Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The God-Machine Chronicle - The Key (Conclusion, part 2)

Last night we finished up The Key. First, some overall thoughts.

I really like the rules revisions we've made. Honestly, I think that the NWoD system works pretty well as written, but the revisions that we've made (to Morality, combat, extended actions) do a pretty good job of moving the system away from the traditional "roll to pick locks" style of RPG and more toward the "roll to resolve this conflict in this genre" that focuses things.

I worry, though, that it's going to get the same reception as Promethean. That is, the the game is focused, but that in putting that focus and asking the players to participate more in the narrative, we lose the people for whom "gaming" is "I play my character and the GM is responsible for everything else." Thing is, Conditions and Aspirations and even breaking points (all things that were added, rather than just revised) are all systems that only work when the player and the ST are engaged with them. You can toss a player the Shaken Condition, but if the player isn't going to play it they aren't ever going to resolve, they aren't ever going to get the Beat. And I'm spoiled because my players do engage like that.

As for the God-Machine Chronicle sections that aren't rules, I think that the Tales are going to be good story starters, and I think my decision to go through and explicitly tie each of them to a statted character (even if it's just an angel whose stats may never matter) was the right one. Tying Wesley Cote to the Key made the whole thing more accessible for me, and I can't imagine I'm alone. I'm hoping that the chronicle tracks will be useful for people, but we'll see.

Anyway, last night. First, dinner.

Skirt steak, canary melon, yum-yum sauce, portabello mushrooms, weird rice mixture.
One of the stranger baskets I've had lately. I wish I'd had more mushrooms, but you work with what you have.

The rice stuff I just cooked normally. In retrospect I wish I'd have made a sauce with the yum-yum to go with it, but I was trying to get dinner ready (we watched The Impossible yesterday and it ran all the way up to when folks got there). The mushrooms I chopped up, cooked with some wine and beef broth, and then mixed in the yum-yum (it's basically the sauce they give you with shrimp at hibachi restaurants). I put that in the center of the steaks, and then rolled them up, salted and peppered them, topped with a little of the sauce and baked 'em.

The melons...oy. I don't like melon. It's not a textural thing, I just don't like the flavor. I've gotten around that with cantaloupe by making it into a cobbler kind of thing with white cake mix, but I didn't have any (and we had cake for dessert anyway). So with this melon, I cut it up into bite-sized chunks, made a tempura batter with flour and tandoori, and fried those sucks. That actually came out really well - enough sweet to be pleasant, but the tandoori cut the melon flavor nicely.

So then game. Last time, Mallory was in the hospital with a wound in his neck, while the others worked the crime scene. Berry checked outside, and found a pair of footprints by the side of the building and a key drawn on the wall...and the marker was still fresh. After making sure no one was going to stab her, she got Cochrane, who confirmed that the tread was the same as the other shoes they'd seen, but these prints were slightly smaller. Also the prints were just...there. Like someone had just appeared there.

Lundy and King looked over the camera footage, and tried to figure out what the weird little time-glitch meant. King, more readily accepting a supernatural explanation than Lundy was, put forth the notion that this guy was time-traveling. Lundy said that even if that weren't crazy, what kind of chance did that give them? How could they stop him?

King thought about the evidence some more, and realized that the only thing that the killer had ever taken from a victim was the briefcase of Dr. Halliday in Utica. Why? There was a file in that briefcase, of one Anne Cote. Lundy called the hospital, and learned that Anne Cote had been Dr. Halliday's patient, and had died of an internal hemorrhage during a miscarriage. Lundy figured this was as close to a lead as they had, so he had everyone pack up (including Mallory, who was injured but not on death's door) and head to Utica.

Cochrane looked through the evidence of the Hackensack murder on the plane. Yes, it did look like two different people had traced that key, but beyond that the evidence wasn't telling them anything.

King slept, and dreamed. He dreamed of a house, of using an old iron key to open a door, stepping inside, and watching himself and his compatriots walk in. He stepped up behind Cochrane (at the back of the group), grabbed her, and stabbed her in the throat. King woke up with a start, down another dot of effective Integrity and picking up the Shaken Condition.

They landed in Utica and headed to the hospital. Lundy found a nurse who had been here long enough to remember Halliday and interviewed her, while Cochrane and King headed to the records room. Mallory got on the phone to the local PD to try and get the records sent over, and Berry found a cute nurse and flirted with him (wasting time with her Vice to get a Willpower back).

Lundy learned that Anne Cote's husband, Wesley Cote, had gone berserk when Anne had been taken into surgery, even before her condition became so much worse. The nurse told Lundy that Wesley had to be restrained, and then three months later Halliday was killed out by his car. Cochrane and King found Anne's file, her death certificate (death by internal bleeding arising from complications during a miscarriage) and there were notes that she'd been seeing a therapist, Dr. Erika Epworth.

They went and talked with Epworth, who told them that Wesley and Anne had been overjoyed about their pregnancy, but that Anne was dealing with some anxiety (hence the therapy). She said that Anne had reported that Wesley was getting strange phone calls, telling him "Don't let them take Anne into the blue room." And indeed, the room in which she died during surgery was blue. Epworth was prepared to write this off as coincidence (many rooms in hospitals are blue), but it was clear that it troubled her.

She mentioned that Wesley had been investigated for the murder of Dr. Halliday, but that he'd been out of town when it happened. She said he had no history of violence...but then a chill went down Cochrane's spine. King asked again, and Epworth mentioned that Wesley had some violence in his record, but she wasn't privy to the details. She knew he'd experienced lost time as a teenager, though.

The characters reconvened and decided to go to the police station. Berry called Cohen, and he told her that they were off the map as far as he was concerned. He wasn't sure of the outcome anymore, but did tell them that Cote didn't so much lose time as take it. He told them that, if you change yesterday, it changes today. There might be a thousand yesterdays, but there's only one today, so whatever yesterday you had leads to the today you're in (this led to the some temple-rubbing as players worked to get their brains around it, which is what I wanted). He said to watch for things that changed, inconsistencies and details that just didn't make sense.

They got to the police station, pulled the files on the murder of Dr. Halliday, and looked over them. They found a photocopy of Wesley Cote's driver's license, and Mallory ID'd him as the man he'd shot - but this picture was 15 years old, so why had the man Mallory shot looked identical? The investigation concluded that Cote had been out of town (in Columbus, as it happened) when Halliday was killed, and he had no criminal history to indicate that he'd know how to hire someone...but then the chills happened again. Lundy picked up the investigation again, and it had changed. Now it said that given his history as a juvenile offender, it was possible that Cote might know to hire someone, but there was no evidence to support that theory. Berry noticed that the camera in the room was now in a different corner than when they walked in.

They planned to go to Cote's house and see if he was there. Cochrane and Mallory decided, instead, to go back to the hospital and interview Epworth again, get some more information about the Cotes. Berry asked to get an ax; this suggestion was (obviously) met with horror from the other cops, Cochrane in particular. She let that go (eventually) and they split up.

Cochrane and Mallory got the hospital, but Epworth's office now had a nameplate reading "Michael Surrick." They talked to Dr. Surrick, who told them he'd been hired a year ago to replace Dr. Epworth, who had been murdered outside her house, stabbed in the throat. The characters went to the morgue to check the records of Epworth's death.

At the house, a housekeeper answered the door. Lundy flashed his badge and asked for Cote; she rather confusedly said he was out. She let them in so she could find the note he'd left, but then something changed and she said that he had left instructions that no one came in, and made them wait. They entered anyway ("Did you hear a scream, Lundy" "Yes, I think maybe I did.") and found the door that King had seen in his dream. They opened and saw that it led back into the same hallway they were in. They entered, and found themselves in the same house, no housekeeper to be found.

Berry looked around and saw that it was later in the day, and looked like it had just rained, neither of which had been true a moment ago. Lundy texted Cochrane and King to ask them to check the first three victims against Cote, but he got two phone calls back - wrong numbers. He stepped back through the door and did it again, and got a response from Cochrane. Berry went back through the door and called Cohen, who suggested if there was a kitchen that expiration dates were a good way of telling when you were. They checked, and found they were in May 2007, about a year "ago" (remember my games are offset by a few years).

Lundy found a package of markers upstairs, as well as a notepad with an addressed and "7:12PM" on it. Going back through again, Berry Googled that address, and found that it was Erika Epworth's address - she'd been murdered in the evening as she took the trash out.

Running back to 2007, Lundy hot-wired the car in the driveway and they race to the address. They got there just as Cote appeared behind Erika, and King and Lundy shot him, leaning out the windows of the speeding car.

Meanwhile, Cochrane and Mallory went to the morgue, and Cote appeared from nowhere and stabbed Mallory in the throat, dropping him (he was alive, but stunned - full of bashing damage). Cochrane drew her gun and shot him. He stabbed her, but she shot again, dropping him.

In 2007, they found Cote up against the fence, bleeding. Berry started to question him, but King (resolving his Shaken Condition), shot him - from his perspective, they were too far off the map for the standard methods to work. Figuring that they should get out of here before police arrived, they got in the car and went back to Cote's house. As they walked in, Cote appeared behind them, stabbed Lundy in the neck and dropped him. He went down, bleeding out. Berry popped her asp, and King grabbed Lundy to stabilize him. Cote ran, trying to circle around to the door, but Berry stopped him. He stabbed Berry in the stomach, but she cracked him with the asp, and he backed off, leaving Berry behind.

King dragged Lundy through the door. Cote followed, and locked the door behind him. He looked down at King and Lundy and raised his ice pick...

...Berry shot the lock, and the door opened to somewhere else. She couldn't see features in the room, she just heard what sounded like an immense clock. She called out, and Wesley Cote appeared, but this one was scraggly and thin. Cote told her that he'd tried to save his wife, he'd called himself to warn them about the blue room, but it hadn't mattered. He tossed her the key, telling her to destroy it. She told him she was sorry for what had happened to him, shut the door, opened it, and stepped out into the "present" (2008).

Cote was there, standing over Lundy and King. Berry locked the door, and Cote crumbled and vanished. At the hospital, the Cote on the floor of the morgue did as well. The loop had been closed.

Now four of the five characters were seriously wounded, so their next rendezvous was at the hospital. After some treatment, they were playing cards in a lounge when Bobby Cohen came to visit. The four murders that they'd been called up to investigate had still happened, but the one in Hackensack, and Erika Epworth's, had not.

Cohen told them that Cote had been trying to save his wife by making his younger self a killer, so hopefully she wouldn't marry him, and thus not die. But he'd retained love for her - he still made the calls, after all. And he'd been the pawn of something greater, something more complex and terrible than any of them (including Cohen) understood. He asked Berry if she knew anyone who did metalwork; she said she did (her friend Tori). King asked, jokingly, if maybe they couldn't got back and win the lottery first.

Cohen responded that he wasn't sure what that would do. They'd closed the loop, but he wasn't sure there would never be another Key murder again - maybe Cote had gone into the future (from their perspective) to kill people? If they interfered, would that open the loop?

"What rises may fall," said Cohen. "What has fallen may rise again."