Actual Play - [Dead of Night] Bad Signal

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Sep 19th 2010 edited

One of the games I ran last weekend at Concrete Cow was Bad Signal, one of the scenarios I'm writing for a Dead of Night scenario supplement.

The set-up was simple: it's 1975 and Arizona is experiencing a record heatwave along with accompanying weird shit like electronics malfunctioning, tempers fraying and a weird signal in the static. Malc described it as Convoy meets the Crazies, although I like to think it had a fair bit in common with Duel too.

All of the players played truckers, all with complex personal lives of some sort or another:

Joe Calbot (played by James), the life-long trucker and family man, whose daughter is going out with...
Harris (played by Robin), the Vietnam vet with a penchant for drugs and women, whose uncle is...
Calum (who was a spare character), whose ex wife was having an affair with...
Bo (played by Steve), the ex-union thug and single-dad.
All of whom have their trucks fixed by Billy (played by Mark) the alcoholic mechanic still haunted by the Korean War.

The one conceit, and the aspect of the game that gave me the most worry, was that none of the characters would begin play together. They were all physically removed from one another, albeit in contact via CB radio so long as they were in their trucks. This actually worked rather well, leading to some tension when they lost contact with one another, not to mention assorted panicked drives across the state to reach various places in time.

Play revolved around a map that doubled as a relationship map, with the towns and locales sketched out along with the locations of all the supporting characters. Players moved dice about the map to show where they were at any given time, which was handy to know when shit started going down, and going down it did.

See, the bad signal in question was hidden in the static, driving people psychotically mad. As the Tension grew, so did the strength, the range and the frequency of the madness. At Tension 5 it started to make some people kill one another. When it hit 10 it started to effect everyone in the state. At Tension 15 it would go national, maybe even global. Similarly, as survival points dwindled, the characters were more and more effected. When they hit 0, they went psycho (if they hadn't already).

My favourite scenes were:

An early run in for Billy and Harris with two recurring, trigger-happy policemen, who were intent on a spot of police brutality. Billy displayed an early propensity for violence of his own, and the two managed to persuade the police to back down with only a minor scrap.

Billy discovering that the normal townsfolk are being affected too, as he gets accosted by a cashier for handing her the wrong change, and then set upon by a shopper in the queue. As Billy is down a few survival points by now, his psychotic tendencies emerge and he sets fire to the store.

Tension between Joe and Harris over the radio, as Joe learns that Harris has his daughter, Jenny, with him. This eventually comes to a head later on, when Jenny is mistakenly thought dead by the pair of them, each of whom blames the other. The two fight, physically, then verbally, and Harris throws his gun at Joe's feet, goading him to take his own life for killing Jenny (which he hasn't done, but doesn't remember either way). At this point Joe is down to 0 Survival Points, and we decide this is a Risk check, but using Persuade (unusually) – Harris wins, and Joe shoots himself in the head (and James starts to play Cal).

Cal fending off a drunken Billy, who thinks he's sleeping with his wife.

Bo talking down a psychotic teacher from the burning school where his daughter should be, saving the teacher and learning that his daughter has been taken home by school bus...

… leading to a frantic chase of said bus, eventually ending when Bo (somewhat foolhardily) stops the bus by parking it across the road. The driver sees sense and stops, but in a turnabout believes Bo to be psychotic instead. Bo defuses the situation and makes off with his daughter.

The rescue of Cal's ex-wife Virginia and her son by Bo and Cal from the hands of a mad farmer, who in turn is killed by Harris and his truck.

The convoy formed by the truckers as they work out that the signal must be emanating from the transmitter in the mountains (as the psychotic events were getting stronger as they headed in that direction), running roadblocks and evading police cars to a showdown with the (similarly afflicted) soldiers defending the transmitter.

The final showdown at the transmitter, destroyed with judicious use of explosives found in the back of the army trucks.

All in all a great game, with a fairly decent mortality rate and the desired spiral towards craziness of both the populace and the characters. At times the pace was frantic, as characters chased about the map to rescue loved ones, and at times tragic as Harris and Joe's showdown showed. My one mistake was allowing the players to pick where they started, as it meant that they could all be near loved ones when the shit went down – in hindsight I should have purposely had them start distant from their relations so they had an added incentive to fight through the crazies or coordinate their efforts to rescue one another. But it still worked out nicely in the end, all the same.

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