The second day of EOW featured a post-apocalyptic western. The locale was an island off some mainland where people lived essentially late 1800's American lives, complete with saloons and undertakers. The only real government was a local law enforcement official, apparently elected by popular consent, and a quasi-feudal force known as the "coasties" who protected the area from pirates in return for a portion of the goods produced on the island and the local mainland.
The set-up was pitch-perfect. One of the PC's played a local sheriff, in this case Scott who had collaborated a bit with the story. The others were all brothers whose father had recently been killed in a "farming accident." Upon arriving back to the family homestead, they discover that their father had been a lawman in his day and had been killed my members of a gang he had put away to prison years ago. The brothers, armed with the father's secret stash of modern-day era weapons, rode out with the sheriff to get revenge.
The brothers discover (after some overly-long investigating because of dropping into tactical movement) that their neighbors have been likewise slaughtered by members of the gang. But at this point the plot went sideways. While making their way to a suspected hangout of the gang, an underground bunker pops up and a Morrow Project team appears.
Now, I think that the judge in question does a great job of creating "scenes," and by that I think he can create an evocative, unique moment in gameplay, and this was one of them. Usually the PC's are Morrow Project, but this time we're the natives. That having been said, I think the whole thing was a bit of a mistake. For one thing, the Morrow Project team are now the most influential force on the board, if you will, with their APC's, tanks, and machine guns. Even though they ended up being allies of the PC's, the judge now has a great deal more control over the actions that the PC's make, because he can alter or negate any of those things using the Morrow Project team.
And frankly he did just that. The judge played the Morrow Project as a comedy element, making them naive-but-earnest morons toodling around the countryside blowing things up. Whenever we went to another farm, he had the Morrow Project team crash in, rather than let us sneak in the way we wanted. But the biggest factor was he had the Morrow Project team attack the coasties, and then we had to at the end of the session deal with an invasion of pirates, a group that also enjoyed a substantial advantage in terms of guns, men, etc.
So here's the plotline:
Scene one: PC's go to the funeral, form posse
Scene two: PC's investigate neighbor, find corpses
Scene three: Morrow Project appears
Scene four: PC's head for another farm, Morrow Project intervenes
Scene five: PC's head for main town, see Morrow Project attacking coasties. PC's engage gang in shootout, one PC dies.
Scene six: PC's hear that pirates are attacking another town, head there to engage pirates. Another PC (mine) dies, pirates decide to head back to main town, steal Morrow Project equipment. Finis.
It's worth noting that one of the complicating factors was that the judge had to leave at 5 PM. Most of the time we play from 10 AM to 6 PM, with one hour for lunch. If we have to go long, we take a vote of the group to continue. So the last scene was incredibly time-compressed, and frankly given how it was set up, with our posse of rifle-toting farmers having to drive off an armored vessel with rockets, I don't quite see how it was supposed to go. I had offered to switch with this judge and run my scenario on the second day and his the third, but he refused, citing that I would lose two players before the end. I'm not sure about that logic; I have a suspicion there were other factors at work.
I don't want to sound overly critical--the judge is a good friend, but my question is this: how does what the players do impact the story at all? At best, we made tactical decisions in firefights that may or may not have led to our deaths. But deciding what to do in combat is not the same as deciding what to do in response to the story. The story was pretty much pre-ordained. We'd obviously head off in the direction the gang went, a path that led to us to Morrow Project, who in turn made the pirates attack. There's no way, at least as far as I could see, barring attacking Morrow Project themselves that we could have altered the course of the events at all. So there's no agency, no real collaborative storytelling.
And I get that this sort of "adventure thread" game design is common if not downright normative. But at the time it also felt heavy-handed, especially when the final scene was very compressed for time.
So like I said, the game had a great hook, a great look, and some great moments. I just wish that we had more to do with the story, and frankly had a chance to overcome at the end.
Movie of the night: Outpost and Priest