So, last night, we were scheduled to play part 2 of the Very Holiday Dungeon World Special. And then, about 15 minutes before the game, I saw on Facebook that one of my players had had a death in his family of someone he was close to and loved very much.
This did not bode well for the night. Grief is a profound emotion, and we can use gaming to process it, but when it is raw… it is best to take your cues from the player and see if they’re ready to process, or if they need a little escapism.
He needed some escape, so 10 minutes before the game, I threw my notes into a drawer and went for Plan B.
There’s a game that’s cropped up on /r/rpg on Reddit the past couple of weeks, called “All Out of Bubblegum.” It lends itself to high-speed action, lots of kicking ass, and drunkenness. In fact, drinking while playing is completely encouraged. Since the friend in question said he wanted to game and drink, I figured this would do well. But what plot to run?
Fortunately for me, one of my most creative gamer friends (and the DM of the Moving Forward campaign) was online at 5:50 (we nominally play at 6). Here’s a rough transcript of our discussion:
Me: I have a game in 10 minutes and I need a really good villain for a modern action story. One of the players had a death in the family today, so I’m changing tonight’s game to something more alcohol-oriented.
Steve: Damn… What do you mean by “modern”
Me: Like Die Hard. International kingpin… using supermodels to smuggle drugs?
Steve: Russian… Must be russian.
Me: I can do that. Russian mafia.
Me: Now to make it personal…. His kid sister gets recruited, and the next thing he knows, she’s in a Russian prison cell.
Steve:A crooked KGB agent can get her out, but the heroes need to clean up that mob first.
Me: Because if she’s in prison, she’s sort of safe. Outside, Molotov and his gang will just have her killed. Because she knows something.
Steve: And she lost a lot of product
Me: No, money. Which she hid. But she can’t tell her brother where it is. Until he gets her out.
Steve: Because Molotov has paid off a guard to see if she tells anyone
Me: Surveillance, all the time.
In less than 5 minutes, I had a story.
I texted the other two players and told one of them “We’re changing plans due to a death in the family. Can you stop and get some gum?”
Because my players are awesome, there was no hesitation. “Sure. Be there at 6:35.”
We ordered pizza and wings and poured drinks. When the bubblegum arrived, Carl stepped outside for a smoke. I handed out roles to the other two players.
“OK, you’re his younger sister, who’s currently in a Russian prison after her job as an international supermodel went wrong. You stole a lot of money, drug money, from your employers. The woman in charge at the agency is named Natalya, and she’s a mega-bitch. Got it?”
She nods, confident in this role.
“And you’re a dirty ex-KGB agent who knows this girl stole a lot of money, say….”
“5 million dollars?”
“Yes, perfect– enough to be too tempting to walk away from.”
Carl stepped back in, I explained the very basic mechanics of All Out of Bubblegum, and we were off.
Early on, I decided to modify the rule that says you lose bubblegum if you fail a non-combat role. I liked the idea that you lose bubblegum whenever you fail (this escalates you to All Out pretty quickly), so we went with that.
Between the prison breakout, where they rescued a Russian prostitute who had shown kindness to Mercedes (the sister), the helicopter hijacking, in which our action hero, off-duty Secret Service Agent John McStrongbad killed the pilot (Ivan Dogski’s cries of “Dat was my sister’s broder-in-law! You stoopid fat American!” went unheeded), and the flight to Milan (Madrid? No, Milan! Doesn’t matter– McStrongbad joins the Mile High club on the way), the PCs pretty much kept a high-energy mix of craziness and silly going all the way.
In Milan, they faced the first boss, Natalya, who ran the modeling agency and who had taken possession of the shoes in which Mercedes had hidden the Swiss bank account numbers necessary to get the $5 million. There were words, a shootout, and Natalya was ultimately knocked down by Ivan and throat-slit on the way out by McStrongbad.
Then it’s a quick trip into Switzerland, completely running the checkpoint with their little Swiss minivan.
They head to a safe house. McStrongbad wants to kick the Russian prostitute out of the car, despite their intimate moment at 3500 feet, and she objects, claiming to have a warrant for her arrest in Switzerland. McStrongbad shoots her in the face, despite Ivan’s protestations and attempt to stop this carnage from happening.
Finally, they get to a safehouse, clean up, and head to the bank. They find an incredibly calm, almost out of place banking establishment. Everything is clean and orderly. The teller is unfailingly polite, calling Mercedes “Madame,” and offering a secure room once Ivan starts talking about renegotiating their deal.
“Deal is off– I no longer want citizenship and house and condo and job and car– just citizenship and 10 percent of 5 million. You people– I want nothing to do with you!” This carries on for a while, and Mercedes steps out to ask the teller to split the checks, so to speak.
The bank manager and teller are waiting in the lobby for them with two cases when the party steps out. Mercedes checks the cases and hands them to McStrongbad and Ivan. The trio step out, get into their minivan, and head the 3 blocks to the American embassy. McStrongbad makes the call to his contacts in the U.S. government to finally arrange for Ivan’s part of the deal.
Then all hell breaks loose (cell phone still transmitting). Alexi Molotov, the head of this particular branch of the Russian mafia, ambushes them with twelve machine-gunners and a big black SUV. He threatens then, but by now, they’re all out of bubblegum, and Molotov’s remaining time on this plane of earthly existence can be measured in syllables. Just as he’s explaining that he will be killing Ivan and McStrongbad, but not before he rapes and kills Mercedes, McStrongbad and Ivan fake out a fight between the two of them, but jolt past each other, into the machine gunners, headbutting one, shooting another, while Mercedes kicks Molotov in the femoral artery with her titanium stiletto heels.
It’s all over in seconds, except Ivan now sees that a stray bullet has killed their driver. Operating a door at this point is impossible– he’s all out of bubblegum– so he pushed out through the sunroof and dives into the driver side window, pushing the driver out of the way. He gets control over the vehicle just as it goes over the side of the bridge.
Mercedes is pushed out by her brother and bobs to the surface. Sirens and emergency vehicles are converging. there’s a tense moment and then both McStrongbad and Ivan surface, each carrying a case from the bank. They’re taken in by the embassy to be debriefed and told their official stories.
It’s not until after Ivan has been separated from them and sent on his way that they get a chance to open the cases, which, naturally, have been switched. There’s a single, final shot of Ivan, opening the briefcase and a glow of joy lighting up his face.