Nate and I met for our second and final session for The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, each of us pretty motivated for the respective “side,” in the curious fashion associated with the better examples of this genre. We began by discussing three important things.
1. New finishing conditions review. I went through the rules pretty carefully to see all the ways play might end, and I concluded that there are two ways and a new way.
The main textual way is to rack up Evidence or rack up Victims, as each has a threshold based on the other character’s scores; the other, related textual way is to drive down the scores which serve as the threshold for Evidence or Victims, so the current numbers for those turn out to qualify for finishing.
I hacked a new criterion. The rules include “nuances” comparisons of scores which may be used to specify the outcome. For example, let’s say the Hero has been victorious, and we also notice that Conscience > Control, then we may (not must) consider finishing by having the Killer commit suicide. Well, I decided that if any of the eight listed pairs for these comparisons hit their lowest and highest values corresponding to the greater/lesser symbol), then that’s an end condtion too.
One slight nuance of this is that the scores have no listed maximum, but their role in the environmental variables maxes out at 7+, so regardless of how high the score goes up from there, 7 is enough to qualify.
So that put us a lot closer to the end, with the Killer already at 7 Cunning and my Hero at the distinct disadvantage. As it stands, my only chances would be to get a score up to 7 so I could use Illumination, or to rack up Evidence, the latter being the only direct route.
2. Playing the environment, which was clearly necessary by now because we have a fairly isolated, asocial plumber, but the environment is maxed at (in American terms) “Ivy League,” or high-level elitism. You don’t have to “play my character” in many of the scenes, and for us it makes sense that a lot of play would be about grappling with social and psychological consequences of the events so far, rather than “I do this, oh yeah, then I do that” strictly from the characters’ point of view.
At the start of this session, the environment variables offer a great profile for doing this.
The environmental tone is a bit off-kilter, visually or aesthetically: it’s cloudy all the time. The social emotional state is similarly oddly happy – if there are problems, people don’t see them or consider them as problems.
Some things are right in the middle. The social moral state is between indifferent and honest. The social selfishness is between generous and selfish. The adeptness of society, which going by the variables refers to effective police and justice system, is between competent and mediocre. (Those of you familiar with the highly-nuanced Swedish term “lagom” should be wincing a little right now.)
Finally, the “enlightenment” of society, which is listed as disenfranchised to Ivy League so is perhaps better called privilege, is racked at the high end, even past Ivy League.
The net effect is disturbing: an elitist social scene where no one thinks anything is wrong, but no one is really very good or bad to others, law is merely adequate in objective terms, and anyone we meet likes it this way.
3. The enlightenment/privilege variable needed some reconsidering for the Swedish setting, in which income inequality and class-determined education are very different from the States. Nate and I talked about it and he agreed with me that the best conceptual touchstone was ethnicity, which has distinctive features here, especially in levels of subtlety and denial. Therefore, in our story, events are “in the bubble:” whatever the difficulties or problems may be, these particular Swedes (the NPCs in our story) are isolated from them in an exclusive-elitist way, and therefore may have all kinds of opinions without any need to contact, perceive, or understand anyone who’s not ethnically and culturally right inside their comfort zone.
Given our characters’ own identities, this also means the bubble is to be evident in the fiction only to an observer as a pervasive context, which I like very much.
The region matters for that too, in that I had considered it carefully when thinking about what this variable would mean for us. We’re talking about the western coastline of Sweden just south of the Norwegian border, and the cut-out map will show you that it’s a neat little archipelago region sprinkled with little towns. I’d originally chosen it because it features a long-standing, very well-in-place population defined by an ocean-going way of life, and it’s also a magnet for vacations for both Swedes and foreigners, but not a top-tier resort area, more of a getaway. When I was there last year, it was clearly popular with corporations and foundations from all over the world for retreats. There are some similarities to Dore County in Michigan, although less built-up.
How’d it go? The embedded video goes to the beginning of the second session, inside the overall playlist.
It won’t surprise you that we met the hacked criterion, with the Killer ultimately going silent and my Hero worn down to no lasting motivation (Obsession). But it was a good fight! The key quantity was Nate’s consistent gains in Plot Points, which he ruthlessly threw into every roll, to be gifted with yet more each time. The system has no death-spiral in this regard, as the framing and resolution rolls are independent, so this was wicked luck.
You can see us both reacting to this very bleak and sort-of deconstructive killer-wins story that ultimately serves as an indictment upon society, rather than some kind of “genius killer” plot.
For the record, the finishing scores were Obsession 0, Stability 6, Conscience 2; and Compulsion 4, Cunning 8, and Control 5; with Evidence remaining at 3 and Victims remaining at 2. That means the tone is sunny, the people are happy, the social morality is near-criminal, the social selfishness is middling, the enlightenment/privilege is way past Ivy League, and control/law enforcement is mediocre. Benno is exhausted, ineffective, and incarcerated, and Hjalmer is perfectly capable of safely killing again, when the mood strikes.
It’s all made especially grim because Evidence > Victims, implying that if anyone actually investigated, there’d be grounds for pursuing the case. But no one cares.