Welcome back to Cleveland Darkens, the modern urban arcana game set in 1970s Cleveland featuring young African-American characters.
Tagline: Fight the Power! Close the Hellmouth!
The campaign uses Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG core rules; plus some supplements for me and the player that runs the magic-user. For players it’s very easy to play, as I condensed the core rules to about 16 pages of rules and reference tables. Mostly, if you tell me what you want to do, give me an idea how you’re doing it, there’s no roll needed. I found last season extremely easy to prep for. Even though Eden Studios has not produced a lot of support material there is some ‘out there’ and I find I can easily adapt Savage Worlds adventures to Unisystem. This session was prepped using an online resource built for Eden Studios’ Unisystem rules, plus a couple of Location Cards and rolls on the Universal GM Emulator.
Even though it is by nature a shakeout session I count around 14 scenes worked through, including some really brief flashback scenes. So this is something of a summary.
In the opening section of the session, to the theme
Pick up the Pieces – Average White Bad
I ask each player to give me any personal threads they want their character to pursue over the remaining games.
Some come up with quite a number, some just one or two, which will be a lot easier to facilitate.
With those noted down on a yellow sticky, I move on to the official opening scene.
Scene: Greasy Joe’s Diner, Downtown
Theme: Slim Jenkins’ Place
Jim Fairbanks, Vic’s vet buddy, has finally called in the favor. The white hats are seated around the treasure-hunter, getting ready for some action on the solid half-traction!
They already dig that he’s hunting a real old weapon, a hammer. About yea big. Used by them old-time knights, so he’s been told. And after hiding out, and sneaking round the West Side, and putting this an’ that together, he finally found a lead on it. An old-money family name of Schilding got it. Trouble is, old-money keeps itself private. There’s a lawyer’s place across the square out there – he points diagonally away from the Euclid Club, which is kitty-corner to Greasy Joe’s – name of Golding, and he’s got the details of where this Schilding hangs out.
They’s old-money, and then they’s old-money, Steve ‘the Cutter’ points out. Don’t worry replies Jim, this ain’t no Little Italy family. Aw I was thinkin’ mo’ ‘bout vampires, Cutter explains. Whoa, that some heavy shit to lay on a brutha!
Scene: In and around Greasy Joe’s
Theme: Living for the city
Doc heads across to check the entry security – it’s getting later and most office folks be heading out now. Across the diner Arby spots Cleo’s brother, the Building Inspector, scowling at him. And why wouldn’t he.
Arby decides to get ahead of the curve and go buy some break-in tools; Jim gives him a fist-bump and Arby heads out.
Steve Cutter decides to watch Doc’s back and wanders out after a cat that’s looking a shade too interested. That leaves Vic – Victor Creed – and Jim, the tough vets. Although the diner is crowded, ain’t no cat horning in on their table. Vic looks around, catches a little mo’ than green changing hands – maybe that’s why Joe’s is so popular.
Jim leaves with another bump to Vic and Vic acts as contact man for the rest of the evening. Meanwhile:
Scene: around the fountain in the square
Theme: Get up offa that thing
It’s kind of a speaker’s corner. Quite a crowd, this pleasant Fall evening. Jon ‘Doc’ Samedy steers wide of the pamphleteers. Then there’s a bony-sound ‘CRUNK’ behind him and he swings round and finds the Cutter done put a man down.
“Aw, just a dip. I ov’reacted. S’ry brutha, you ‘ight just ‘bout now,” Cutter apologizes and half-drags the concussed dude nose-bleeding away. The sweet thing handing out pamphlets just there looks aghast but ain’t raise no ruckus.
Jon carries on and has a quick look-see through the now-dim foyer of the office block. It’s not huge and he can’t see any major problems, such as security guards. Then he walks back to the diner, a little shaken. And forgets that he was going to use his Sight on it.
Steve ambles back around the far side, now in the shadow. There’s a line of Purple Banner folk, protesting or demonstrating – they’re the ‘equality for undead’ crowd based around Smooth Clyde’s night club the Boneyard.
Steve catches up to young Marie Emana, the Blues and Soul singer he first met at the Euclid Club. He can’t readily get her to give up the notion of voting rights for vampires, so he too heads back to the diner.
Steve’s idea – which in the long run is followed – is that Golding or his secretary will have a Rolodex full of clients and there’ll be enough in it to tell them where next to go. They get all kinds of extra research ideas about how to prize it out or how to create a diversion, but for simplicity’s sake I’m going to knock out the Research montage and some hardware-buying.
Scene: Greasy Joe’s again, and around the square
Theme: Green Onions
Returning with a vinyl bag of implements, Arby finds Jim’s left Greasy Joe’s already, but the others suggest they need more options for Golding’s, such as where in the office block the Golding chambers are.
Arby and Vic snoop round the back. Vic suggests there must be a delivery gate, but Arby finds two possible service doors that he could maybe persuade open.
The Cutter and Doc also inspect the front once more – Doc forgot to use his Haitian-Vodun-trained senses to check for magical barriers, and Steve just wants to check which floors Golding occupies. It’s the top three. And no weird stuff on the entrance.
Since all of them have checked the place out, one time or another, this has raised some notice, though not in any serious way. Time to do some research then lay low until deep night.
Scene: the Euclid Club
Theme: I’m a man
The four white hats are marking time. Vic’s enjoying himself – there’s up to eight musos, including Marie, getting up at times and getting a jam on. Still early so it’s pretty chaotic. The others look a little uncomfortable.
Vic enjoys himself even more when to make a point to Steve, Marie dumps herself in Vic’s lap and shares a doobie with him. Then later drags the big guy round to a cloakroom she usually cats about in with the long-haired axe player. Steve takes it in good part – he don’t need no more woman grief since he carrying a truckload anyhow – and buys her a rum’n’coke.
Scene: in back of the office building
Theme: Walk on by
All four are ready! Arby’s point, nose quivering for trouble; Doc’s safely where the big guys can get between him and trouble.
Arby works on one of the doors for at least ten minutes, and at last persuades the Yale lock open. Steve’s tire iron won’t be needed. Arby didn’t buy a jemmy because that would have made the hardware guy really notice.
Scene: Penthouse floor
Theme: Get ready
After a much quicker effort Arby opens the Yale lock on the top floor. It could use the same key as the outside door, Arby hazards. “Cat prob’ly want ev’thing same below as above,” Cutter guesses.
A short search of well-furnished but old legal chambers locates the personal secretary’s office and her Rolodex has both a Schreibach telephone number and a delivery address. Also the vital item of information, revealed after a short search, that Schreibach and Schilding are the same person. Eva Schilding is a generation ago, now she’s Eva Schreibach. That’s why Doc and Cutter came up empty looking for reckless kids who might have crashed a car – old-money vampires don’t have kids.
Flashback Scene: Steve talking to Cindy Channel
Theme: Trouble Man
Cindy is pretty much alone in the Plain Dealer bullpen, though Sid the cameraman is off at one end, working on his camera and as usual, barely noticeable.
“You all alone then girl?”
“I rule my kingdom of the night” Cindy postures, then laughs, “The sub-ed’s away right now!”
Cindy knows about Eva Schreibach: and she avoids her, because Eva is an old vampire. And her security chief is a bad voodoo witch out of Haiti.
Scene: Schreibach Estate, Cuyahoga River
Theme: Sweetback’s theme
Arby slips away from the delivery barge he stowed away on, and creeps after the zombie workers. They pushing a big hand-cart around from the dock to the gate in a big wire-mesh fence. A double-line wire mesh fence. There’s no sign of anybody working the gate.
Arby isn’t dumb enough to go inside and get trapped by the closing automatic gate. He peers across as the zombies patiently unload at the brew-house. Far away beyond he glimpses maybe one more zombie, raking or some such in a field. He slips back to the barge before the workers finish their smokes and unhitch.
Flashback scene: Steve meeting Clive, Cleo’s brother
Arby points out that Clive has access to building plans for the city. Only don’t be askin’ me, dude hates me. Mm-hmh they all nod. So the Cutter gets some bills together and bargains with Clive. It takes a $20 for Clive and another $20 so folk in the office will get distracted while he cranks up the Gestetner and runs off the blueprints.
Clive points out some recent work, setting in a generator, in the brew-house, and security wiring along the inner fence. Probably security cameras too. There’s a worker’s shed on the estate: he has no work listed at all on it. The Manor has very little in the way of detail.
Scene: The Cuyahoga, first light
Theme: Take me to the river
Jim’s come through with the boat, it’s a small one with a small quiet outboard. Trouble is, he’s not as good at steering as he makes out. By the time he’s coped with the navigation he’s overshot the original target and has to grab the dock and cling on while Steve ropes up.
The white hats squelch their way upriver along the rancid margin, back to where they plan to head up to the outer perimeter. The small will cling to them the rest of the dawn.
Scene: The outer defenses
The Cutter lives up to his handle from boxing days, making quick work of the mesh fence with the heavy bolt-cutters he brought. The five are near the corner of the estate, opposite an inner access gate in the second line of fence.
They slip through easily, and examine the gate. The serious lock on it decide them to just cut through another entrance beside it.
As Steve cuts again, the others make what they can of the estate in the near-darkness. A pale light is growing off to their right and rear. Fallow stalks don’t leave any real cover ahead, in the fields that Eva’s zombie workers work, complaint-free, all year round.
From the gap, the Cutter angles them to the very corner of the inner fence. This is a lower affair: low enough for an athlete to vault over. But a strand of live wire is strung along the top, and every six or seven yards there’s a camera. If they’re quick, it should be too dark for them to be seen as they slide in through the gap the Cutter cuts.
He leaves the bolt-cutters just on the near side of the gap. He’s already burdened with extra weapons, apart from his battleaxe.
Scene: Rear of the Manor
Theme: Cold sweat
Arby’s tools and quick fingers work their magic once he’s had the nod from Doc about weird defenses. The five slip through into the wet-room side of a kitchen area. Off ahead are a couple of passages, flagstoned and clean-looking, into the main areas of the manor. Hard right is a flight of steps… down!