The Ghost of Christmas Future Imperfect

We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.

Want some Hobomancer T-Shirts, Happy d20 Keychains, or other Hex swag? Good news. We’ve got a store at Zazzle now where you can order all sorts of Hex merchandise. I’ll personally be picking up some Hobomancer playing cards in the near future.

If you read last week’s blog, you saw how I’d run a trashy 80s fantasy version of My Fair Lady directed by the South Park guys. For that one, I had plenty of time to think about the basics and work out the details. Usually you don’t have that luxury, so this week I’m going to share an example of running a randomly generated premise in real time.

At Archon over the weekend, I ran a Players’ Choice game, which means the players get to decide what game I run for them. Since it was Sunday morning at a con that hands out free booze and nobody’s brain was firing, they decided to leave it up to The Book of Dumb Tables, which the Random One-Shot script is based on. We rolled on both sets of tables and the players picked the one from The Book of Dumb Tables 2, which was “A Dark Comedy Version of A Christmas Carol as directed by The Coen Brothers.” Since there were three players, we decided that it made sense for them to play the three ghosts and they started making their characters.

That’s when I realized that the obvious story for this concept wouldn’t work for an RPG. Most people, upon hearing the premise, would expect the plot structure of A Christmas Carol set in a Coen Brothers world with Coen Brothers humor and tone, but each ghost in the Dickens story “stars” in its own vignette of the story, which is exactly the opposite of how RPGs work. So the first step in making the premise work was throwing out the structure you’d naturally expect. Luckily, the core plot of “three ghosts redeem a bad guy” still works. The ghosts are just working as a group, not a three-man tag team.

With the Dickens element covered, I needed to decide how to work in the “dark comedy” and “Coen Brothers” bits. Since the Coen brothers tend toward dark comedy, I decided to focus on the Coens. Many of their movies feature supernatural (or seemingly supernatural) elements in a stylized but mostly mundane world. O Brother, Where Art Thou is full of mythical creatures, Hudsucker Proxy has a magical clockman and an angel, The Man Who Wasn’t There has UFOs, and even the Warthog from Hell in Raising Arizona and The Dude could easily be interpreted as not-quite human. Since the game had at least some kind of Christmas theme, we decided that the characters would spend their downtime working in the place where (the modern American version of) the Christmas spirit is alive year-round: the fucking mall, temple of disastrous consumerism.

The introduction of the story was brief, but the players threw in enough flavor to hint at a hellish ghostly bureaucracy that might be fun to play around with at a later date. For example, one of the ghosts had recently been promoted to Christmas ghost and was previously the Ghost of Tax Audits Future, so she was determined to do well on her first assignment out of fear of being sent back to the Eternal Revenue Service. Once the characters were established, I had to give them their assignment.

Since the game was set in modern day America, my first instinct for a Scrooge with lots of dark comedy potential was Donald Trump, and since all three players had been in my M-Force game the day before and didn’t seem like raving racists, I felt reasonably safe that I wouldn’t offend anyone by going with The Donald. Luckily I was right and once they realized that Trump was far too obstinate to change his ways because some ghosts kept him up at night, the players managed to convince the aliens who had put that thing on Trump’s head that they could mine Earth for plastic without destroying humanity (It makes sense when you’ve got all the details. Trust me on that). It ended up being a short game (less than two hours), but the players seemed to enjoy themselves, I had fun, and it was very different from the average convention game, which is exactly what randomly-generated premises are supposed to be.

Like this? Want to see more? Support me on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *