Blackout: or How I Stopped Worrying and Love Powered by the Apocalypse

Wednesday night leading into a heatwave we held the fourth Weekly One-shot meetup in the comfort of an air conditioned meeting room. Tonight it was my rotation to host a game. I decided to playtest a home brew adventure of mine I’ve penned as Blackout with those that attend our weekly games.

An adventure for 3-5 players, Blackout would interest players interested in investigating and those who enjoy conflicting agendas between the player characters.

You wake up to find yourselves in chateau, with no memory of who you are or how you got there. As you all try to piece together the events of the previous few hours from things on your person and from the house, you begin to realise that something definitely went wrong. But will you be able to stop this threat before you tear each others throats out?

This year I plan to attend the College of Wizardry LARP in Poland which probably inspired the adventure. Other inspirations include Sir Poley’s Harry Potter and the Natural 20 as well as JK Rowling’s popular Harry Potter series. The themes I wanted to capture in this adventure are heavily inspired by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Tabula Rasa where the player characters play a mixture of muggles and witchards that find themselves in a strange manor with no memory of their past.

Since the beginning of this year I have been tossing up what system to use. The adventure would be heavily investigative so Trail of Cthulhu came to mind but didn’t quite serve the PVP that might ensue. So I turned to Fate which I have previously used in Potterverse RPGs but figured that Aspects that linked the players may give away too much of the mystery. Finally, I decided to road test Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) even though my adventure goes against the very tenants of the system and improvisation. But I felt that how the playbooks aid quick character development and the Moves really suited the adventure I had planned (also this year has been a bit of a showcase for the PbtA system).

Monster of the Week was the PbtA system of choice, the idea of each ‘episode’ contains a mystery with a monster of the week, which was the driving premise of my adventure. I had a couple of ideas that differed from Monster of the Week that I thought would suit Blackout. The ideas I wanted to experiment with included:

  • Instead of using Cool to Help or Hinder, I planned to use HX much like Apocalypse World but with the difference; instead of HX being determined during character creation a character would gain HX as they learned about another character throughout the adventure. The incentive to learn about your enemies would be just as important as learning about your allies.
  • Character creation would remain much the same the players choosing their Ratings, Appearance and Moves. But each character would also be given items that they find on their own person. These included identification, weapons, or sinister artifacts that aim to give the characters an impression of who they are, provide hooks and raise suspicions between the other characters.
  • The biggest deviation from the PbtA mission statement are the pre-established flags of the adventure.

Alpha Test of Blackout

The adventure was played with 3 players and ran for 3.5 hours. There were enough hooks in the adventure flags that the adventure could be easily played over two sessions, especially with more players.

The HX mechanic I introduced unfortunately was not utilised to enough to truly gauge if it was effective.

The players felt that the most of the Basic and Hunter Moves were appropriate to a Potterverse world but a couple of Hunter Moves just did quite work with the amnesia or a one-shot setting. The hooks that were found on each character were effective, though once again sort of goes against the intent of PbtA.

Overall the players enjoyed the adventure and the hooks. The only thorns from the players was that one didn’t really like investigation games but he said he just made up for it by causing conflict.

Conclusion

I plan to run the adventure again the next time we run a introduction to RPG session. I haven’t decided yet if I will continue to use PbtA or try a different system like Trail of Cthulhu.

Over the next couple of weeks I will post the adventure in segments for those of you who would like to try out the adventure which will start with the background for Blackout.

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