Core: Artifact, Astrological signs, Talking animals. Peripheral: Halloween, Alternate history.
Artifact: It's a McGuffin, the players start with it. Once a year it lets you rewrite reality (if you believe strongly enough in something) and the government wants it back. You've got 364 days to sort this out. Astrological signs: It's the system. Talking Animals: As of yesterday, all animals have roughly human intelligence and can talk. They're still animals though, puppy still wants walkies. Halloween: Kind of a tack-on, but it's the activation date. Alternate history: Well, all this stuff didn't happen, did it?
October 1983; Thatcherite Britain. Self-identified members of the AnimalLiberationFront? break into a government laboratory and free all the chimps, nick something of great importance.
November 1st, 1983; Britain awakes to find their pets asking when breakfast is.
You awaken in the aftermath of a midnight chimps-are-free celebration party to find "Miss Batty" the so-called witch dead and the world changed. You suspect that you might be in trouble.
Fourteen years pass. The world is a different place, but you're still in trouble...
What's The World Like?
Most of the world is pretty much unchanged. Air/port security is quite a bit tougher than now on importing animals - but there's still more than a few people exporting talking animals; often for illegal purposes. Not as many people as you might hope turned to vegetarianism, though almost all the farming moved abroad.
Animals can do quite a lot of jobs, and do so. They haven't had a trade union movement yet. Those adverts of chickens running call centres? Those aren't CGI.
Whacko churches declaimed the work of satan - but most mainstream churches saw it as a chance to recruit. The manger scene is recreated all over.
Part of the government realised what it had lost. Anti-terrorism regulations got brought in much sooner, and there was a great cracking down. This part of the world is busy having an anti-environmental-campaigner panic and terrorist clampdown.
Forget that - what do you do?
Ah, glad you asked. Well, you probably have a day job. But outside of that, you panic and try to stay ahead of the government. For just a few weeks more. Because this time, you're SURE you know what made the stone work...
So, whatever you normally do - what you're going to do now is run around, protect yourselves - and hopefully change things for the better again.
So who are you?
The remainder of the group that stole the stone and witnessed its activation, family and trusted friends. If you really really want to be a talking dog (or whatever) then fine. It's not like it'll stress the mechanics.
Creating your character:
You need a name.
Choose a sign of the zodiac.
What is it that made you choose to free animals?
You need a kicker: What is it that alerted you that you were in trouble.
GMing this mess
Action movie: Agents chasing after the PCs who have something they must keep away.
Comedy: Come on, talking animals?
Horror: There's some pretty nasty stuff on both sides of animal liberation...
Russell Grant (or your local equivalent) is, somehow, tacked in to the perfect wonder of astrology and is (as of this timeline) absolutely and perfectly correct as far as the predictions go for your characters. Instead of rolling, you check the horoscope. You are entirely encouraged to check the horoscope for the day in-character before deciding what to do!
(I'll paste in a chunk of horoscopes, for f2f play - for pbp use realtime ones.)
Everything you try to do that isn't covered by your horoscope? You fail. This system is "Read the horoscope, or say no." No-But, of course.
The players also have an element of narrative control. They can invoke a rewrite of local reality, changing a result, adding or subtracting facts, whatever they like. This is an event actually occurring in the game world, one which those attuned to the mystical powers in play can notice and react to. Specifically, the characters should see it - their zodiac symbol spraypainted on walls as graffiti etc. And they know what would have happened, no need to separate player and character knowledge.
This token recharges when an event occurs which seriously inconveniences the character (which can be immediately) - choosing some of these problems is part of character creation. (Much like nWoD? character flaws)
Research ALF etc.
Work out the opposition.
Guidelines for turning astrology into results.
A5 player scenario handout
Character sheet (I'm thinking make it look like a page from a newspaper)
I hate brainstorming. Or wait, do we have to call it mindshowering now? Brainwashing was better.
Anyway. First I just sorta threw the elements about a bit and didn't come up with anything. Then I split each element up into "Players want / players use / players fight" and wrote down some ideas for each of those - and still couldn't combine them into anything gamelike. (Some good story ideas, plenty of good ideas that use only two elements, may post them up later) Then I asked for help at the pub, and got some good ideas which I couldn't see turning into a game. (The waving-hands rhythm game looked the best, but leaves no room for plot.) Then I generated every possible combination of four elements (there are 35, and DUH you generate them the same way you generate the cascade of binary numbers) and wrote them on index cards and stared at them for while. And then I took the dog for a walk and the idea came to me, fully formed. Change of scenery to generate ideas - I always do my best work on the bus or train. I should remember this. (Though the idea is still kinda bland) Then I added the "Do I want player narrative control?" thought, after reading someone's criticism of the everway system (which I am shamefully being inspired by) and deciding 'yes I do'.
Whose dog is singing? Fabulous prizes to be won! (Pg 37.)
With the today's release of Patrick Nally (Pg 4.) we are here proud to reprint our original exclusive that lead to his arrest:
Everyone today has doubtless already been startled with animal stories, but here is one more that might shock you.
Last night, the Jackson Laboratory was broken into and all of the monkeys were released onto the grounds. The ALF (Animal Liberation Front) claimed responsibility. Had last night been any normal night, we would doubtless be covering the front page with this story. If only because it involves monkeys flinging poo at policemen.
But last night all the animals started talking, so this story appears less important. But perhaps it is not.
We were told by one witness, who works as a guard at the site: "They were working on the brain, here! Trying to discover why chimps and cats can't talk, important stuff! These hooligans rushed in and started smashing stuff. I did my best, but it's not like I could have stopped them."
Stop the press! The police believe that they have found a safehouse used by the criminals responsible for the break-in, and were seen to remove a body.
Will you be lucky today? Your stars, read by our stars! (Pg 38.)
So here is how it went down. You called yourself a member of the ALF (and why was that? Did you really care about the cause, or were you more interested in hanging out with them?) The ALF being more a flag of convenience than an organisation, you pretty much did your own thing. So one dark Halloween evening, you got involved in a raid on the Jackson labs. Broke in, stole some stuff, wrecked some equipment, let all the chimps out - and then bailed out.
That night, you all partied. Smokes and coke. Much drinking. Shelly, who had organised the thing, got drunk and then got all mystical and stuff talking about crystals and the age of Aquarius. She does that sort of shit, when she's not letting monkeys go.
Then she exploded.
You legged it. Got the hell out of there and puked up and fell asleep.
You woke up with a godawful hangover and your dog licking your ear.
And when he asked when you were going to take him outside for a piss you almost shat yourself.
Since then, things have been different. Different all over, sure - animals talk and everything gets crazy; but different for you specifically.
Suddenly unless you were very careful, nothing would ever go right. Stuff you KNOW you're good at would just break. And sometimes you'd see things out of the corner of your eye; or symbols graffiti'd onto walls. And sometimes you'd get deja vu, except everything was slightly different.
Oh, and some people are after you. Plain clothes cops, maybe - except cops don't carry guns.
And did I mention that the government has a new favorite phrase; "Terrorists" to describe you?
Ok, fiction piece over - here's what's going down.
There's a powerful piece of magic, left over from goodness knows when. You've no idea what it is or what it's been called really, but Shelly called it the zodiac stone. She touched it, and changed the world. Animals (down to the size of mice, anyway - some of the larger spiders) can now talk. And think; though they don't have the same priorities or morals as people do. Animals aren't, for the most part, NICE.
This change, oddly, was localised to Britain and those territories which still call themselves British.
Fourteen years passed, and the world is different again. For the most part, people have settled down about the talking animals. There's a larger number of animal freedom supporters around than before - but the government has cracked down pretty hard. Exporting talking animals abroad is big business, after all. (And, maybe, there's something more to it.)
Some part of the magic sticks with you. This is both good and very bad. Especially since you don't really know how to control it.
The things you HAVE learnt: 1. Your zodiac sign has something to do with it. The astrology printed in one particular newspaper is scarily accurate for you, now. 2. Sometimes, when things are especially bad, you can conciously call on the magic to try and fix everything. 3. The magic is more powerful around halloween. 4. You can't leave the country. When you try, you wake up the next morning and it's as though you'd never left. (Though you remember vividly leaving.)
If you don't feel like playing the traditional long-form game and coming up with your own campaign in this world (and, frankly, who's got the time nowadays?) here's the short-form one-shot game.
It is three weeks (say three, though exactly how many depends on how much time you've got) before halloween and you THINK you've figured out how to get the stone to do its big-change thing.
All you have to do is keep the stone out of everyone elses hands for that long.
The game starts with the police kicking down your front door. Go.
Sample characters. Important for giving sample kickers and bangs - and fleshing out the setting.
Flesh out the g*ddamn setting!
The talking animals stuff somehow ended up tertiary, when it was the core 'whoops, everything exploded' setting! Fix that.
And yes, even with a gameplay mechanic this simple, people find holes. Explain the various ways people could choose horoscopes, and the consequences of letting the players choose.