Thursday, August 7, 2014

[Guest Post] Viewscream: Black Widow, Brown Recluse AP by Misha Polonsky

I thought I'd cross-post an Actual Play from +Misha Polonsky's blog for the session of +Rafael Chandler's Viewscream we played in last week. While yesterday's review of the game wasn't entirely positive, the game is - and was - still a lot of fun in play.

Viewscream, as mentioned yesterday, is a VARP (Video Augmented Role Play) game in which players take on the roles of four officers (Bridge, Engineering, Medical and Weapon) aboard a crippled starship, cut off from one another but able to communicate via viewscreens throughout the ship. Each role has specific GM-like responsibilities, as well as details on personality, character relationships and backgrounds. They all have a list of problems, each of which can only be solved by another of the crewmembers, who have a limited number of successful and unsuccessful solutions to provide.

This is a sci-fi horror game, featuring betrayal, in-fighting, paranoia, and all that other ugliness that comes out humans are trapped together and have to struggle for survival.

Without further ado, here's Misha's AP (I'll add my own post-game reflection at the end):

Black Widow, Brown Recluse


If you haven't played the ViewScream scenario, Black Widow, Brown Recluse, but plan to, I highly advise that you stop reading now.

As River Song always says, "Spoilers!"


The officers are stranded aboard a Vernian warship called the Black Widow, and the artificial intelligence, "Recluse," has gone antipathic and killed the rest of the crew. Taking her offline has caused major damage to the navigation system, life support, and shield array. Fragments of Recluse are still active in isolated sections in the ship's code, but it gets worse. A squadron of hostile xenomorphs called the Khauss, who are native to this sector in space, have landed on the ship and are bent on finding and destroying anyone still alive.

Backgrounds, Technical Issues, and Enhancements

I played Medical, +Michael Cugley played Engineering, +James Boldock played Weapons, and +Robert Ruthven played Bridge.

Before starting the game, the four of us went over our role sheets and marked down which of our solutions were successes and failures while fleshing out details pertaining to our relationships with each other and any dark secrets listed for our characters.

Medical, for example, has a secret addiction and doesn't trust Engineering. Engineering has a major, personality shift after solving a problem. Weapons thinks Engineering is a traitor and later realizes Bridge has been lying the whole time. Bridge secretly did something horrible that involved the ranking officers on the ship and must confess as soon as he's called out on it.

Typically, a game of ViewScream should only last 60-90 minutes, but we spent the first half hour dealing with major technical issues: connectivity problems, voice lag, and being unable to unmute our mics due to a glitch in a particular Hangout app. Normally, players should stay in character and take advantage of such issues by attributing all technical problems to the ship's communication system, but it was too horrible and caused serious dead air for the game, while Weapons and I kept reconnecting and unable to unmute ourselves.

There's really not much to the video, but we managed to restart the Hangout and continued playing the game, just not live on-Air.

One of the cool things ViewScream encourages is to utilize props, backgrounds, camera angles, and effects to add more drama and flavor to the game. Bridge set the camera up at an extreme angle on his face which helped his character seem more nervous and heightened the tension. Engineering had an awesome strobe light effect to simulate the ship's lights not working properly. I actually wore latex gloves with a white shirt (lab coat) and sat outside on the deck, with a bunch of plants in the background to portray a botanical garden - one of the locations written on my sheet.

Actual Play

Bridge and Engineering began by trying to patch Medical and Weapons through and asking about everyone's status. They also started talking about some of their problems. Bridge was losing pressure and needed help from Engineering, while Engineering lost contact with the external sensors, requiring Bridge's help, and soon mentioned an infestation of vermin-like xenomorphs, which only Weapons could help with.

By the time we got the technical issues under control, I was calling for status reports and asked Engineering to help me with my first problem - fixing the proton coil, which was in crisis mode, so that we could get the emergency relays working. I also started scratching my neck and purposely repeating things, as though I forgot I had said them, to allude to my secret addiction.

Engineering agreed to fix the proton coil but mentioned his leg was crushed and leaking blood. I told him I'd send over a vascular nanite scanner through the vacuum tubes and walk him through the process in exchange for fixing the proton coil. Our solutions were both marked successes, so we were cooperating for now.

I soon described hearing strange sounds coming from the purgative airduct, alluding to my second problem about running into a hostile xenomorph on board. Bridge asked what was wrong, and I said I was off to check the noises out.

I should also mention that each role has a list of locations on board the ship that only they can access. As I previously stated, the characters are cut off from one another, so each role can only access their respective locations.

Anyway, Engineering continued to ask Weapons to help with the infestation problem, and I believe Weapons talked about cascading decompressions along the hull fractures, asking Engineering to help vent the chambers.

Engineering told me he fixed the proton coil and received the nanite scanner, which I walked him through to help patch up his leg. I repeated what I said about hearing strange sounds again and going to check out the purgative airduct, playing on my memory problem due to the addiction.

Meanwhile, Bridge and Engineering continued trying to solve each other's problems. As Bridge started heading to the nav-sys control room, he began complaining about his head not feeling so well and losing oxygen. I said there should be some electrodes in the control room he could hook up to his head, and I'd help out remotely with a neural hybrid monitor.

I reached the airduct and described a slimy trail heading back to the botanical garden. I also went into my third and last problem and mentioned to Bridge that the repair drones were menacingly following me around and that Recluse's AI subroutines weren't responding to my signals. I secretly told Bridge that I didn't trust Engineering and thought he may have been responsible for Recluse going haywire, because a similar event occurred a while back on the starship, Tarantula. This wasn't entirely true, of course, but it's what I made up on my sheet for why I didn't trust Engineering. Ultimately, it's what my character believed. I also continued scratching my neck and arms more and went back to the botanical garden.

Bridge, Engineering, and Weapons continued discussing their problems and trying to solve them while wondering what was up with me and all that scratching. They didn't think much of it, and soon I was patched back in to talk with Engineering and Weapons.

Engineering still had an infestation problem and needed Weapons' help, and I was in serious withdrawal and freaking out about a xenomorph in the shadows of the trees inside the garden. Weapons said he'd help us out, and Engineering asked me about the scratching and whether they were allergies. I said not to worry about it and freaked out again about the xenomorph in the shadows, as though I was seeing it for the first time. Weapons finally helped us out, activating weapons and turrets remotely to take care of the arthropod-like aliens.

Bridge was still on his way to the control room, and I head to the elemental spore supply but ended up in the respiration scrub conduit after the supply room had been overturned by repair drones. Bridge reached the control room, and helped me with the drone problem before attaching the electrodes to his head. In turn, I monitored his vitals and neural patterns until they were back to normal, and we successfully solved each others' problems.

I had two solutions left on my sheet, both marked as failures. Weapons had a problem with his left eye; he got hit pretty bad, and there was internal bleeding. I said I'd head to the biorecycling plant and try to help with an extracellular centrifuge, but I needed to visit the botanical garden first.

Engineering successfully solved all three problems for Bridge, Weapons, and I, and all three of his problems were solved, so he started heading to the escape pod. He mentioned to Bridge about my, "allergies," and Bridge, Engineering, and Weapons all agreed I was acting much too peculiar.

Bridge requested help from Weapons to stop a malfunctioning security droid, while Weapons needed Bridge's help to access the photon divergence systems and get them back online. Weapons had enough successes to help all three of us, but Bridge only had two successes and two failures to work with, so unfortunately Weapons got the shaft. If I remember correctly, Bridge tried helping Weapons using a gravitational shift emitter which failed.

Having taken a detour at the botanical gardens, I proceeded to get high and had a private conversation with Bridge, whom I trusted the most, where I finally confessed to my secret addiction. I mentioned that back on Tarantula, I obtained samples of Khauss larvae and discovered I could latch them onto my skin to experience a euphoric and hallucinogenic high in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Though I was high and giggling, I felt guilty, because I believe I was the cause of the Khauss invading our ship. They knew we had their larvae and were angry with us!

Fortunately, Bridge kept my secret from the others and started to head to the escape pod, leaving me to finish dealing with Weapons' unresolved problems. I made it to the biorecycling plant but was unable to use the extracellular centrifuge, because Recluse messed with the temperature and humidity, causing the cells to deteriorate.

I was all set to escape, but Weapons had one last problem involving viral bacteria that were producing lesions on his skin. I double-teamed back to the elemental spore supply room to activate my retroviral pathogen sequencer, but due to the repair drones overturning the room earlier, I said the cultures had been scattered everywhere and were unretrievable.

It seemed as though no one was going to die on the ship, and the game specifically states that someone will die, so I apologized to Weapons and said that the bacteria would spread too quickly and kill him, before he could escape.

Weapons sighed and bravely told me to head to the escape pod; he would go down with the ship. I escaped, and we went through our endgame monologues.

Engineering already said his peace, when he escaped.

Bridge was full of guilt, as he confessed to screwing up Recluse's code and causing the virus which resulted in the death of the ship's captain and his fellow officers. He knew he'd be court-martialed and was ready to answer for his crimes. I don't remember exactly why he did it, but it was a shocker nonetheless.

I talked about my guilt over not being able to help Weapons out and for causing the Khauss to invade the ship due to my personal demons.

Weapons died in the end. Unfortunately, I don't remember what he said toward the end, or if he said anything at all.

Post Game Assessment

As Misha mentioned in his own post game analysis and I mentioned in my earlier review, we all had fun, though the game wasn't without problems. For one, James (Weapons) hadn't been able to read through his character sheet properly before play, and so he didn't know to deliver the cue which would have prompted me to confess my secret to the group. Because I was waiting for that cue, as Bridge, I kept framing new scenes as I was still expecting something to happen. Someone must have given one more success than than they should have been able to, because the session seemed to be moving towards completion with all problems resolved until Weapons brought up the viral bacteria problem (which isn't actually on the character sheet).

Mike, as far as I understand his character's description, was supposed to be a lot more argumentative at the start than he was, but at the end of the day, it's up to the player how they roleplay their own characters.

I'd definitely like to play again, so long as somebody else takes on the role of Bridge, because I quite fancy myself as an Engineering or Weapons type of character.

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