Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Big Game Wednesday

So since I've been revisiting my gaming roots, I guess I might as well inflict it on you here. One of my proudest and yet most humbling moments in game-mastering was when I decided to run a Justice, Inc. game set in the 30's. I had a vague idea to run a game where the players had to stop a master villain, head of a conspiratorial secret society, from assembling a mystic regalia formed by some of the most legendary of legendary artifacts, including the Holy Grail and the Heilegelance and a bit of the stone from the Kaaba.

I ran the first session where I got the players together. They were all in Times Square on New Year's Eve, when they noticed a guy running for his life through the crowd, pursued by shadowy figures. Our heroes intervened in a pretty exciting sequence, but were (of course) too late to keep the guy from being killed. But they were intrigued by the odd dress and weapons of the assailants, and one of the player-characters was a private detective, so he decided to search the body of the victim for clues.

I said, "You found this," and tossed this out on the table.

It's a matchbook for a place called the Block and Tackle Club, sloppy and not entirely functional, which means that it contains real matches...

But the striking strip is just printed on.

I got the idea from a gaming supplement I bought in preparation for the game, a Call of Cthulhu supplement titled "Masks of Nyarlathotep." The back cover promoted it as containing books for New York, London, Egypt, Kenya and Shanghai. I took that to mean sourcebooks that might be applicable to other campaigns, but was mistaken, so I was disappointed on that score.

On the other hand, the thing I really loved about the game materials was that they contained several prop handouts for players. News clippings with random newspaper ads printed on the back so as to look like something clipped from a real newspaper. Handwritten notes. Business cards. And a matchbox you could cut out and assemble.

Thus my matchbook idea. The concept was better than the execution. At the time, all I had was an old original Mac (the kind with the tiny B&W screen built in) and an Imagewriter dot-matrix printer. So I had to print the matchbook in shades of grey. I disassembled a real book of matches and took all the dimensions from the unfolded cover (I may have actually held the matchbook cover up to the monitor and used MacPaint to trace around it, since it was supposedly true WYSIWYG).

I drew up the matchbook design, with a thick black line for the striking strip. I wanted to include an illustrated logo, but had no internet and no clip art and didn't feel confident trying to do that myself. I should have added an address, but didn't think of it, I guess. I did add the words, "Close Cover Before Striking" to the bottom front edge, but the printer couldn't handle the small type and made it totally illegible. I printed the design on thin cardstock I'd salvaged from somewhere, wrapped it around the bundle of matches I'd taken from the other matchbook, and stapled the thing together. Inside, I wrote my clue, to meet a man named "Mariner" at 8 p.m. on January 2nd. The players figured it out, although in retrospect I probably should have written "1/2" rather than "1-2."

It was simple and easy, and yet very effective. I loved the looks on the guys' faces when I tossed that thing out on the table. They made the meet, talked to Mariner, learned about the conspiracy and planned a trip to Switzerland to try to stop the villain's next move. The players had fun and I was quite proud of myself.

Which made what happened next even worse. There was never another gaming session. I had a vague idea of what the players were supposed to accomplish in Switzerland, but I was so taken with the idea of prop gaming that I decided I had to have a cool object to present them with when they got there. And I couldn't think of one. Nor could I think where to send them after that. I knew generally what I wanted to happen, but no specifics. So the game died without a second session ever being played. In retrospect, I shouldn't have let my excitement about the matchbook spur me into launching the game before I was sufficiently prepared.

Live and learn.

I was reminded of the matchbook recently while visiting the friends with whom I'm playing the game in which Smeaton is a character. There was a letter lying on a shelf, a handwritten letter warning of danger and dire consequences, though from what, I couldn't say. That's because the "from what" part had been burned away. I was fascinated by it, and immediately recognized it as a gaming prop. I discussed the letter with naamah-darling, told her about my matchbook prop, and then she pointed me at this awesome site which depicts all sorts of cool ideas and step-by-step instructions for how to make some of your own props.

So now I'm itching to make some more stuff. I have an idea I'm developing, which started out as just a way to customize my humidor along lines I discussed before, but is developing into something more. I'll let you know if it ever develops into more than just a daydream.

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