, and, even more than your friend, are the GMs friend, because it helps him keep track of what you think is important, and shows him that you’re actively involved in what’s going on, tracking, and pursuing various topics (which he can in turn prep for more easily). It’s essentially a feedback method, even if you don’t need them personally, that can only enhance your experience. Among other things, I track on my sheet, everything Caroline owes, major and minor plot threads open, character goals and aspirations, player goals and aspirations, and things that I intend on building towards in terms of merits and other resources. I’m not saying you need to do all of that, but it gives you an idea of things you could include and build off of.

In any case, what these three points build into is that my recommendation, if you bring in another character (as you’ve mentioned having an interest in, either as a replacement or alongside), is that you build a simpler, more straightforward PC, to get your feel for the game and navigating the world. Someone with a focus in an area you have more knowledge of, some greater assets than simply the ability to talk his way through things, and someone you keep relatively detailed notes on, when key or detailed topics come up (e.g. loans, debts, etc). You don’t need to play a mirror of yourself, but the more you can understand the circumstances, the easier you’ll find it to respond to them. If you don’t have money, have more and deeper resources in other ways that you can leverage (maybe status or authority in a business or organization of note). If they don’t share your age bracket / gender, give them some tie to a hobby of some kind you have knowledge of. If it’s way outside of your comfort zone, poke around. Read, watch, and do everything you can to fill in. If I were playing, for instance, a biker, I’d probably go watch some Discovery / History Channel specials on bikers. I’d consider their history. I might watch something like Sons of Anarchy. I’d do everything I could to familiarize myself with a culture that I myself had little knowledge of.

Perhaps most importantly, set modest and achievable goals at the onset, and kick those out first. It seemed like Em was chasing after big fish from the word go, and it really set him back. I liked that Em was a proactive character, but he was trying to swallow the whole cow. Have some outside features that your PC cares about. The more connections they have (be they potential weaknesses or strengths) the more Cal has to work with, and the more meaningful adversity you can throw at him. These don’t even have to be big things. Something like having a pet for instance, throws a little minor wrinkle into the storytelling, because now you’re concerned about feeding it and caring for it if you aren’t able to do so. It helps to create things worth fighting for, and things that push and pull on your character. Another aspect of Em, that I thought was difficult, was that he essentially had very limited positive relationships that he cared about (essentially only his sister, and even they were estranged). I had no feel for who he cared about, and who cared about him. Laying aside what a lonely life that is, and what it does for the reliability and realism of a character, it makes your character inherently selfish (and deeply so) on the IC level.

Pitching a scenario, think of how much deeper Em’s story is if he’s got a girlfriend that cares about him? If he’s got friends that show up when he’s hurt? If he’s a member of a street gang that is looking for revenge for what happened to him? Think of how many more options it gives him, and how much more proactive it forces his story to be. Essentially, as noted, his death or failure here is noted by… his sister? That’s about it. His estranged from everyone. It’s part of what dug him deep into a hole with this – he had no one to turn to. Every one of his relationships was usury. It also made him emotionally shallow. He pouts, he wallows, he’s sad, he’s made. But it’s hard to demonstrate that because he doesn’t, again, interact with other people as his real self… pretty much at all.

I’m also, somewhat, of the opinion that given the horror nature of the game that playing a character that is essentially a monster to start with, really diminishes the meaningfulness of the transformation and many circumstances that arise. Kindred Em feels empty to me. I feel like he’d actually embrace it, and want it, because he’s nothing but a predator to begin with, a blood-sucking tool that thinks nothing of hurting people for his own short term gain. Narratively, I don’t think that’s driving, and I feel it sort of boxed you in here in terms of responding to things, combined with his lack of other people to meaningfully interact with.

Just some food for thought going forward. Take it or leave it as you well. As others have noted, you’re a phenomenal writer for your age, and clearly excited for the game and interested in the world and history of it. I’m just trying to give you a poke in the right direction on a lot of this – something I had to get as well when I jumped into a game like this for the first time (ask Cal about the success of my first PC in our first game together, and I’ll tell you about his own).

Story Three, Emmett Epilogue
 

Calder Original Feedback Post

I think we all had a productive chat last night, and Pete raises a great many salient points here. To recap,

Stuff that hurt Em:

He was selfish, which isn’t the same thing as evil. He saw himself as the center of the universe, didn’t care about anyone else, and wanted to rip off/con everyone, which didn’t give other characters much reason to care about him.

Cletus is evil, but he isn’t totally selfish. He cares, in a twisted way, about his mortal and Kindred family. He has honor: he’s a Southern gentleman who keeps his word. Even McGinn, who’s a racist and power-hungry sadist hated by multiple players, has standards… he refused to smear Cletus’ reputation along with the rest of the Invictus, because he’d invited Cletus to his home as a guest, and he doesn’t speak ill of guests. Caring about other people gives your character depth and makes other characters care about the.

He was also evil. I brought this up earlier in Hangouts: “I can see friendship, but I have time seeing a genuinely beautiful one when you consider Em’s past relationships with people. The only ones he’s been really nice to are his sister and her kids. And even then, he seems to care more about playing hero than their immediate feelings (wanting to pay her kids’ college tuition when they don’t lack for money, but lying to her about job hunting, wanting to gift her kids with stolen toys, getting along badly with her husband, etc)."

During Em’s character creation, we brainstormed what amounted to Touchstones for a non-vampire PC, and the result gave us Lena. I don’t think that was effective enough, as the character veered back towards his original conception. As Pete raises, the problem with sociopaths is that it’s impossible to horrify or morally challenge them with the Embrace. It’s a gift rather than curse for them. Having more humane PCs is one of the big reasons I made the switch from ancillae to neonates.

He never learned from his mistakes. We brought up in the OOC room that Em’s tactics weren’t conductive to his self-interest, and he kept repeating them. Roberts dicked him over, mouthed off to Cash Money. Wound up somewhere horrible, mouthed off to his captor. Lost his legs, mouthed off to Gettis. Got arrested, mouthed off to Marv. Obviously, being a smartass to other characters is fun for you, and there can be a place for it. Em did it way too often, in the midst of situations where he didn’t hold any cards.

He rarely had anything to offer people. Pete’s also mentioned this, and for a conman, it’s essential: you need to convince your mark you have something they want. That’s typically going to be either

1) Ability to fulfill a specific desire of theirs (“I want to be famous”) which you can find out with Empathy rolls or homework, or it can be
2) A general resource that people find desirable, like money/Resources.

Finding out #1 takes taking more work and isn’t something you have as much control over. Not everyone is a simmering kettle of unsatisfied wants: there’s a reason the biggest cons take time and effort, because you have to do homework on the mark and tailor your approach. But some people, like the guards outside the charity ball, will simply be doing their jobs and nothing more. Em chose the path of maximum resistance by trying to get in without an invitation. If he’d had resources like Allies (High Society), Status, or Resources, he could’ve simply procured an invitation automatically like Caroline did. A conman doesn’t have to be loaded to the gills with connections and resources, since the whole point of conning people is promising something you don’t deliver, but more tools is always useful. Tying into what Pete said about realistic goals, Em was a lot better suited to fleecing tourists with shell games than defrauding Saudi princes out of millions, because he had nothing to offer the latter.

(Incidentally, alt potential way in with the doormen, flirt with a guest and get her to take you in as a date. It’s harder for the guards to refuse two people with one invitation than one person with zero.)

Tying into this, if I were to rebuild Em’s Merits using his existing XP (and dropping the bump to his Resolve), I’d have given him Allies (High Society) 3, Allies (Underworld) 3, Contacts 2, Status (a team of hustlers he leads) 3. With more XP, I’d go with a Retainer who’s your girlfriend, more Contacts, Allies (Street), Allies (Police) (you’ve seen how corrupt they are), and Resources 3. Basically, connections to the areas he wants to be part of first, tangential stuff like Allies (Health) later, if at all.

His struggles got hard to root for. This ties into the above. Em was selfish and mouthy, alienated a lot of people, got screwed by them, dragged his sister into his mess, alienated her, then got what was coming to him. A character who repeats the same mistakes and hurts the people who try to help him is hard to root for.

Take Walter White. We see his devotion to his family and willingness to suffer deprivation and indignity for their sakes grind down. He suffers for a purpose (to make their lives better), and we sympathize, rather than the “selfish suffering” epitomized by Em getting molested (which he simply uses as justification to be a dick to people). Then, Walter gets cancer, and vows to provide for his family, even if it means doing horrible things. We still sympathize. Walt turns into a monster, and eventually admits all he wanted was to break bad, fuck the family. At that point, he should by rights lose our sympathy, but he wins it back when he rescues Jesse and ensures his family is financially provided for.

Emmett also didn’t save his sister or redeem himself like Walt did. Instead of being horrible (not telling her about Bud), he did the expected thing (telling her about Bud) vs. the heroic thing (dealing with Bud himself, rather than making her shell out ten grand). Or to use another analogy, he could have set her house on fire and said nothing, set it on fire and said it was burning, or set it on fire and put out the blaze himself.

Stuff that will help your next PC:

Care about something bigger than yourself. Most people in the world ultimately aren’t going to personally care about you. If you care about something they also care about, you have something in common, and they’ll care about you. Examples with the other PCs include Caroline’s devotion to her religious faith and mortal family, Lou’s pursuit of justice, and Rocco’s devotion to one of the Big Three. This is true for NPCs as well as PCs. If any of the Big Three were to die, someone else would likely step in to fill their shoes. The movements they champion are bigger than they are. Find a cause for your next PC to invest themselves in, and other characters will care about them.

Care about other characters who aren’t just “morality pets." That didn’t work out with Lena. Having family, significant others, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. who you care about is better than just having one special person. The more people you care about, the more people who care about you.

Play something you have knowledge about. Pete’s worked at a law office, so he’s playing a lawyer (in training). He’s in the military, so Caroline’s developed connections with former soldiers. I had a very memorable eighth grade with a classmate who had severe autism, so I’ve played a PC with autism. You shouldn’t play a carbon copy of yourself, but as the maxim goes, write what you know.

Keep track of details. When players forget stuff it comes back to bite them. For example, George forgot and defaulted on a promise made to Coco, so she testified against him during his trial. If players don’t remember something critical I usually won’t remind them, though I might grant Int + Composure rolls. I don’t do this to be a dick, but because if players keep track of things themselves, they’re more likely to spot other connections and plan intelligently than if I hand-feed them everything. You don’t have to keep as many notes as Pete, but if there’s something that seems detrimental to lose track of, might not be a bad idea to jot it down.

Em-Unrelated: For all his problems, Arien was better than Kiera. Mari at least was sad when he died.

Might even say she was broken up.

The news really shattered her.

She was in pieces over it.

Story Three, Emmett Epilogue
 

Izzy Feedback Repost

I said in my last feedback post that I enjoyed Em’s failures and the way he found himself (read: I led him) into a dire situation entertainingly.

Hoo boy, did I get to put that statement to the test.

I keep thinking of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which I recommend seeing if you haven’t. It stars David Cross, Tobias from Arrested Development. The plot structure is as follows: idiot salesman thinks he’s far more capable than he actually is and, through a series of increasingly poor decisions (cough) gets caught up in events way, way comically over his head (like accidentally aiding and abetting a terrorist bombing). He suffers awfully but because his self-esteem is so pitiful and he’s dug too deep a hole for himself, he refuses to take the easy way out and just admit he has no idea what he’s doing. Instead, he lies (badly), limps, and claws himself into higher and higher stakes. He gets exploited by the few people he (erroneously) considers friends who get him into even bigger problems, humiliates himself beyond conception, and ends up inadvertently killing the one person who actually cares for him, brought up on an absurd number of charges in the trial of the century; the show ends with him getting exiled to North Korea. I liked it, but critics said the show had a problem of following a purely downward arc, a simple series of escalating gags and situations that just became increasingly hard to watch without cringing. It was a fun show, but ultimately, it wasn’t anything truly special.

Lot of parallels there.

I enjoyed a lot of what I did with Em. I understand he was a cringeworthy character in a lot of people’s eyes, and he is in mine as well, but I also enjoyed a lot of his arc. It was, if nothing else, an experience I’m glad I had. So I remember him with fondness, but I think that going forward, the single biggest change I’ll be making is that I want my PCs to leave an impact on the game just as my favorite characters have.

To get to the nitty gritty:

Em’s story was clearly impacted by the loss of his legs, which led to a) the Broken condition and b) a severe limiting of his mobility, both figurative and, obviously, literal. I don’t have any hard feelings there, but it’s definitely been implied that Em suffered as he did because of the way he/I interacted with the…visions? Dream? Auspex mind rape?
We’ve touched on this before, but it bears repeating; that sequence was a pretty confusing time for me. Obviously that was intended, but I mean confusing as to how I as a player was meant to interact with a situation I was apparently blind to. I wasn’t sure what degree of consciousness Em was at (or, more specifically, how conscious he felt), whether he could perceive the pictures Cal provided with any detail, or even what physical sensations he was experiencing, or if the entire sequence felt cerebral. I don’t remember specifically, but questions about what his senses told him didn’t really get an answer.
As a result, I felt distanced from what Em was going through because it was dramatically unclear what he himself was perceiving (as opposed to what was actually happening, which was obviously withheld for good reasons). That led to me RPing him all over the place; he jumped from confused, to quipping, to begging for answers. I wasn’t sure what I was reacting to, and that meant I didn’t have a handle on how to react. Maybe I should have asked that more specifically during play OOCly, or maybe somehow ascertained it in character, or maybe I simply should have acted differently; whatever the case, I didn’t have any kind of grasp on the situation, which means Em may have lost his legs as a result of miscommunication and sloppiness (although I’m not actually sure how much him losing his legs was a result of that sequence versus that being inevitable in the Dungeon— I mean, er, wherever I was). :P

Again, no hard feelings— I just wanted you to know how that scene came across, especially if it had major ramifications (Em ending up crippled instead of Embraced, for example).

His final conversation with Lena had some of my favorite writing, both on my end and yours, especially because of the emotional tension. Em told the truth for once in his life, and it burned him to the ground. I think I find that to be the true tragedy of the story; he genuinely tried to do one good thing, and ended up making things that much worse in ways he couldn’t have seen coming.

Em’s fatalism in that scene was what triggered our big OOC discussion and the decision to retire him. I’ve had time to get over this, but I’ll say it here: one thing that slightly irked me about that situation was the feeling that you as a GM had had these serious concerns about the character/my playstyle for a while and not said anything. To be clear, you did comment on my poor tactical decisions, but lots of other issues, such as his flatness, unrelatability, and lack of connections via Allies only came out postmortem. I get that you have a very hands-off approach to GMing, which I respect, but my experience is that it’s always better to straight up tell people when they’re acting counterintuitively. That doesn’t mean telling me when I’m making an idiotic choice that my character might (for example, pissing off Roberts), but I don’t see a problem with telling me when I seem to be playing a character in a way you find unfulfilling, or when a character comes across as flat. I recall one of your key frustrations being that you felt as though I wasn’t building a story with you but simply reacting to yours; that’s the kind of thing I hope you’ll tell me if you see it going forward.
Again, I get the impression that it’s just how you like to run things. Still, I think it’s worth noting as it sharply affects how I play.

I’ll give myself some flack for how I played Em after we decided to retire him. I adopted a “screw it” outlook and wrote him as having no self-interest whatsoever, completely resigned to his fate. In a way, I think I was trying to speed things along. In retrospect, that cheapened the character in some ways, and I wish I had given him just a bit more indignation at the end, and maybe somehow tried to redeem him in a way that didn’t end with the slaughter of everybody he loved.

Which brings me to that gory sequence.

Oh, Lena. I really am sorry. I understand why it happened, but that was probably the most bitter pill for me as a player. I really had hoped Em’s one act of honesty would save her, but because of events behind the scenes, it ended up making things much, much worse for her. I suppose it was a mercy that Em never learned what happened, and a mercy he didn’t deserve at that. And hoo boy, did I underestimate Bud. I thought he was dangerous. I didn’t think he was that dangerous. I don’t think I’ll be able to use a stove without getting chills for a while.

I take a fair amount of pride in Em’s closing post. I’d always wanted to close his story with an allusion to curtains, and I’m glad I was able to do so. If nothing else, I like to imagine Em’s story is an entertaining read, and one I can visit again in the future.

The real tragedy? I can’t play another con artist now. A good one. Sigh.

All in all, though? I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy. I’ve played and GM’d worse characters than Emmett, and had less fun with better-made characters. It was a great introduction to the game, and it only gets better from here. Onwards and upwards. Which brings us to:

Story Three, Emmett Epilogue
 

Pete Feedback Repost

I sympathize with the feelings of confusion and lack of empowerment after Em was kidnapped / handed over by Cash Money. The events (especially the images) were intentionally confusing and horrifying, and as a player you felt like there was nothing you could do. I seem to recall very much the same with Caroline’s Embrace. My recommendation going forward (for all players) is that such events / images are not posted purely for GM jollies, and even if you can’t directly act, you can still emote. Show horror, intrigue, interest, happiness. Whatever it may be. I don’t recall specifically if that’s what happened with Caroline’s, but I do recall expressing something in response to each image, especially as they grew more and more depraved. Often it might only be one line, especially as it continues on, but it’s something.

Thereafter you were in a position where you had several people you could interact with in varying ways. Especially as a social character, telling people to piss off instead of trying to manipulate them was bad practice. Think about a character like Raymond Reddington (Blacklist) when he’s captured. He’s constantly trying to manipulate people, he’s reaching out for information, he’s trying to get anything he can use to his advantage. Think of batman’s famous (infamous?) scene in the 2000s Justice League universe. Much the same. Cal and I touched on this in the main chat, but I did want to touch on the topic here for the sake of posterity. Even when nearly completely disempowered, you can still be working to advance your position.

On some more positive feedback at you Izzy, I do want to note that all of this aside, your receptiveness to feedback, interest in the game, and support of other players and their storylines are all huge pluses as a player. Most of the other players in the game have 5-10 years of experience on you as players, have made these same mistakes, often with a more negative response. Not everyone reacts to the horrific failure and death of their character and everyone they ever loved with optimism and the ability to bounce back and attack a new character idea aggressively, learning from those mistakes and trying to get back on the horse again. Combined with your already stellar writing, I think you have a bright future as a player.

Story Three, Emmett Epilogue
False_Epiphany False_Epiphany

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