Stabracadabra: Conception and First Session

I am living proof that tie-in products work. When a tie-in product is good, it can not only bring you back into the fandom of the main product, but expand the main product and make you look at it in new ways. This has been my exact journey with the Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. After getting obsessed with the game, I started to see that world in a new light. I started thinking about the huge possibilities that Jim Butcher left open, and the stories that could fill in that background. This isn't surprising, considering Butcher's avowed nerdiness - it's likely that his instincts as a DM kicked in as he was conceiving it. When Jim Butcher was writing Storm Front, the first Dresden Files novel, the working title was Semiautomagic, which is still a boss title and should be used for something. In homage to that, I decided to call the campaign that I was cooking up Stabracadabra. Definitely just as cool, if not cooler. And when I say that I was "cooking up" a campaign, I really mean that I was refamiliarizing myself with the world and looking over the options that players might want to take, because campaign creation is a very collaborative process in the DFRPG. I was also trying to find a group of people who would be good artistic collaborators, and the world and the characters that we came up with together are proof that they are exactly that. Seriously guys, they came up with some wicked cool stuff. Let's run down the characters:

  • Holland Kester, a were-bison bartender,
  • Vertigo, a Scott Pilgrim-esque changeling,
  • Eudora Konstantinou, a siren (literally) who rejects her mother's values (which include eating men),
  • and Marlowe Jones, a welder and focused practitioner who can control metal.

They're all trying to survive in the blighted urban landscape that is Detroit in 2016, while dodging a Faerie turf war, vampires that eat despair, and literal bears.

Let me back up for a sec. When I put out the call to my friends to see who was going to be available for / interested in a new campaign, I had no idea what city we would pick, or what the campaign was even going to be about. That's one of the great things about the Dresden Files Roleplaying Game - character creation is done at the same time as setting creation, which embeds the characters deeply in the world and gives them relationships to work off of at the start. I'm not going to run through everything we came up with, but here's an example: once we decided that we wanted to play in Detroit, we decided that one of the reasons that the car industry moved away from the city was that there was a ley-line nexus basically centered on it, and it was messing up the electronics that were being introduced into cars at that point. From there, we came up with the idea that the White Council, the governing body of wizards, would place a Warden in Detroit to look after the Nexus, and that he would live in / have his workshop in the Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse. THEN, one of the players decided that his character used to be one of the Warden's apprentices before she decided to stick it on her own. All this with minimal influence from me.

So far, we've done character creation and had a short first session. I decided to start it off with a bit of combat. I feel like it's never a bad move to start a new campaign off with some combat, for several reasons. 1) It forces the players to familiarize themselves with their character sheets, because if they're not looking at their character sheets, they might die, 2) It helps crystallize character relationships, because nothing says how you feel about a person more than how you react to that person in a life-or-death situation, and 3) It familiarizes you with the system, which is important since none of us have played with this one before. That first point is especially important since there are lot of things to remember on a given DFRPG character sheet, the most important of which is your character's seven Aspects. Seven is usually not too hard to remember, due to the Magic Number Seven (which I was introduced to through The Alexandrian's excellent post on the subject), but if you add in skills, powers, and stunts it can extend into dizzying proportions - especially if you're playing a spellcaster.

Anyway, I started off the session with some questions - I had Holland's player describe the layout of the strip club / bar that he tends, and had every character give us a reason that they would be out late on a Friday night - are you drinking away your troubles or are you celebrating some accomplishment? I also had them describe their character's drink and demeanor. Vertigo's player took this opportunity to have a big entrance which established his exact blend of mania, immaturity, and charm, and in retrospect I wish I had asked everyone how they entered the bar. Obviously, the purpose of this was to give everyone as much opportunity as possible to establish their character, and it's not a surprise that Vertigo's player found yet another opportunity to do so, considering that he's a screenwriter.

The session really kicked off when Holland's character heard screams coming from the stripper's dressing room. He went back to check it out, and found a straight up, illuminated-manuscript-looking goat demon with a pitchfork threatening one of his strippers. She ran into the main room, and then disturbingly revealed herself to be another demon when a huge mouth opened in her stomach and her nipples opened up like eyelids, displaying her breast-eyeballs. Listen, this a pulp game, so I decided to throw class out the window EARLY. (Also, it's a take on another example of classical demon iconography, which shows demons with faces in their stomachs to represent rampant consumption.)

Anyway, they both started trying to murder everyone in the room, focusing most of their attention on Marlowe for some reason. It was really fun for me to play these demons - the goat demon was very arch, saying stuff like "Think on your sins while I DESTROY YOU!" and generally being very serious. The other one talked in a cockney accent from his huge mouth and said stuff like "'Ello, you're the one, arencha?" and "Get in my MOUTH!" I might have to bring them back at some point. The characters managed to take them out after some difficulty (and some learning of the system) - Vertigo used his Unbreakable Bass of Infinite Sadness (which was a gift from his Big Ex) to enter mental conflict with the goat demon and took him out that way, while the other players tried to protect Marlowe from the mouth demon. He grappled her a good couple of times and was close to getting her in his mouth, but Eudora went full siren and got in a few claw attacks and Holland went full bison and faceplanted (AKA I compelled his Alcoholic aspect). Finally, he turned back into a human, went behind the bar, made a Molotov cocktail(!) and threw it in the demon's mouth(!!). He aced his roll and also spent some Fate Points, so that was the end of THAT guy - exploded ectoplasm everywhere.

From there, I had the characters with Lore roll it, and the highest one was Marlowe (appropriately). She realized that one usually can't summon demons to over there, it has to be right next to you, usually into a summoning circle to give you some protection. She figured out that whoever summoned these mooks used a ley-line to summon them into the bar from an outside location, and that she could follow the ley-line with judicious use of her Sight. At one point I compelled her Unpolished Ferromancer aspect and had her accidentally glance at Vertigo with her Sight up, which allows you to see things as they truly are in a highly symbolic, potentially mentally damaging way. She saw the real Vertigo as a shadow, with an extremely tall, extremely pointy-eared and -featured, scary Faerie soldier standing over him, and a scared little boy at his feet. She managed to turn it off without hurting herself too bad, but it was a nice piece of foreshadowing for Vertigo's deal.

They followed the ley-line to a burning home with an abandoned building across the street from it, which predictably proved to have a summoning circle in it. They saw a trifold line pointing at the burning building, and when one of the players scuffed the line, the fire got MUCH worse. They also found a receipt to a storage locker, with a phone number written on the back of it. The characters assumed that whoever summoned the demons dropped it when they ran off - they were probably scared off by sirens from the uncharacteristically timely firefighters. When the phone number was handed to Eudora to call since she's the only one in the group with a cell phone (Marlowe's a practitioner, so cell phones don't work around her; Holland just doesn't have one; and Vertigo is poor and homeless), she immediately recognized it. It's the phone number to her aunt, one of the Three Sisters who pretty much run Greektown. Dun dun DUN!

I also forgot to drop a clue for the players, but I think I'll throw it in on the group chat we have going for the game: it's a library printout of demolitions coming up in the area. Demolitions are pretty rare for Detroit (they usually just leave buildings up), but it just so happens that there's a date coming up where there are a few at roughly the same time. This date is circled. TICKING CLOCK WOAH!

Everyone seemed to be having a good time throughout, and I'm wicked excited for the next session. I have a few weeks to prepare for it, and then the session has to happen for me to recap it, so don't expect a post on the subject for a little while. But do tell me your thoughts! Comment, or get at me on twitter at @DylanJTScott. I'm asking for that on here even thought I don't usually do that because I'm REALLY EXCITED about this game and I want to keep talking about it.