Here’s a game I consider under-served. I would say “criminally” so except for the poor joke it entails, which is too bad, because yes, it’s criminal. Matt Gwinn’s The Hour Between Dog and Wolf is an excellent detective vs. serial killer role-playing game, and here I speak as someone who was heartily sick of the whole thing since the late 1990s. And despite my forced admission to be attentive to Nordic Noir, mainly because I live here now, I am generally not interested in S*E*R*I*A*L K*I*L*L*E*R (the mind of, the true history of, the original interviews with, etc. etc).
But this game does it a little differently, mainly because the “does he get caught” question is reasonably and effectively handled via decisions, dice, and plot … but the world itself is also at stake in purely thematic terms. For example, the killer might be caught, but the detective may have been forced so far into the killer’s mindset, or had it confirmed through other experiences, that he or she has come to share it. And in this sense, the detective’s point of view is very much the audience’s, insofar as an audience is unable to disagree, if they take the events seriously enough to consider them a story at all.
Nate and I played it at Spelens Hus, with Sandra participating as “active listener.”
THE KILLER (disorganized): Compulsion 3, Cunning 5, Control 2; Victims 1
- Hjalmer Karlsson, plumber
- Framing components: Company car, Forest countryside house, Avoids people’s gaze, Keeps things clean, What do you do with the bodies?, I am at peace at home, Plumbing profession, First victim stood on my car
The components for the framing diagram work like this: we each choose four for our own characters, which are listed here in ordinary text, then we take turns asking each other questions, which the other may either answer or may choose to leave as a question; these latter are listed in italics, and that’s why a couple of those are phrased as questions.
THE HERO (armchair detective): Obsession 4 (2+2), Stability 5, Conscience 3; Evidence 1
- Benno Tuovinen, author
- +2 starting Obsession, failed Investigation = +1 Control
Framing components: Looks good all the time, Father’s sports car, One breakout popular book, Needs a vacation, Too many recent bad relationships, Kinky mystery, Nice apartment in Gothenburg, How is your father?
The characters’ scores also generate some social and environmental setting values. Given these specific values, our society starts with mid-range grey weather, content/stable society, indifferent conscience, generous, white-collar, very competent control – thus it’s establishment, a bit privileged, not very moral but all the law-and-order forms are in place. During play, whenever any score’s value changes in play, the “world” changes, or its qualities are re-emphasized. This Is a matter of presentation and audience perception, rather than an in-fiction change or a setting in the traditional RPG sense.
Given those social qualities, we decided that our story would take place on the west coast of Sweden, in an affluent community with lots of professional homes and services, a profitable scattering of tourist cottages and camps, and some high-profile high-tech startup centers.
Our scenes went like this (Nick first, then alternating): Investment, Crossing the Line, Murder + Drop, Personal, Misdirection, Investigation + Obsession, Ruination, Crossing the Line
Briefly, either the Hero amasses considerable Evidence or the Killer kills a considerable number of Victims for the game to end, with certain outcome parameters included similar to those in My Life with Master, although suggested or exemplary, not mandatory. In our case, we ended the session of play with only 3 Evidence and 2 Victims, a very long way from finishing play.
This was due partly to our starting builds, especially my decision to go “to the middle” when I could have begun with a remarkably high Obsession. It’s also partly due to one significant two-scene outcome composed of my failures to Investigate and to Cross the Line the second time, which would have racked my Evidence up to 6, within spitting distance of ending play. Instead, the results included reduced Evidence, higher Control, and other significantly decreased advantages for my Hero.
So however it turns out, we’re in for a long haul, and given the fiction so far, it looks as if a lot of the drama that does change Evidence and/or Victims is going to be societal rather than individual deductions/sneaks. The “world” has changed a lot due to the changes in various scores, now less lawfully controlled, more selfish (although still middling), and – interestingly – maxed out in terms of professional elitism. So the situations and people will have moved distinctly “up the chain,” which makes me think in terms of privileged mean people and cover-ups. If we keep playing, which I’d like to do, I can imagine scenes about image development or legal effects which may not even include our characters’ direct involvement, just as targets.
[I might have mandated high Compulsion and Obsession, Low Conscience and Cunning … say, Obsession 6 (+2 = 8 in this case), Stability 2, Conscience 2; and Compulsion 6, Cunning 2, and Control 2. The effect would be to rack up both Victims and Evidence pretty quick, perhaps permitting a full story (similar to a one-hour TV episode) in a single session. Incidentally, that also mandates that we’d start with a horrific environmental tone, criminal morality, greedy social behavior, working-class to disenfranchised economics, and suspicious, aggressive law enforcement.]
Some misplays: forgetting the frame roll for the first Murder scene, although that turned out OK when we did it a few minutes later and got results that retroactively fit our choices perfectly; moving quickly into the resolution roll for the Personal scene without establishing any fiction (and this was at my suggestion, which upon viewing simply baffles me; what was I thinking?); and putting my character into Nate’s Misdirection scene despite not having the Plot Points to do it, which we realized and retconned out after a couple of minutes. I thought we dropped a little too much of the fiction in terms of actual play, but I also realized this began and escalated at the halfway point and was due to my fatiguing out – eight scenes is a lot, and we probably should have stopped after the failed Investigation+Obsession, which was a pretty high note. You can see Sandra realize this before I did.
I edited the recording pretty heavily for the instructional and setup parts, in order to focus on the conduct of play, so I recommend looking at the attached files to see what we’re referring to on the table.
Finally, I did get confused a couple of times, in ways I don’t remember from the last time I played (a late-stage playtest version before official release). First, I don’t know if a die that lands outside the framing diagram counts in terms of being the highest die or not; and second, I could have sworn that I should have been racking up a lot more Stress, but couldn’t find other ways that it increased.
Oh yeah! One last thing: I did present the game’s inclusion of the X-Card when we began play preparation, which Nate instantly rejected (“we won’t need that”) with Sandra’s confirmation.
The game is available here.