Monday, November 17, 2014

Playtest: Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane

I know there are some of you out there in the cyber-land wondering how this game went.  Well, let me tell you about it.

Still unsure what in the hell made me think of such a thing, I went about imagining what Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane would be, or should be about.  I guess I was thinking of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, except instead of the established time periods (there's 1890's Victorian era, 1920's and 30's Prohibition and Gangsters era, 1940's WWII, Ancient Rome, and Cthulhu Now / Delta Green, basically 1990's to the present), it would be set in the decade of disco, bean bag chairs, and psychedelic substances.

Well, why not a 1970's era?  And instead of focusing on the Mythos, how about general unexplained phenomena, the stuff investigated by TV shows and movies from that decade?  The 70's had some interesting tropes that might be just as much fun to roleplay as Lovecraft's 20's and 30's.

I had a Devil of a time finding players.  Sure, it was short notice, but that's not the real reason.  Advertising works.  A name brand gets more notice and conversion than something brand new.  It's why movie studios would rather put out Saw 14 and a 5th Batman or Spider-Man reboot than an untried, untested idea.  If this had been D&D, I would have had a full table.  Luckily, three courageous players stepped forward to see what the hell this madness was all about.

Below are bullet points of the system I created along with notes from the actual session...

  • Here's the essence of VSd6 and how I implemented it into the core BBBSB system: Characters chose a selection of profession, amateur, hobby, or interest.  Each choice equaling a certain number of d6 that could be rolled (from 4d6 all the way down to 1d6).  For instance, if you picked "doctor", that would be your profession (unless you wanted to be an amateur doctor or just had a passing interest in the medical field).  A full profession would yield the most dice (and the best chance to succeed) regarding first aid, diagnostics, getting into bed with nurses, and whatever else doctors did back then.  Professions leave you with little else to put dice in, since it's probably a full time job that requires a lot of energy and focus.  A hobby, on the other hand, allows for an additional hobby or multiple interests but with less proficiency.
  • Ok, let's get to the PCs... otherwise this is going to take all day!  Daniel played Abraham Richter, a police detective with an interest in the occult.  He has a contact inside the police department that gives him information and assistance since he's been demoted and scrutinized because he sometimes bends the law, babbles about occultism, end of the world, etc., and only respects authority when there's a damn good reason.  Detective Richter wears corduroy pants, a turtleneck, and tweed jacket with suede elbow pads. He drives a Chevelle Super Sport.  Back at his pad, there's a waterbed next to a nightstand with lava lamp.
  • Next,  Ethan played Troy, an amateur bounty hunter for the mob with an interest in mechanics who also happened to be an android with laser hand (his fingers dropped down).  He also rides a motorcycle and carries a switchblade and yo-yo.  Troy wears black leather with studs and flared jeans.  Very intimidating.
  • Last but not least, West played Barry Morrison, a psychiatrist MD with sensitivity to the supernatural and a contact named Jackson - one of Barry's patients who was a Vietnam vet who committed suicide a couple years ago.  Yes, Jackson is a ghost.  Barry wore bell bottom trousers, a button down shirt, "going out" tie, and kind of resembles John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever (or thinks he does).
  • I decided to run the "pilot" episode before the characters all meet.  Tricky but usually more satisfying.  So, each had a different reason for entering a local (I don't think we ever agreed on what city this took place in) club that frequently played live music called The Savage Beast.  Black Sabbath was on stage.  Sweet Leaf was played on my phone via youtube.
  • A local gang of youths, Street Thunder, happened to be at this club.  They were going to kidnap Barry because that's what they were hired to do by some mysterious group known as The Weathermen.  In their attempt, the leader of Street Thunder was thwarted by Abraham and Troy.
  • Outside the club, after the excitement was over, Abraham and Troy overheard John, the head of an organization opposed to The Weathermen, talking to Barry about his special power (being sensitive to the supernatural) and possible recruitment.  
  • I modeled John, his group: The Atlantis Project, and high-tech facility on The Tomorrow People (the original 70's version).  That certainly makes it easier to answer player questions, direct PC/NPC conversations, and come up with little details on the fly.
  • The three investigators decided to join The Atlantis Project after mixed feelings regarding a stolen van, otherworldly crystals glowing inside a briefcase, and the threat of another attack by The Weathermen.
  • Using Barry as bait, a couple black trenchcoated thugs tried to grab him at The Savage Beast (while Iron Butterfly was playing - thanks again, youtube).  Troy and detective Richter saved Barry once more.  Abraham interrogated the thugs in the ambulance, finding more information about The Weathermen and its leader - Colonel Veering.
  • Disguising themselves as the thugs in black trenchcoats, Troy and Abraham visit the Colonel with Barry bound and gagged.  Realizing that he and his group are utterly insane and evil - Veering showed them a prisoner's head implode with the turn of a dial - they deposited Barry in The Weathermen's cell as they worked out some kind of plan...

And that's where the session ended.  All in all, I feel it was successful.  I could see where some rule tweaks are necessary.  Such as the table of random 70's gear.  The violence was almost all diceless, which might seem strange, but I thought it worked rather well.  Just a skill roll at the start, then I narrated the events as they happened depending on various factors, such as the PC(s) and NPC(s) involved, weaponry, intent, circumstances, and how well the fiction flowed.  It was nice not to have combat broken down into increments, relying on individual probabilities to hit and do damage each round.  There was a freedom in setting the dice aside when it came to describing the violence.

We enjoyed a few amusing scenes with Barry's Schwarzenegger-esque bodyguard, some cocaine, and cocktail napkins blotting up the leaky oil from Troy's wound (he's an android, remember).  That last one became the first really freaky thing that happened - Barry received a freak-out point and had to roll a d6 (my version of a sanity mechanic).  I should have given another for the head imploding scene but it never crossed my mind.

Not knowing if the pilot episode would last the whole session, I came up with a variety of tables for randomly creating a 70's scenario involving unexplained phenomena.  Didn't get the chance to use them, but I hope we'll continue playing Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane on a monthly basis.  Like most TV shows of that era, it's going to take a few episodes before it finds its feet... and an audience.  Hopefully, we can either get into more Jon Pertwee Doctor Who or Night Gallery type adventures next time!

I can see where a rule book full of 70's illustrations and advice would come in handy.  Though everything from that decade was present, I'm not sure it felt authentically 70's more than a handful of times.  I'd like to develop this into a full-fledged, albeit brief and rules-lite RPG once Revelry in Torth is in the hands of Kickstarter backers... assuming there's interest, of course.

Additionally, BBBSB could be played a few different ways: for laughs via the kitsch 70's nostalgia factor, as ultra-violent exploitation fare, trippy scifi spectacle, or razor's edge between science and superstition.  

Besides it being "An excellent game", the feedback I received pointed more towards BBBSB exploring area 51, X files, government cover-ups and secret bases sort of thing rather than Cthulhuism and Yog-Sothothery.  I couldn't agree more.

Any thoughts, comments, questions, suggestions, advice?  Let me know... I can dig it.


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