SHC GM-Free: shakeout session

This is a half-hour or forty minutes of “live demo” where all players participate in GM-free gaming.

I have prepped a number of tools for this, which are explained further in the requirements list below. I did not bring a gridded map of Chicago, nor a deck of cards, but neither was critical.

We talk about where we want to start Season Five and agree that we will re-begin from the diner, northern fringe of Chicago (Waukegan can be thought of as the arcane ‘border’) and at the same time period that Season Four left off.

JA had a ‘false start’ in April 2014, where he had a table-test of combat and asked us to update personal life and contacts, and this is the timeline I prepped at that time. It is Sandi’s timeline but is helpful fitting the events of Seasons 3 and 4 into place.


[Events of Season Three start here]

Hitch’s Journal entries for Season Three’s Spear of Longinus story arc:

21 March 2010

28 March 2010 (2 entries)

29 March 2010

31 March 2010

[Season Three hiatus for Great Vampire Hunt]

Sandi’s academic status

Sandi missed very few tuts and lectures over this period and would easily complete the Spring Quarter, her first quarter of sophomore year. This spanned Mar29 to Jun12 2010.

She would then have either a partly interrupted Summer Quarter (Jun21 to Sep03 2010) followed by an increasingly unsettled Autumn Quarter (Sep18 to Dec11 2010) OR (and more likely) a clear Summer Quarter followed by a broken Autumn Quarter where she fails to meet terms [see retcons below].

Personal life

Her personal life will have continued to develop. Dave Shanahan [street contacts] would become more a regular part of her life to the point where he considers her his steady girlfriend and presents her with a retooled rebuilt BMW650GS. It began life as an F series, added some G series with the drop-down suspension and lower seat height, and has some extra plating on the hard surfaces for extra durability.

Hitch’s Journal entries for Season Three’s Sleepless in Seattle story arc:

18 June 2010

21 June 2010

23 June 2010

25 June 2010

Retcon needed: “October Bombings”

  • Option 1: Retcon of events placing the bombings of Academy-related activities closer to October 2010. It’s likely that Hitch’s Journal for June, the Sleepless in Seattle arc, should refer to October, throughout.
  • Option 2: Alternatively we can suppose that Rieker, following the second bombing (TSM’s premises) outwitted federal authorities by morphing his cult into the early stages of the FF. His bombing plans came to fruition in various locations which became collectively known as the “October Bombings” per GM’s email. The June events were not connected in the official mind with the October Bombings.

In either retcon, Sandi completes half of her sophomore requirements, and is then compelled to drop out as Chicago is barred to Academy personnel. She can transfer to a Wisconsin university if she is forewarned with enough time to get references from UC faculty. It’s more likely that with a decent stipend and the need for secrecy she drops off the grid.


The end of life with Sandi’s roomies

Uhleesha follows a sensible path into more technical papers than she began with. She’ll pick up papers in information science. Her web-savvy skills make her a natural for keeping contact with Sandi though Sandi’s exact job and location seem uncertain.

Ronni (Ronn-Della) has turned her self-image around, with some help from Sandi and Uhleesha, and surrounded by affirming friends finds a decent job back over the border in Indianapolis, in an industrial print shop. She transfers to an Indianapolis campus and turns her creative skills to interior design and commercial design.

They both worry about Sandi but life goes on: but they miss the crazy carefree days when they would get together and laugh about boys and classes.



Although forced out of Chicago Sandi is able to drop word back to various contacts such as Cynthia Massie and Karen Polk (Agape), Eileen O’Ryan and Sr Norine Burns (Chicago PADs), and Liffie Moynihan (St Mary’s and PADs) that she is OK. She has achieved this through the Catholic Church’s network. For example, Madison Wisconsin’s diocese offers various opportunities to volunteer in support of 28 different programs.

Until field-work with Cliff in particular (see below) claims her entire time, Sandi takes a part-time fixed-term role in Janesville, then scales that back to volunteering but split between Janesville and Madison parishes.

Part of her hours are spent delivering food to the hungry (Parish Mobile Food Pantry) and part spent with people with developmental disabilities. Joshua Easton her original employer likes her high-energy positivity. Sr Mercado, who also co-ordinates some of the HOPE HAVEN mission, passes Sandi’s message on to Sr Norine and from there it spreads back among her contacts. In response, Sr Mercado receives a couple of messages urging her to find a use for Sandi who is “one of the live ones” according to Eileen O’Ryan.

Sandi is asked to help out in the September ‘Pageant for All Abilities’ in Rock County and enjoys modelling various hairstyles and encouraging small donations from visitors.



Sandi is then thrust into what sounds like the thick of things, in the Boston emergency, usually operating alongside Cliff. Her tolerance of Cliff rises to strong liking and his chance of bedding her rises to the point that she has to reminder herself “don’t screw the crew” though he is not aware of that. She is summoned to meet the full team up at Bruno’s Bar on Lake Wassota, and brings her ‘Dave Shanahan special’ BMW with her. The bike is later put into storage in Wisconsin awaiting her return.


[Events of Season Four up to Lebanon take place here: roughly, Winter 2010 to late Fall 2011. Some weeks then need to be filled in.]


The Thanksgiving Spirit 2011: Cleveland

Summer brings out the crazies, so they say, but now Sandi’s eyes are open and she knows how much effort her mom puts in to keeping a lid on the town. Respect for the Slayer! Fall-Winter is just a family sitcom setup when Sandi arrives for Thanksgiving with Candy, Allie and Poppa Mils, plus Milan’s grown-up son from his first marriage.

Candy discovers her daughter is mature enough not to fly into sulks or bicker when they disagree about guns. Candy has disdain for guns; Allie and Milan have no problem with them. And maybe Candy has done some growing up too. When she was Sandi’s age she had to make the difficult choice of leaving her mom bringing Sandi up, because “the mission comes first.” Though she later picked up the job of being a mom to Sandi, she’s often cast herself more in the role of favourite aunt. Now the two girls become closer as Candy allows Sandi to bring her guns with her as they hunt Rusalka in the north of Cleveland.


The Call to Action

Sandi stays close to Cliff more than anyone over the remainder of the year. This is partly because Hitch’s job as some sort of roving freelance precludes him being a good contact. Cliff’s job as bodyguard also offers “consultancy” work for Sandi, so fun is had. As the year slips away, she teams up on at least one job with Hitch. The mage’s power is tested by a rival mage at a place Hitch calls Troll Bridge, with Sandi acting as a minor but able second.

Sandi slips even further off the grid after that, contactable only through trusted email drop-boxes and burner phones. Her contacts expect to see her when she turns up. When the call to meet up at the diner comes (New Year 2012) she mounts her trusty ‘Dave Shanahan special’ and rides in.


Recap (from Season Four)

It’s the New Year period of 2012. Snow lies deep around a north-suburb diner as our heroes enter and assure Tessa they won’t kill her if she doesn’t start anything.

“That seems an adequate basis for proceeding,” Tessa replies crisply, smoothing her pink suit and gesturing to a generously-seated bay.

A limo pulls up outside, and a male nurse-attendant wheels in an ancient. The rugged features of the Hagen family are recognizable to those among the team that pay attention. Tessa’s introduction confirms it: this is Gunther Hagen who, Paul mentally calculates, would be all of 96 years old.

“Well… you’ve proven yourselves in your last escapade,” the patriarch begins. “We’re already feeling some effects through the nexii.

“Now: you’re missing a campus. Much as we would like to handle things ourselves…” the pause underlines the bitterness of the following words: “…my offspring has proven useless and is compromised.”

“Does he know this?” Hitch asks.

“I can’t be sure of that. He may be aware or just a shell.” Hagen’s voice reflects the sadness he feels deep within, and his shoulders droop a little: then straighten again. “I think we can come to a cordial agreement much as once obtained between us… I have a means whereby you can re-enter Chicago.”

“When we do, we will fight evil,” Hitch underlines with classic supererogation.

The old man waves away the implication irritably. “Of course, of course, you’re the Salvation Army of the Occult. That’s understood. You’ll enter Chicago with the item I’m about to give you” – He gestures to the nurse-attendant – “and do what you do.”

“There’s a chance – a small chance – that your son Ralph is redeemable,” Dan pronounces.

Sandi, who’s still struggling with the image of marching in front of evil in a brass band, breaks in:

“But, aren’t we just gonna blaze in and shoot shit?”

“Each of these silver pieces grants the power to pass through the barrier,” Gunther explains, choosing not to respond to Sandi and handing out silver dollars.

“Then, you’re on your own.”

[You can also read what Hitch made of this in his own journal here]


And now to the session

The Requirements:

  1. PCs: Cliff, Dan, Hitch, Paul, Sandi. The card suits that represent them are: Hitch and Paul=Diamonds; Dan=Hearts; Cliff=Clubs; and Sandi=Spades.
  2. Personal NPCs: some of us are better prepped than others. We will probably kick options around as we go: for example if a Dan NPC is nominated, and Dan suggests it is Eva of the Carpathians, is that justified? – since Eva is a general NPC not a personal one. Whereas if he suggests Mary the ME that would be more justified, because she was Dan’s contact in particular.
  3. Monsters: I have now produced a set of ‘monsters’ (including a few human templates) that can be used by CR. The upper CRs are a bit thin still, I’m hoping to add more during our test run. For example we could agree that a CR12 is a CR9 mage and five CR5 thugs working together. Monsters operate on a d20 plus card draw, and the card suit can also suggest the range: Diamonds are distance, Spades are mid, Clubs are close, and Hearts could be mid or close depending on the kind of saves required.
  4. Threads: we have three that are full-story threads: – end the supernatural blockade; – restore the campus in Chicago (may be the same as above); and – neutralize evil Ralph Hagen. After some brief chaffing we add a fourth thread, “don’t let Paul kill Tessa” and put Dan in special charge of this.
  5. Chaos level: this always begins at 5, this being the first scene of a session.
  6. NPCs: we agree that as the recap suggests, the NPCs present are Tessa Frost, Old Man Hagen, his nurse, and assorted diner staff and possibly other patrons. We have the NPC Emulator should we need to generate someone’s details on the fly.
  7. Location: we know this is a diner, and we know the general vicinity is wintry. (2012 was not as snow-heavy as the current winter, but it’s still northern Chicago!)
  8. Risk pool: the intention is that we use APs as Risk Points, and my suggestion that the last level worth is a fair ration is at least a starting point. So most of us have a dozen or so risk points to tag locations and descriptions.
  9. Encounter or location details: we have the Location Crafter’s list for special encounters and we have its Description generators.
  10. Complete: as this is only a quick run-through we won’t be needing to check completeness.

The various implements/charts are shared around so everyone has something to look after.

Scene check: DB rolls a Chaos check and scores above 5, the scene opens as scripted.

Event roll: as this is the first scene, an automatic event roll is needed. DB rolls ‘NPC Positive’ which flips us from our own NPC lists (which is what we ought to be looking down) to the scene NPCs. This is technically wrong, but as we have all deliberately come here away from our NPCs it is right for the scene. Randomising doesn’t seem right so we ask the Emulator,

‘Is it a major NPC?’ [Very likely] A: yes

We flip a coin and get Old Man Hagen. Now to find the meaning. DB gets ‘Desert the public’ so this gets kicked around for a few minutes. The consensus is that it will be good for Old Man Hagen to retire, but it has the connotation that it must be good for us too – the exceptional yes must mean that it marks a distinct break. Another reading could be that he is betraying the Olympians.

‘Is he betraying the Olympians?’ [Very unlikely] A: no

‘Is he giving us something?’ [Likely] A: Exceptional yes

It’s worth asking a complex question at this point, so I play a risk point and get DL to roll on the Location Crafter’s descriptions.

‘What is he giving us?’ Description: Defiantly mature

This has got to be a relic that Hagen thinks will help. We are very low in magic items – Dan doesn’t have his relics any more – so that would be a helpful addition. I suggest to get some rough detail we pick a card [roll a d4] with the suit deciding what nature the relic is. We ‘draw’ clubs, which is Cliff’s suit, so it’s a close-in melee relic. We leave that there since no-one else plays a risk point to get more description. AL could come up with a description to suit Cliff for next session.

We call the scene there as the characters roll through the barrier. I don’t know if it was originally supposed to be a no magic/no hardware barrier but we’ll assume everything we touch such as cars and motorbike all get through OK. That’s three autos and a motorbike so far as I know.

Chaos drops to 4 as the scene proceeded positively.

SM helpfully flicks through his wodge of paper and tells us Hagen’s successor is his daughter, Elizabeth Amery Hagen.


We have plenty of time and I would really like to show NPC/monster activity so we move to a new scene. (This is a linear timeframe since most of us are linear IT types who aren’t comfortable jumping around timelines!)

Scene: on the other side of the barrier, south of Waukegan. Possibly just off the I94. Tags are wintry, open. (These are a given so no-one is spending points to get these.)

Thread maintenance: we cross off the “Tessa no kill” thread (well done Dan!) and add “explore/find a bolthole” because we agree the intention at this early stage must be to be low profile.

SM is now minding the Emulator and his Scene event roll brings up ‘PC Negative’ so a d5 will decide who the lucky PC is. It is Paul!

The event meaning rolls produce ‘Recruit Liberty’ which has us scratching our heads. We don’t just reroll. We kick around a few ideas – even though this is 10pm we can still have some – and decide to go to the Emulator to check. Our rough idea is that Paul is being forced into something by an NPC of some type, and since Paul is here on a green card this might include official pressure. Paul also has a criminal past so really anything could go.

‘Is this an official agency?’ [Likely] A: no

One idea is that it could be a Judge. In this world that means an arcane operative who is able to sanction executions.

‘Is this a Judge?’ [Likely] A: yes

We only know two judges and our Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Judge contact is best known to us.

‘Is it someone we know?’ [Likely] A: yes

We decide Paul has been contacted by our friend, so at some later date Paul has to deal with whatever demand he has made. We could then do a flashback using the NPC Emulator to find out more about the transaction. A new thread is added:

“Paul must fulfil Judge’s demands”

…and the scene closes.

Chaos rises back to 5 as this was a negative twist.

No threads are closed.

We end the session with my trying to explain that the instigator in each scene will have their character kept back. This will allow them to track properly and has the practical effect of allowing reinforcement or retreat in contact. Having played through these first two scenes it seems quite possible that this should only apply when new locations are being laid down: for example Hitch would be presumed to be ‘distant’ if Paul’s ‘PC Negative’ had gone to a fight; whereas a static location like the diner could have all PCs present.

DB was not impressed at the speed of play but I thought two scenes in 30-40 minutes, considering the inexperience, was fine. At that rate we could play far more than five a night but I’m sure if someone puts a grid down everything will slow dramatically.

In terms of xp, we have not discussed anything. Dan could not earn xp from keeping Paul on a leash, because ¼ of Paul’s xp (non-hostile) would be below Dan’s xp floor. It’s likely that xp will come from encountering monsters, as it usually does. We could think about a Region bonus as we move from region to region.


About andrewmclaren26

Weekly Roleplayer, Wargamer when I can
This entry was posted in SHC5: SHC GM-free, Sweet Hell Chicago and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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