The basic plot was this: One or more of the PCs has a younger relative named Suzanne, who uncharacteristically doesn't show up for dinner one evening in the Trench. Asking around reveals that she headed out into the Ruins by herself to find "something cool" and prove that she's old enough to be on her own. She's mischievous and cocky, so this comes as a disappointment but not a surprise. Of course, anything outside the Trench is so dangerous that nobody should go anywhere alone, but she doesn't quite get that. So the PCs saddle up and go out there to find her before it's too late (literally and figuratively).
While poking around the Ruins, they encounter a thousand-claw. During the fight (or shortly thereafter), four Grafted-up guys show up and either help kill the Horror (Friday night's game) or just start hacking its many limbs off (Saturday morning's game). What with one thing and another, the PCs learn that they're initiates of the Order of St. Eurosia, a weird religious cult who think that Graftliness is next to godliness. In addition to being crazy, they're also known as enthusiastic proselytizers. So when they freely admit that they have seen a little girl matching Suzanne's description and, in fact, she's back at their church awaiting some sort of ceremony, the PCs get extra-worried.
The loony Eurosians are happy to take the PCs to their church -- which, since we're in Downtown LA, is in the remains of the Disney Concert Hall -- and aren't threatened in the least by their presence. For one, the church is full of initiates and a few higher-ups, and four outsiders aren't going to be a threat. Two, they take the PCs in through the obvious, dangerous entrance (instead of the hidden, safe entrance): a darkened parking garage crawling with creepers (imagine a sentient tumbleweed made of tentacles that wants to eat you). The initiates, being more or less totally insane (as has been mentioned), walk willingly into the parking garage, confident that God will either protect them, if He has more for them to do in this world, or "call them home," as it were, via his heavenly agents. They call them heavenly agents; we call them Horrors.
One big scary creeper fight later, the PCs manage to escape deeper into the parking garage while their guides end up, uh, "nearer to Thee" (though in both games, one PC was wounded nigh unto death by the things). Our heroes find themselves in the foyer of Disney Concert Hall, and can hear deep, throbbing music coming from the auditorium itself. Inside, they find a bunch of initiates singing tuneless hymns, accompanied by the hall's formerly awesome pipe organ. Onstage is a shocking sight: Two priests stand over a young girl strapped onto a makeshift altar. One holds her arm out, while the other raises a meat cleaver as if to chop it off. On the floor beside them are a few other "prospective members," bound but not gagged, awaiting their turn. Behind the altar, intoning twisted scripture from a large tome, is the bishop, a barely human muckity-muck whose lower half has been replaced by what appears to be the body of a giant slug of some kind. Behind him, chained to a wall at the back of the stage, is a Horror, commonly called a hookface, either dead or unconscious.
Oh -- and the girl on the altar is Suzanne.
It's immediately clear what's going on: They're going to chop off Suzanne's arm and replace it with part of a Horror. Probably something from that hookface, by the looks of it.
Naturally, a hell breaks loose as the PCs attack. The methods varied between the two groups, but the aims and results were basically the same. Partway through the fight, the hookface awakens, tears itself free of its chains as if they were made of balsa wood, and rampages rather indiscriminately through the assembled. See, they only had a short window of opportunity to hack it to pieces before it woke up, after which... well, that thing that happened.
The Friday night group ended up being almost all pure humans, with one exception. That was interesting and unexpected, though not statistically improbable. It meant that, on the whole, they were very well-equipped, and the thought of Suzanne receiving a Graft against her will seemed a little more repugnant. The Saturday morning group was the opposite: two d6 Human Nature/d10 Horrific Nature types, one d8/d8, and one pure human.
The latter group was seriously effective in combat, thanks to their Grafts. Where the Friday group had a bit of trouble taking down that thousand-claw (even going so far as running over it with a semi), the Saturday morning group nearly one-shotted it, thanks to one character's high Violent Trait (d12) and combat-applicable Tool (a weaponized stripper pole) and Graft (a toad-like tongue, often used to wield the pole). Still, the Friday group was more effective at range, which was important.
One character in each group ended up getting a large vehicle as a tool (a semi Friday night, and a Coast Guard dump-truck Saturday morning), and that vehicle ended up being mechanically useful exactly once for each of them. However, in narrative terms, they were very useful: They gave the PCs the assumed ability to get to the Ruins in a hurry, plus the ability to haul pretty much anything they wanted.
Character creation was quick enough, and we definitely weren't short of time, despite an investigation scene, a talky scene, and three combats. And they weren't wimpy combats, either -- even the Saturday group was worried in that last combat against the initiates, priests, bishop, and hookface. Well, I mean, who wouldn't be? They were outnumbered five to one by the initiates alone. Every combat scene felt like it had real risk. The one character who never had anything to worry about (the stripper-fu fighter) was also maximized for combat (d12 Violent, 17 PD, 8 Vigor), so I didn't really have a problem with it. I mean, if that's the one thing your character can do well, they should be able to do it well.
Friday night, I forgot to include all the mental attacks I'd wanted (every time you see a Horror...), so that meant that the Saturday group got it in spades. I regret not integrating those vehicles into the narrative more, but after a while there just wasn't a place for them. I didn't want to tell them "Hey guys, don't take those big vehicles!" because I wanted them to just make characters with as little input from me as possible.
Probably the most successful element, though, was popping dice. It was just fun in play, and the players really seemed to enjoy it.
A few changes I'm making to the manuscript as a result of the playtests:
- Spend a Hit in combat to do something other than cause a Wound. We had a player want to shoot the cleaver out of the priest's hand, and off-the-cuff I said he could either do damage or disarm the guy. It's a real no-muss, no-fuss solution to "combat maneuvers." If you want to disarm the guy, knock him down, or grab him, spend a Hit -- or spend 3 Hits to do all three.
- Wounds and Shocks proved to be problematic as written. Not because they didn't work, but because they were kinda... dull. Plus, when it came right down to it, I really didn't want to impose steps backward. Instead, Wounds and Shocks will be assigned a die type, just like everything else. When you attack someone with a Wound or Shock, include that die in your pool. So instead of Wounds and Shocks making you less effective, they make your opponents more effective. It's a little more heroic that way, too.
- Bonds need to be reworked to be a little more open. The current implementation is pretty clearly an artifact of the Game-Fu contest that spawned this thing in the first place, and there's no need to keep it as-is. Bonds will be split into Allies (PCs) and Contacts (NPCs), with a series of rather generic phrases instead of the trust/distrust/etc. thing I have now. Plug the Ally's or Contact's name into the blank, assigned a die type, and you're done. For example, "Sharky can't be trusted" or "Cooper has my back." It makes them easier to use in play, and is reflective of how the players were phrasing their Bonds anyway, when they used them.
Thanks again to all my playtesters! And to Larry Harala, who didn't show up for the Saturday game, but has taken a copy of the rules home and will be playtesting it out in Utah to atone for his disgraceful absence!