I started playing tabletop in university with my friends. We used to play Everway, and also ended up trying Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, Cadwallon, and just recently I had my first game of D&D (4th ed, my conclusion being that I was awfully glad our GM was good at working out the maths, an area in which I do not excel). Now, I've GM'd several times, but all for Everway. Which is a fine system, and great for those tentative first steps because almost everything is so open to interpretation. However, on the other hand, everything is so open to interpretation at times it felt amazingly vague, like trying to herd clouds by waving your hands.
To sum it up, I wanted to try GMing a new system, and picked up the first core book for the new World of Darkness, where everyone is soft, vulnerable humans in a world of things that go bump in the night. Here's a summation of my first chapter.
On the very outskirts of Bath, near Odd Down, you’ll find Burnt House Road. And you’ll find number 16. To the south, it looks over miles of farmland – fields, trees, hedges, and the lush green of the midlands of England. To the north, the earth sinks, hiding the majority of Bath in a dip in the landscape. And in this house with the red tile roof and the white stone walls, our story begins.
The house has, in addition to an attic and a cellar, three floors with five bedrooms, two toilets, and a communal kitchen and lounge. The top floor is the home of Vincent Korrel, a student, and Tobias Mitchel, a fireman gaining some reputation at the fire station for bravery. On the middle floor, the house supervisor John Foskett, and his wife Debbie. The other room is occupied by Tom McNamara, who makes his living as a country vetinarian. The ground floor has just one bedroom, which is occupied by one Samantha Raven, a sculptor. Other than Vincent and the permanent residents, the Fosketts, none of the others had been in the rented accommodation terribly long, and didn’t particularly know each other. This was about to change, for on the night of January the 11th, 2009, Sam was having a nightmare.
She found herself, quite suddenly, in a small, wooden boat. Waves lapped softly at the sides of the vessel, and it rocked just a little as she got to her feet. There was a smell – terrible and overpowering, but some aspect of it was recognisable. Though it was surely night-time, for there was no light at all, she leant down and ran her fingers through the water. Her fingers came back oily and greasy, and she knew what it was. The lake was covered in some kind of petroleum. It began to burn, a hundred yards or so away, and she leapt into the water, to submerge herself and avoid the blaze. But the petroleum was deeper than she had expected – she never found water, and as the flames caught up with her, there was, for a moment, the feeling that the world was burning.
She awoke with a scream, to see light pushing through the curtains. It was almost the middle of the morning.
Coming back from work, Tom in his Landrover and Tobias on foot, the other two lodgers both noticed something odd. As soon as they got onto Sulis Manor Road, the birdsong seemed to vanish. As did the birds. It was, however, pushed to the back of their minds for the moment as they entered their house to find a note on the hallway wall. John the supervisor was calling a Tennant’s meeting later that evening. They all met in the lounge after the sun had gone down, and sat down, the television in the background displaying a local news report. When John came down, a large, overweight man in his mid forties, he went through some points – chief amongst them was a missing neighbourhood cat belonging to one Mrs Richardson, a tabby by the name of Tabs. He also mentioned that since several people had spoken to him about the broken boiler and subsequent lack of hot water, and he intended to see to it the next day. Just as he was mentioning that his wife Debbie – short, frizzy haired, with a job in the betting shop – would be doing Tarot readings in a week or so once she’d balanced her spirituality, the television died. The lights flickered and went out, and the neighbourhood was plunged into darkness as a power cut struck. John cursed liberally, and gave everyone a supply of candles to last the night. After talking for a while in the lounge, illuminated by torches and candles, they decided to get an early night. Which proved to be wise, as none of them would get much sleep.
Samantha had another dream, a different dream, where she found herself filling in a hole with a shovel, knowing she had to finish before dawn. She did not succeed, and before she woke up, in the cold light of dawn, she looked into the hole and saw a small, white hand, and the foot of a stuffed children’s toy. Tom too, had a dream. Of a little wooden boat, and a lake of petroleum. A dead raven floated on the surface, though he saw it had not drowned – rather, it had been strangled. And before the fire overtook him, too, he saw a burning torch held aloft by a small, pale hand. Both now awake in the darkness of the night, they heard faint sounds in the street outside their house – hushed voices and something scraping against metal. The both of them warily slid from their beds, waking Tobias on the top floor in the process, who plucked his spare torch and his fire axe from his cupboard and snuck down the stairs to meet with them. Looking out of Sam’s window, hiding behind the curtains, they saw two indistinct shapes clustered around the boot of Tom’s Landrover, trying to break into it. A couple of minutes of heated discussion, and they opened the front door, Tom and Tobias spilling out into the street to confront the two track suited lowlifes that were presumably after the animal tranquilizers Tom had left in the boot. Both sides postured, the thief bolstered by cheap alcohol, then took a swing at Tom, deciding that punching the seven foot tall fireman with the axe might not be a sensible prospect. He managed to dodge Tobias’s punches, but in doing so left himself wide open for Tom, angry about the attempt to break into his car, to punch him squarely in the nose, almost breaking it. The fight, however, had attracted additional attention, and ended quickly when John, fearsome in underpants, string vest, and shotgun, told the thugs to clear off, adding that he knew their fathers. Though the shotgun was empty – an heirloom, in fact, of his grandfather’s – they quickly took the hint and fled. As Tom checked his car to ensure nothing was missing or damaged too badly, John bemoaned his lack of sleep, since he’d been having a nightmare that woke him up before this disturbance. Sam asked what this nightmare might have been, and was shocked to discover that he, too, had had the boating dream. Tom mentioned that he’d had it as well, that same night, and after low and puzzled, worried conversation in the dark and unlit kitchen, they went back to bed – Tom and Tobias had early starts, after all.
The rest of the night passed without incident, though nobody got too much sleep. The others went to work, but Sam, who worked from her room, stayed a little later before leaving to go stock up on supplies in the centre of town.
As she left the front door, she realised something that, in the context of their late night conversations, seemed a little odd. She could hear birdsong, and looked around, but could not see birds, and what little investigation she could do over the garden fences of her street yielded no better resources. She did see one bird, though, skimming low over the gardens and vanishing beneath the line of the hedges.
In the early afternoon, after they had all returned from shopping and shifts, they talked more about their shared dreams and the strange disappearance of the birds. On that note, they decided to inquire about the neighbour’s cat and went to see Mrs Richardson, who told them that Tabs was ginger, six years old, loved tuna, and was still a Tom.
Our Tom, though, had to go back off of his lunch break after phoning the police about his car, leaving Sam and Tobias in the house, where they met up with their Superintendent, who told them quite cheerily that he had fixed the boiler, and installed a backup emergency generator, which is why the lights were now on. Sam remembered, though, that the lights at Mrs Richardson’s had been on, meaning that power must have been restored to the whole neighborhood…
In the meantime, the two of them went out into the back garden to see if they could find the source of the mysterious birdsong. It was then that Tobias noticed the small window at the base of the wall, and the crack in the pane of glass – large enough for a cat to squeeze through. Bending down, he and Sam found a couple of ginger cat hairs stuck in a fracture in the glass, and a faint smell of tuna on the patio. It was a fairly good bet that Tabs was in the cellar, but they decided to wait for Tom the vet to come home before they investigated. While they waited, they saw Debbie leaving the cellar, but no-one remembered seeing her enter. In due time, Tom came back, and they filled him in on what they had found, and went to get the key to the locked cellar from John, who said he didn’t remember seeing a cat, but would go down and look. After a long, awkward wait, our three protagonists decided to follow after John. Tom went first, but had no torch, and found that all he could see as he descended was John’s flashlight, hanging loosely from his hand and illuminating his foot.
He stood at the foot of the stairs. Eyes vacant, jaw slack. He didn’t move when Tom pushed him gingerly. He didn’t move when the others arrived. He didn’t move when they heard the sound of rustling wings. Or when Sam and Tobias’s flashlights scythed through the darkness, showing beaks and claws and shiny dark eyes. Birds of all sorts, but not fighting or quarrelling. In fact, not moving at all. As hundreds of eyes watched them, their flashlights gleamed off something metal, and they looked down. In the middle of the floor stood a stack of breezeblocks with what looked like a small motor atop it. It was covered in a red cloth. A small brazier stood nearby, and on the top of the makeshift altar lay the corpse of Tabs, chest cavity open. As they looked on in mounting horror, they heard the door at the top of the stairs slamming shut.
So there you go. Obviously I tried to keep the paranormal to a minimum while keeping it interesting, but I'd appreciate people's takes on it as a first try. From this I was considering going down the road of having them wake up back in their beds, two days later, to try and figure out what had happened, the basement being clean and showing no signs of anything strange. I'd also be interested in hearing your theories, tips, and general advice for someone who's still relatively new to GMing. Thank you in advance!