Friday, 29 July 2011

The Old Ousatonic - Spine

Now I'm going to talk about the final piece of the Trail puzzle: the Spine. For the Old Ousatonic, this is as follows:

The Spine

The Call: Core Scene. The protagonists are contacted by Richard Fulton, a fellow stockholder, and are told that the Ousatonic stock that they own may be worth something after all. Fulton dies (is murdered by cabal henchman Gerry Packer) before he can say more. Clues lead to Train Enthusiasts, and Mishap or Murder?

Train Enthusiasts: Core Scene. The protagonists discover that they aren’t the only shareholders who were contacted by Fulton. This may lead to A Meeting of Minds, Crooked Accountancy and The Waterwitch Curse.

Mishap or Murder? Protagonists who use Cop Talk or similar in the previous scene may investigate Fulton’s death further, and discover that the police suspect foul play. This may later connect to The Unpleasantness of being Klein.

A Meeting of Minds: Core Scene. Other Ousatonic shareholders meet with the protagonists to discuss their options, but all are pessimistic. The stock hasn’t been worth a dime in forty years, and the older among them blame the Waterwitch.  Connected scenes: Crooked Accountancy, The Waterwitch Curse.

Crooked Accountancy: Protagonists who investigate the Ousatonic stock further discover that the shares are being quietly bought up by persons unknown, via a shady accountancy practice, Gilmore & Klein. This may lead to an antagonist reaction from the private investigator, Gerry Packer. Connected scenes: The Truth – Or Is It? and The Unpleasantness of being Klein.

The Truth – Or Is It? The protagonists discover that the cabal want the stock because the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company want the land, and if that deal goes through, the Ousatonic shareholders will get a substantial payoff. However there’s a problem; a surveyor hired to look over the Ousatonic property has gone missing. Connected scenes: Another Meeting of Minds, The Packer Ultimatum, Wither Jones?

The Unpleasantness of being Klein: If the protagonists follow up on the Gilmore & Klein connection from Crooked Accountancy, they find Klein has been murdered (by Packer, though they may not realize that), and that his Ousatonic paperwork has gone missing.

The Waterwitch Curse: This is a blind alley which the protagonists may follow, if convinced that a decades-old curse has something to do with their current problem. They can learn all about the canal boatman’s curse, and the 1849 train wreck that it is supposed to have caused. However they may discover an important clue: the astronomer Morgan Hatfield was also interested in the Waterwitch. What connection does he have? This may lead to The 1849 Disaster and Trouble in Paradise.

The 1849 Disaster: The protagonists can, if they wish, visit the site of the 1849 train wreck that put an end to the Ousatonic railroad. This doesn’t have any actual significance, and is an extension of The Waterwitch Curse blind alley. However they may discover further clues: an unusual fish kill, which provides further evidence of Colour involvement.

The Ghost and Mr Chicken Antagonist Reaction In which the ghostly boatman makes his final appearance, courtesy of the cabal.

The Packer Ultimatum: Antagonist Reaction Gerry Packer, now a double murderer, intends to make the big play. He’ll use what he knows to blackmail the cabal, but for that to work, he needs to deal with the protagonists. So long as they keep poking around there’s a risk they’ll connect him with the killings. Packer has several alternative reactions, depending on protagonist involvement.

Trouble in Paradise: The protagonists, following on The Waterwitch Curse, learn more about Morgan Hatfield. They discover that he recently stole an artifact from a museum and has since disappeared; nobody, not even his fiancée, knows where he is. His apartment tells an odd story; clues there may help protagonists when they reach Wither Jones? and beyond.

Wither Jones? Core Scene. The protagonists trace surveyor Jones. Is he somehow mixed up in the Ousatonic fraud, or is he connected with the Waterwitch curse? The truth is he fell into a trap, accidentally set by the astronomer Hatfield, and was badly affected by the Colour. If the protagonists don’t rescue him, he’ll escape and live long enough to give clues that lead to The Canal House.

The Canal House: Core Scene. Possibly for the first time, the protagonists discover what they are truly up against. They find Hatfield’s final resting place, in the old Canal House, and discover his last letter to his fiancée, in which he details what has happened to drive him to this desperate step. Connected scenes: Trapped.

Trapped: Antagonist Reaction. The Colour makes itself manifest, and attempts to drain the protagonists’ life energy. The Colour is traced back to its hiding place, the forgotten Red Rock Canal. It has already sucked the life out of everything near it; it hides here, in the cold canal water, when the light is too strong for it.

Postscript: A final resolution, in which the true value of the Old Ousatonic is revealed, and the Colour (possibly) dealt with.

I both do and do not like the Spine, as a game concept. I can certainly see how useful it could be to the Keeper. This, with the possible addition of a spreadsheet, gives a clear picture of the scenario's contents and how they all fit together to make a cohesive whole. Keepers who fear they might get lost in the details will find the Spine a godsend.

My concern is, the Spine isn't uniform. Each scenario writer has their own idea of what a Spine ought to look like. The Ousatonic's Spine is broadly similar to the Spine in The Kingsbury Horror, found in the core rulebook. It gives the title of each scene and a brief description of what might be found therein. Incidentally this is also why I give my scenes such descriptive titles. The Ghost is a bland descriptor that might be overlooked when searching in haste through the scenario book. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, less so, particularly since it ties to an old Don Knotts comedy about a fake haunted house, and the scene happens to be about a fake haunting.

The Spines in Stunning Eldritch Tales, on the other hand, are nothing like that. Some of them are barely a paragraph long, the kind of paragraph that reads andnowthishappenedthenthatohandbytheway. Others are a collection of bullet points, barely fifty words long. I don't pretend to have read every single published scenario, but I'd bet money that Graham Walmsley, for example, has a completely different take on the Spine to say, Robin Laws. I'd feel happier if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet on this one.

That, and I can't help but think the Spine takes up a lot of space. This doesn't matter so much for a .pdf product, where word count isn't a problem. It matters a lot when writing for other publications, like The Unspeakable Oath, where word count is strictly monitored. Every word spent on the Spine is one that can't be used in the scenario. This probably isn't a problem that will occur often, since I'm fairly sure the Oath is the only outlet besides Pelgrane itself for this material. Still, a market's a market, and Oath readers are just as likely as anyone else to be intrigued by a new Cthulhu game; all the more reason to make sure Trail material gets in the Oath.

That said, from a writer's perspective, creating a Spine helps focus the mind. Starting from the Introduction, it's easy sometimes to get lost, wandering through forests of the mind and praying for a breadcrumb trail. The Spine helps avoid that, by forcing the writer to lay the trail and then do the actual writing. So by the time it comes to write that scene where the protagonists discover the corpse of accountant Klein, I already know where that fits into the overall plot, and what it leads to. It simplifies the writing process.

Going back to the Ousatonic, remember when I mentioned earlier that the Colour would have to be encountered accidentally? Some players might be fooled into thinking that 'there's no Mythos here!' After all, the initial hook and follow-on scenes don't have any real beasties for them to encounter. However there are little hints scattered here and there, in scenes like The 1849 Disaster and Trouble in Paradise, which will tip off clever players that all's not well. However they will have to be clever players, and here's the rub: very few players are as clever as they like to think they are. Most, in my experience, are either blinded by their own brilliance or in too much of a hurry to think about the implications of the information they have in front of them.

Of course, that's when the Keeper needs to hit them, and hit them hard, with the consequences of hasty action.

Keepers who want to read the complete text of the Old Ousatonic can find it here.

No comments:

Post a Comment