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Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › Inhuman After All (Shooting The Moon)

Inhuman After All (Shooting The Moon)

Alex G.
user 58620202
Seattle, WA
Post #: 4
Note: This is almost certainly off on a few details since I seem to have left the writeup paper in my jacket and the jacket in California. Martin and Caroline: don't hesitate to correct any errors!

Once upon the 1800s, in the land of Not-Transylvania...

Martin, Caroline and I played an excellent game of Shooting The Moon, which went quite well considering that Caroline and I hadn't played it before. In this game two players are Suitors who compete for the attentions of the third player, the Beloved. We ended up being a couple of failed attempts to create artificial life vying for the favor of our creator. Caroline played Doctor Kauffman, a reclusive, driven scientist whose merciless rigor in approaching the problem of creating life resulting in a surprising number of deaths. Martin played Thread, the Doctor's first creation: an animated dressmaker's doll that served primarily as Kauffman's unflinching, efficiently deadly enforcer. I played Kaltenbach, the Doctor's newly-risen undead servant, who was burdened and confused by his past life, as he may or may not have been a legendary warlock.

Character creation was widely agreed upon to be excellent, as well as being one of the most polished parts of the game. The Shooting The Moon system is really fun to use, as "positive" (for the setting) traits are first collaboratively assigned to the Beloved--so Kauffman ended up (for example) being Reclusive, Ahead Of His Time, and--in a last-minute addition of mine that I thought was kind of weak but that ended up coming through in almost every scene--Merciless. We then divided each of Kauffman's attributes into synonyms and antonyms and assigned them to the Suitors, so each of us ended up aligning or contrasting with aspects of the Beloved's personality. So because Kauffman was Intuitive, Kaltenbach was Logical and Thread was Lucky; because Kauffman was Merciless, Kaltenbach was Peace-Loving while Thread was Deadly.

We then added additional traits to these assigned ones to make them more detailed or interesting, so Kaltenbach was Peace-Loving but Notorious, and Thread was Deadly but Principled, for example. Since we traded off who was assigning what to where, it made for a really fun experience of fleshing out our own and each other's characters. Each Suitor also had a Person, Place and Thing we assigned them in the same manner--Kaltenbach had a Long-Lost Love, His Own Grave, and a Dead Crow Fetish--in the archaic sense, i.e. an object of presumed supernatural significance. Thread had Itself In The Mirror, A Tailor's Workshop, and a Jar of Eyeballs. It was really cool to see how these choices affected our characters, as it wasn't until Caroline put down Your Own Grave for my Place that I realized Kaltenbach was undead.

The Suitors wanted to claim our Prize, showing that we'd won the Beloved's favor--in this case, the keys to our laboratory rooms, but were prevented by our Conflicts--in my case, a sworn oath to Do No Harm, and I admit I have forgotten Thread's Conflict. Similarly Doctor Kauffman had a Dream to create a perfect artificial lifeform, but was blocked by the disapproval of the Baron (Baron Not-Harkonnen).

Playing the actual game with these characters was an intense roleplaying experience that was very rewarding, and although some of the mechanics seemed to encourage more metagaming than we liked, there were a lot of great moments between characters, and the story stalled out only rarely. Martin and I had some really fun banter as Thread and Kaltenbach--you haven't seen an argument until you've seen an animated corpse and an animated object bickering over who is more alive. Caroline was flawless as Doctor Kauffman, using his Merciless nature to make his minions squirm and keeping them guessing as to how much they were really favored with his Sarcastic trait. Throughout our first scenes Kaltenbach kept being blocked in his desire to serve his master's whims by his Do No Harm conflict, as most of the tasks involved obtaining freshly-slain corpses, while Thread gleefully made up for his hesitance by carrying out its orders with extreme punctuality. Kaltenbach worked with the Doctor to decipher some ancient occult texts, while Thread accompanied him on a midnight expedition to a local church.

Our first conflict scene (where the Beloved sets a task for the Suitors to overcome) was a pretty fun one, where their newly obtained test subject--who just happened to be a descendant of Kaltenbach's, and just happened to look like his Long-Lost Love--turned out to be only Mostly Dead and went crazy on the operating table. This was where we started getting into territory where the mechanics and the narrative started working a little oddly with each other. Shooting The Moon has a conflict-resolution system that seems designed to generate narratively rich situations, but it does this by giving advantages to players who make what it perceives as more interesting choices. For example, making an action based off one of your traits or personal items grants you two dice, but sacrificing a personal item gets you five, which meant that the narrative choice I wanted to make--sacrificing the spirit of my Long-Lost Love, which was stored inside my Dead Crow Fetish, in order to attempt to reanimate it inside of the descendant that looked like her--was really heavily loaded in a game-mechanical way, because it gave me a huge landslide of dice that allowed me to "win" the scene. This wouldn't have been a problem except that it kept happening. In another scene, Martin used the "impose a condition on the other character" choice, which was cool and interesting but also gave me a ton of dice to "win" that scene with. The results of Kaltenbach winning all his scenes were complicated, because while he continued developing interesting and complex features, it felt like Thread and Kauffman were getting much less attention--or at least, that their players had much less control over their destinies. Quite soon I felt like I had to *stop* making interesting narrative choices because they were too powerful mechanics-wise--although I was also just getting lucky on the rolls.

With some deft maneuvering we were able to thwart Kaltenbach's rise to power--he had begun awakening to his old magics and gained the Legendary Evil trait--by having Doctor Kauffman acquire a Mind Games trait by half-convincing Kaltenbach that he was not actually the legendary occultist he'd been told about, it was all in his head. Still, for a while there it practically seemed like my Suitor was getting more narrative control than the Beloved, and since it took much cleverness on Caroline's part and grateful participation on mine to resolve that dilemma, it makes me worry for what might have happened with a less experienced and coordinated group. Meanwhile Thread was shoring up its position as the perfect servant, continually taking advantage of Kaltenbach's identity crisis and tattered remnants of conscience to advance its own status with the Doctor and demean his. Martin eventually gifted me with the Going Rogue trait to cement that Kaltenbach's continued acts of insubordination--mostly trying to free or avoid gathering test subjects in order to keep them alive--were leading him into open defiance of the Beloved.

In the Epilogue, this all came to a head, as Thread and Kaltenbach finally hashed out the free will vs. obedience debate in the light of flickering villager-mob torches.
Alex G.
user 58620202
Seattle, WA
Post #: 5
Apparently there is a character limit! I imagine it is intended to add suspense to dramatic cliffhangers like this one.

So finally we have the last confrontation between our Suitors as the angry mob--enraged rather than deterred by earlier efforts to terrify them into submission--marches on the Doctor's estate. Over the course of the game Kaltenbach has been evolving in all sorts of crazy directions: he gained a Human Disguise and lost it to reveal himself as a Legendary Evil, then suffered an Identity Crisis and now has no idea which of his memories are true, and whether he's really a worthy ally for Doctor Kauffman or merely his brainwashed creation. It's clear to everyone though that Kaltenbach's continual displays of mercy to the townspeople have backfired pretty badly, and despite the efficient and lethal interventions of Thread to clean up his messes, the situation has spiraled out of control once and for all. Thread's evolution meanwhile has been more straightforward: it has firmly and consistently rejected any semblance of "humanity" and become a Monster Among Monsters, even to the extent that it haunts Kaltenbach in his nightmares. Thread proved itself defending the Doctor from harm and took only minor battle damage subduing a berserk creation, becoming slightly Tattered but still fully capable. Thread's enigmatic past was hinted at occasionally--Doctor Kauffman made an offhand reference to creating it to replace his lost little sister, and it has some relationship with its own reflection in the mirror, and with its nature as a dressmaker with its own Tailor's Workshop--but we weren't able to find many good opportunities to explore it. Kauffman has also changed much over the course of the game, becoming a skilled manipulator capable of Mind Games and gradually seeing his dream slip farther from his grasp as his plans are revealed, his enemies escaping, and his sanctum breached. He has managed to create several new artificial lifeforms but they are far from the perfect creations he desires.

In the end, both Suitors at last beseech the Doctor for the ultimate symbol of his favor: the keys to their laboratory enclosures. As the three prepare to deal with the oncoming threat, Thread simply states what it knows to be true: it will sacrifice itself to protect Kauffman, and will its loyalty will continue unabated.
Kaltenbach makes an impassioned speech, saying that while he believes he has truly regained much of his humanity and his free will, he wishes to continue to serve the Doctor, not merely as an automaton servant but as a fully-fledged ally, and that together they can be greater than the sum of their parts.

Doctor Kauffman orders Threat to kill Kaltenbach.

Kaltenbach attempts to defend himself with magic but Thread is unaffected and pins him to the ground, raising its arm for a final killing blow. At this last moment, Kauffman asks Kaltenbach if he really believes in his purported humanity, whether he will hold on to his belief in his own personhood even as it is extinguished. Kaltenbach stands fast: even if he has to die again and for the last time, he is sure of the rightness of his choices and accepts their consequences. Thread's hand descends.

And stops. Doctor Kauffman has called it off at the last instant; Kaltenbach passed the final test. Kauffman hands Kaltenbach his key, and retains possession of Thread's. As Kaltenbach rises, he affirms that even though he could now be free to abandon the Doctor, he will choose to remain by his side and face the threat and the future together. Thread too, as ever, is ready to serve. As the three turn to face their destiny, Kaltenbach has achieved his goal of the freedom to choose, Thread has remained the vigilant servant it was built to be, and Kauffman has tested the depths of his creations and secured their undying loyalty. Perhaps, in the end, everyone got a bit of what they wanted.

Oh, except for the villagers. They're pretty much screwed.
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