A Day At Night Rock City

By | June 4, 2016

Forthright Open Roleplay is, at its core, able to handle all sorts of adventures. Last weekend I got to experience this firsthand in a way that I had never anticipated thanks to a game we played with our editor, John Adamus. We brought John in because we wanted someone outside our design process to edit the book, helping ensure that what we’d written was understandable to folks who weren’t us. His edits helped us make the book much stronger between the Ashcan (finished in January) and Early Access (started in late April). Our schedules finally synced and we were able to sit down and play a game together. Caution: salty language ahead (which I mention because this blog is usually pretty G-rated).

John came in with a character already pre-created, Murray, the 6th-best guitarist in the 8th-best Stripes cover band in the world (or was it New Jersey?). One day, his guitar was struck by lightning and he learned he was born to rock (and make it big).

A rock-and-roll based game is something I never thought of for Forthright, but I wanted to see how far the system could be stretched (John’s motivation, also), and how far I could stretch my own knowledge of rock to make it work. They say that you only grow when you’re no longer in your comfort zone and, brothers and sisters, I’ve got to tell you I was outside my comfort zone.

Stepping through the Game Charter, we knew the game would have a Light Tone and would take place in Night Rock City, a neon-drenched city on the edge of hell that was founded when The Pelvis levered open a hole through reality with a mighty swing of his hips at the dawn of Rock and Roll. The main threats in Night Rock City were corporate music types led by LAME Incorporated (Lovely Angelic Music Engineering, which I think I forgot to bring up during the game) and the Hymn Squad: angelic prog-rocking footsoldiers working for The Man. We also had the Angel Parsons Project as a potential highlight, but that never got used.

Murray and the other two protagonists formed a band, “Ah Shit!”, with a purpose to save music from LAME Corp and become the best goddamn band in the fuckin’ world. Their Sanctuary was a huge Band Bus that had a fold-out stage with enormous speakers so they could bring the party with them. Mounted on the roof was the equipment for a trashy laser-light show (that could all aim at the same point and become an anti-vehicle weapon). The Band Bus had a staff of roadies to help the band and drive the bus.

During Team creation, Sarah and Ray were also coming up with their character concepts. Ray was Tommy Roach, a drummer who could not stop drumming who was thrown out of every previous band he’d been in because, to him, every moment of every song was time for a drum solo. Sarah was Bob, nicknamed “Pipes,” an Anaerobic GRRL POWER singer who left her previous band, the Harmonies, after they souled out to LAME Corp.

Bob kept in touch with Trysh Treble, a member of the Harmonies who was starting to doubt that the 6000-year contract she’d signed with LAME Corp was really a good idea. Tommy had been touched by The Thunderer, Norse God of Rhythm, who knew Tommy would have a roll to play in the Ragnarok-and-Rolla, the final battle between good music and bad. Finally, N’Sync’s Lance Bass (pronounced, throughout the game, as “N’Sync’s Lance Bass”) was Ah Shit!’s biggest fan and often sought musical advice from Murray.

While Sarah and Ray were writing up their protagonist sheets, I gave myself about 10 minutes to come up with a general plot outline. Because this was a one-shot, I wanted to incorporate all the concepts everyone brought to the table. Pulling out the stops, in fact, made outlining the story easier because I didn’t have to plan ahead or hold anything back. Taking inspiration from rock and heavy metal album covers in the late 70s/early 80s, I developed this general outline:

  1. Ah Shit! plays a gig somewhere (they decide)
  2. The Hymn Squad shows up to break up the concert
  3. Afterward, Ah Shit! learns their music didn’t sound as good as they thought they were playing
  4. Trysh Treble has a piece of information: her music is way too powerful, and it makes her nervous
  5. N’Sync’s Lance Bass calls for advice: N’Sync was recently boo’ed off the stage in Peoria, Illinois because their music sucked
  6. The Thunderer, if the sound oddities are mentioned to him, will recognize the beginning of the Ragnarok-and-Rolla
  7. The Ragnarok-and-Rolla will be fought between Ah Shit! and Murray’s old band
  8. LAME Corp is actually run by The Man, who is actually God.
  9. Lucifer champions everybody who hasn’t souled out to LAME Corp. He hangs out at a bar downtown, lounge singing. You can summon him just by calling his name, he’s cool like that.

Once I had that outline, we got going.

The band played in a parking lot of a parochial high school, next to an auditorium where an Antiques Roadshow was taking place. The kids were into the music, the parents weren’t. The kids were so into it, in fact, that they started rioting – one of them set a teacher’s car on fire. Tommy decided to try and put out the fire by vibrating a nearby hydrant open. . .which he did, but the hydrant itself smacked into the teacher, escalating the riot.

The Hymn Squad showed up, and a fight broke out. Tommy began drumming the angels into the ground by using them as drums. Bob used the power of her voice to challenge the angels, focusing their attention on her. Murray cleaned up (with a RIDICULOUS string of exploding d6s), disintegrating one of the Hymn Squad with the greatest windmill-swing power chord ever seen before or since.

While the fight was going on, the roadies packed up the bus and, as soon as the Hymn Squad was handled, they all got the heck out of there. Trysh and N’Sync’s Lance Bass reached out to Ah Shit! to tell them what they’d been experiencing. On the radio, WSTN, they heard a positive report about their performance. On TV, though, WHVN reported that they sounded terrible, and WHVN had video footage to back up that claim.

The band decided to go play a concert in WHVN’s parking lot to prove them wrong. But the roadies, after seeing the discrepancy in the reports, did a sound check. There was nothing wrong with the equipment, the band just didn’t sound good even though they were playing awesome. Tommy prayed to the Thunderer for guidance, and the Thunderer recognized that the time for Ragnarok-and-Rolla had come.

The band didn’t even have to be prompted to take the lead in the fight against bad music. They headed to Megido Arena, in the center of town, where the sound quality was perfect and unable to be interfered with by ancient covenant, to do battle. LAME Corp’s champion was Tender Mercies, the bluegrass convict band with hipster hairstyling that LAME Corp had turned Murray’s old band into. They flew in late, in a helicopter. While waiting, Ah Shit! hung out with Lucifer for a while, who wished them the best of luck and got front-row seats.

Turns out the Ragnarok-and-Rolla is played every year, whenever the imbalance between good music and bad becomes too great. Nobody knows the exact day of the concert, because no man shall know the hour. The last time LAME Corp won two years in a row, Nickelback became famous.

The battle of the bands was tremendous. Ah Shit! at one point played the entire soundtrack to Mad Max: Fury Road backed by a 42-minute long primal scream from Bob. Tender Mercies launched their latest hit, Return of Convoy, with special guest CW McCall, after playing their seminal favorite, A Gent of Frequent Trouble (a song whose title got increasingly hipsterish as the game wore on). Ah Shit!’s big final set was the theme to Greatest American Hero, followed by Magnum PI, followed by the Star Spangled Banner accompanied by laser-light show, Stairway to Heaven, and finishing off with Freebird.

During the Star-Spangled Banner, the roadies stole Tender Mercies’ helicopter, flew it over the crowd during the laser light show, then blew it up by focusing the lasers on it.  It was fuckin’ A man.

Tender Mercies, realizing they were in trouble, got The Man to resurrect special guest Johnny Cash. Together, they presented a set of I’ve Been Everywhere, Rusty Cage, Solitary Man, Hurt, Mercy Seat, and concluding with The Man Comes Around.

Ah, Shit! won by a narrow margin of 2 successes. Indie music triumphed, LAME Corp was defeated, and Johnny Cash told the boys of Tender Mercies, “I oughtta hurt you today for that miserable shitshow.”

The Man arrived to offer Ah, Shit! a contract, but they refused with extreme prejudice. The Man, not being one to take rejection lightly, cursed them to sound terrible for the rest of their days. But fortunately, throughout the session, they’d earned enough XP for a Boost and got Protection of the Goat, Lucifer’s personal mark of musical approval that negated The Man’s curse. And they went on to be so goddamn big it’s not even funny.

I’ll tell you that I never expected to play a rock band or to have a rock adventure with Forthright Open Roleplay. But it was terrific fun, we all enjoyed ourselves, and I learned that the game was more versatile than I’d given it credit for. I love playing this game, it’s solid enough that even I still have things to learn from and about it.

I hope you enjoyed this anecdote of actual play. See you next time!