I’ve run long campaigns before but I’ve never really returned to characters in the way we did for this game. Everyone, myself and the players included, loved the characters and the setting of the Headmaster Ritual.
First, the Game
And previously, The Headmaster Ritual and the Headmaster Ritual Recap.
(I’ve already written about some of the ideas behind the setting here and here.)
In particular, I still regard the “Everybody is Cats” session we played of that game as a roleplaying highpoint for us.
We started to talk about returning to the world and the characters and I realized that if I did so, I would have to do something a bit more interesting than just more magical adventures in London. Or maybe, I felt a certain amount of pressure to do something more than “Se7en but it’s magical England”.
I also knew I wanted to make it less Morrissey-focused, partly since his going-off-the-rails seems to be doubling down every year, and partly because I’d already done it.
I realized that the idea of the playlist, which was very central to the writing process of the Headmaster Ritual (such as it is), could be more central. In fact, it could frame the entire adventure.
Brainstorming, I did not hesitate to choose the most obvious solution. The playlist represented the adventure’s length. When it ended, so did the adventure. Everything fell into place quickly after that. The Groundhog Day style repetition – and then, what would sort of work the playlist into the fiction? A music festival.
The seventies folk horror genre (Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw) occured to me as something to play with, since I love it. (I’ve in fact toyed for years with writing a folk horror GUMSHOE hack.) I forgot that I had already worked The Wicker Man into the Headmaster Ritual, like a dummy.
So I had a setting: Summerisle, from the Wickerman, I had the story, I had the high concept.
I made the playlist, mixing in the kind of stuff that fit in pretty well in The Headmaster Ritual with as much folk revival as I could find and appreciate. My patience for plaintive anti-nuclear testing strumming is limited indeed – songs about the Morrigan are entirely more to my taste.
How to Play
I was intimidated by having to keep everything straight between rotations. My plan became quickly to fashion a group of possible things that happen during the festival, write down during which song they occur.
This became my favorite thing in the game – when “Baby’s on Fire” began to play, Andrew playing Jenny knew what was about to happen, and every such moment like that created really interesting stuff.
The time limit also worked really well to create tension. We recently also played a game of Puppetland, and the hour time limit there created the same sense of freakout as the clock ticked down. Tension spurs action and decision making and that is the fun part of games.
What could have been better
As Gino, Andrew, and Chris play these characters more and more, I want to know more about the characters, to give them more opportunity to work with them. We had the first episode – but honestly, if we return to these characters, I’d love to find a way to give them more space to mess around.
I also am never happy with my performance as Ithaca Stout, who has the potential to be a great character (she’s certainly complicated enough) but I am not a competent enough actor or improviser to really do her justice.
- Certainly, the Wicker Man. One of the all time great horror movies. I’ve even recorded a podcast about it. Not the bees.
- On that note, the Golden Bough was a book I read in college that has been following me around mentally ever since.
- The music of Shirley Collins
- Hounds of Love by Kate Bush
- Hellblazer (I could never give you specifics but there are definitely issues set in the English countryside with a very specific sense of foreboding and terror)
- The FATE SRD is a great looking and highly usable website.