Haunted History: Roleplaying with a Timeline

When it comes to defining a certain mood or theme for the games that I run, I seem to have wild mood swings. I will start planning an adventure with the intent of it being a hardcore survivor horror game, or perhaps a game of political subterfuge, and that will be great for the first night or even the first few nights, but then suddenly the mood takes me to switch themes drastically. I’ll be sitting at work and I’ll think of a really cool theme or plot device, but it would fall into an almost completely different type of game. Ask any of my friends that I gamed with in high school, and they would confirm this for you. I had a bad habit of stopping games 3 sessions in to start a new adventure altogether with a new idea and premise. I was almost always the game master, and so my friends made A LOT of characters.

I am still the same way, over a decade later. And I think this is why I designed the world setting of Reclamation to be accommodating to many genres, and that on any given night, a group of protagonists could face virtually any thematic obstacle. The adventure starts with survival horror as they try to escape their live cell that will become their tomb unless they flee from the mortis-horde. Next week they are facing the supernatural power of The Black Dream, and the following week they are fighting tooth and nail in a haven-city for political control of the military force. I like having that flexibility.

For example, right now I am HOOKED on placing a bold emphasis on history and setting (see previous post). Keep in mind that Reclamation takes place roughly 40 years after the Nuclear Cataclysm. In other words, the Earth as we knew it is almost completely gone. Watch any History channel show on post-apocalyptic scenarios and you’ll be amazed at how quickly the greatest works of man are destroyed or swallowed up by nature after even just a decade of no human intervention. Anyway, the other night I challenged my group with exploring the ruins of a small town out in Arizona. Several children had been stolen from a nearby live cell and the group was there to recover the kids. To add more realism to the location, I had printed Google Satellite maps and road maps of the town that I chose, so that I could give them very exact directions to places. They could even read road signs that they encountered (provided the sign could still be read after a successful Language check).

What the players didn’t know was that almost 40 years ago this town had been lost to The Sickness after a series of traumatizing events. It began with the principal of the nearby high school. She was a single mom and her son was the love of her life. He was an excellent student, star of the football team, and college-bound. He was killed in a car accident; another student crashed into him on accident. This mother lost her mind, and one day she chained the doors to the school and set fire to the first floor, killing many students (including the one who accidentally killed her own) in the process. This horrific event not only allowed The Sickness to creep into the hearts of the citizenry (as this all occurred just months after Event Zero), but the anguish transformed the principal into an archon. Immortal and eternally tortured by the pain of loss, this archon has lived the last 40 years in this place, luring men into her school, forcing them to capture and bring her children so that she may sacrifice them to give her dead son company.

Okay…. That is all super morbid, I realize. Lol. Whenever I force players to take on archons, I always play on the horrific circumstances that transformed that individual into a horde-thane. While the result is so inhumanly awful, I feel like knowing the circumstances almost humanizes the archon and makes him or her more interesting than just a 2-dimensional baddie who is bad for the sake of badness. Anyway, as my group explored the town, they encounter random recluses who still call this place home (though they are certainly teetering on the brink of insanity as The Sickness nips at their thoughts and their souls). They came upon the principal’s home… the only house not looted but covered in graffiti and every window broken from thrown rocks. The people were too afraid to go inside; they thought it was cursed. But by exploring the house they came upon the son’s room that was made out like a shrine with all of his awards and pictures and his uniform carefully laid out all these years later. They went into the basement and found boxed memories of the principal’s son and all of her school forms and work. They found the boxes were carefully marked until what would have been the son’s Junior year in which case everything became disorganized, as if the order in her life had been lost. There were other clues, and all of which led the group to their next destination—the high school.

I will spare you the details of what happened at the high school, and then at the stadium (though it was A LOT OF FUN!). But what I wanted to focus on again was the role history played in this part of the adventure. The town itself was mostly swallowed up by nature, yet the dark shadow of what transpired at that place decades ago still hung like a nightmare swallowing up those foolish enough to cross its threshold. I REALLY REALLY like running these kinds of adventures because you not only get to challenge them with contemporary obstacles, all those things you’d expect to encounter in the post-apocalyptic dystopia, but you are also exploring the remnants of history and how the iniquities of our past never really let go of the present… not in Reclamation, at least!

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