Actual Play from MarCon: The New Pope

Last night I ran a game of curse the darkness here at MarCon. Continuing my ongoing commitment to writing up such games (especially when they’re awesome), here’s what happened:

We started off going through the quick pitch and the five questions, only this time I had more stuff to show off – photographs that are going in the book and pictures of the Symbol and our candle logo (I did not, however, have the mockup of the amazing cover that Nigel Sade did for us, because it’s in the Dropbox and I didn’t have a wifi connection in the gaming room). Here’s what the players came up with:

  • Where are you? In Rome. Much of the city has been destroyed or damaged, but some of the buildings are still intact. The characters have taken up residence in one of the museums there.
  • What just happened? A splinter group of Catholic resistance have taken over the Sistine Chapel and declared a new Pope. White smoke is rising up from the chapel.
  • How are you following the rules? The characters provide medical care, food and shelter to anyone who comes to the museum and asks for help.
  • How are you breaking the rules? The characters include several academics and philosophers, and they’re preserving knowledge of all types – even if it’s religious or otherwise ideological.
  • What is the goal? Remove the new Pope before he attracts His attention and cosigns Rome to the Between.

We have six characters in the museum: Dafaria is an archeologist, Mack is a trucker who has found a pickup converted to run on biodiesel, Gen was a museum curator and Opener (and afraid of the dark), Dr. Jamilla Koda is a psychologist, Hiro Cooper is another Opener and Vincenzo is a general helpful guy and shameless flirt.

The characters see the white smoke in the distance and realize that it isn’t because of a fire – this generally means that a new Pope has been declared. Fearing for their lives, they decide to check it out, except Dafaria, who stays behind at the museum. Everyone else piles into the truck and heads for the chapel. The road is bumpy (they aren’t maintained, after all), and the characters nearly hit a cyclist. As it is, he lays down his bike and breaks his arm. The cyclist, Jack, explains that this group includes six “cardinals” wearing red sashes, and they have indeed declared a new Pope. The characters help him into the truck and head for the church to check this out.

They get there and see the new Pope (wearing makeshift vestments and flanked by the cardinals) about to address the crowd. One of the cardinals talks about how the long darkness was over and people could have faith again, and the “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” thing began (Vincenzo, who was Catholic before the end of the world, reflexively started to cross himself and then stopped).

Meanwhile, back at the museum, a man entered and ask Dafaria if she’d heard the good news about the new Pope. She hadn’t, and freaked out a bit about talking of religion (not wanting to be pulled into the shadows), and the man wandered away, looking at the art and generally being difficult.

At the chapel, the shadows Opened. The creatures came, and the cardinal told everyone to have faith and stay strong, that their faith would drive off the monsters. One of Them grabbed a cardinal and broke him in half, and the crowd broke ranks. This, of course, was our first Removal Challenge.

Hiro Opened a gateway and fled. Gen grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to clear a path for the other characters. Mack stayed still and watched, to see if faith really would help. Vincenzo ran for the truck. Everyone except Gen, then, was cursing the darkness. Gen lit a candle (Kamilla wasn’t part of the Challenge, as her player didn’t have three cards in her Bank yet).

We played through the Challenge, and everyone stayed in play. Gen and Vincenzo failed, and the others succeeded. But since no one light a candle and succeeded, no one got any Wick (and no one died, so no Memory Conversations were happening yet).

Gen had failed to get a path cleared, and he sat on the truck and watched the horror around him. Jack (still an NPC) screamed at Gen to give him the keys, but Gen saw the truck as Mack’s and didn’t give them up). Jamilla took some pictures, and Mack lifted her up to get a better shot. They found a place to stand out of the way of the mob and filmed the carnage.

Hiro, meantime, dropped out of the Between at the museum. The stranger immediately attacked him, and Dafaria stopped him. But now both Dafaria and Hiro’s player had enough cards for a Removal Challenge, so we started up again. The gateway that Hiro had dropped through hadn’t closed, and black fingers were coming through. Hiro reached up to close the gate and block Them (lighting a candle), while Dafaria shoved the stranger at the portal (cursing the darkness). Both of them succeeded and stayed, so Dafaria shoved the man through the portal just as Hiro closed the gateway. Hiro’s player gained a section of Wick and made the essential choice, while Dafaria, of course, could not.

Back at the chapel, the other players had built up their Banks again, and so They turned Their attention to the PCs again. This time, everyone lit a candle. Jamilla was filming Them and trying to record what was happening to inspire or warn folks, Mack drew his knife (he’d established a Scope: Marine) and fought Them, Vincenzo grabbed a fire extinguisher to use as a bludgeon and charged into battle screaming a prayer in Latin, and Gen jumped behind the wheel of the truck and drove into the fray to get his friends.

Everyone except Gen drew Succeed/Stay. Mack and Vincenzo beat the creatures back, stunned that such a thing was even possible. Jamilla got it all on camera, and then there were tires screeching behind them. Gen (Succeed/Leave) fishtailed the truck, the truck tipped a bit, casting a long shadow – and hands reached up, grabbed him, and pulled him in. (The player grabbed a Character Card and wrote Jack into Memory.)

At this point, Jamilla, Hiro, Vincenzo and Mack have all made the essential choice to light a candle. They get in the truck and head back to the museum, where they spend a few minutes in silence (and various kinds of prayer) for Gen (thus gaining Memory Points, which, combined with a Scope, gives Dafaria enough to make the essential choice). Then they discuss what to do next.

There’s some awesome in-character discussion about what their successful fight against Them really means. Does faith – or strength of will – really make a difference? Maybe They can be repelled by not just faith, but good works (that’s very Catholic)? Dafaria posited that maybe They were the mutated souls of people taken into the Between (which is an awesome idea, not really in keeping with the aesthetic of curse the darkness, but fun to speculate about). The other characters brought the discussion back to the goal – remove the Pope. They decided that he needed to step down before something really bad happened, and so Dafaria, Hiro and Mack went to the chapel to challenge the Pope to lay his hand on a rare Bible and say a prayer, as though this would “prove” he was the Pope.

(As an aside, I’m currently involved in a not-very-stimulating debate on Facebook with a dude who thinks that Mormons aren’t “real” Christians. I keep asking him who gets to make that distinction, and he responds with ad hominem attacks, shifting the goalposts, telling me to read the Bible, and calling me an ultra-liberal. None of it addresses the real issue – you can’t test for belief. That’s not how belief works. I just saw echoes of that here. Anyway.)

The cardinals saw right through this, of course (I called it a Humanity Challenge, difficulty King, to pull this off since it was an obvious lie). But then Mack lunged for the cardinal’s shotgun, and came out of that Removal Challenge successful. They took the “Pope” (who hadn’t spoken) and the cardinal (named Luis) back to the museum, and Kamilla realized that the Pope wasn’t talking or even really responded – he was either in shock, mentally deficient or otherwise unable to really interact with the world around him. He was a figurehead, and Luis revealed that the other cardinals and he had done this so that they would have a symbol of their faith again, someone to help turn back the dark. But after what had happened, he agreed that he’d been wrong.

But the characters showed him their footage – it was possible to fight Them and win. Luis said that he would spread this “gospel” slowly (like Jesus “really” did, at the characters’ encouragement), given a copy of the footage. The characters agreed to take care of the former Pope, and Jack’s player defined enough Scopes to get enough Memory to buy a section of Wick, thus lighting a candle. I thought it was cool that he wanted to do that rather than curse the darkness, which would have been simpler.

All in all, fun session, and the players really seemed to enjoy it. I’m running another session in…jeez, like, half an hour. Better get down to the game room and get set up!


2 responses to “Actual Play from MarCon: The New Pope

  1. Pingback: Actual Play from MarCon: The Elder’s Secret | curse the darkness

  2. Pingback: curse the darkness Review - Gnome Stew, the Game Mastering Blog

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