Demonic Possession, Part 2 – The Inspiration

It isn’t really demon week anymore but as Halloween (weekend) is here I decided to “wrap up” what I started back then.

Previously I discussed a little about demonic possession and how it was handled in a couple of games I have played or read. This time it I plan to give you some pointers of what to watch for inspiration.

Movies and TV have given us a wide variety of examples of demonic possession. Mainly this works (for those who make them) because it present an opportunity to play up a wide range of our fears with little financial cost. Ie. it does not cost as to get someone to play possessed as it would cost to get someone in a suitable mask to play a space alien (or create a believable monster with CGI).

The effect of possession in roleplaying games is not as strong as in visual media. Most players can relate to their characters and into some extent to the NPCs but I doubt it is likely they will be as intimidated or related as they would be while watching what is actually going on. (I am not saying this is the case always. I am just using this assumption as the basis of choosing what movies to discuss.)

Spoilers from movies will follow.

possessionThe latest movie I watched in this genre was the Possession. It is not very imaginative when it comes to script but it does present an interesting MacGuffin to be used – the Dybbuk Box. In essence the box works as a demon prison. It demon is trapped in the box with personal items and it is forced to look at itself from a mirror for all eternity. Now I don’t get why the demon needs the personal items or why it is necessary to make its imprisonment torture but a similar item could easily be used in supernatural/horror games. An insane demon that can be freed to cause havoc is always fun.

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Wayward Sons – 1st Session & Playbooks

So we started our campaign two weeks ago. I had written five playbooks with Aki with following the ideas of the players in our gaming group. We had got together earlier to talk about the characters and so most of our group had a good idea of what kind of character they were going to play.

The main point for designing these characters was that they were more “a” than “the”. As the regular playbooks for hacks deal with characters that are the movers and shakers of their worlds in Wayward Sons the characters start out only as regular men and women. They have the possibility of grow to be the most important people of their kind – as well as turn into monsters along the way.

We followed the basic structure of Apocalypse World during this first session. Playbooks were distributed, players fill them out (complaining about bits and correcting others) and afterwards we discussed about the characters and their shared past.

As the established fact was that all characters had had their first paranormal encounter they all decided what was their Angle. (This was something that we quickly realised needed to be presented in the playbook as a choosable option). Within a little over an hour we had created a detailed history for the characters and a horrible mind-map for me to use as a GM as the foundation of the campaign.

Following the advices of AW and told the players that this session was about their characters. We followed them around, used moves and got into trouble. We did not have a fight though. This was actually something a realised only later on. Another thing I noticed was that Wayward Sons probably needs a little more flavourful 1st session sheet for GM.

The summary for the events of the first session:

The characters had arrived the the city of Rapid Falls in North Dakota following the cryptic hint from a Well-Dressed Man. They searched a safety deposit box to and found a large set of papers, photos and 8mm video. While going through the material they realised they were all connected to it and to each other somehow. It all seemed to have something to do with what their fathers and their fathers had done.

Following the leads from the documents the party searched the city archives and tried to make contact with the manager of the bank where the documents where held.

I confess I actually had a basic storyline in mind before we started the session (this actually being a part of a campaign we have been playing for almost two years). Nevertheless the players had a huge impact on the flow of the story and the clues found. It was all in all an excellent starting point for the campaign.

We are getting together to play the second session tomorrow. Hopefully we can work out even more problems with this hack and still have a good time.

The first five preliminary and “this needs some serious editing” playbooks as pdfs:

Notice – Yes. They are all pretty much work in progress. I shared them for feedback.

Wayward Sons – What’s It About?


Wayward Sons is a hack for the Vincent Baker‘s Apocalypse World. As I have already posted the GM prep and the Basic Moves for this hack I decided it was time to tell a bit more of what the game is actually about.

The stories of Wayward Sons take (by default) place at 1980s in a fictional South Dakota city much like Los Angeles and New York. It is a game on neon noir atmosphere, conspiracies, esoteric secrets and horror.

Since X-Files and the first seasons of Supernatural I have planed on running something similar to them but never got around to do this. When Aki GMed some tremulus to our group during this summer I knew I was hooked with the AW engine and wanted to build a hack of my own to suit my needs for the game.

Premises for the Wayward Sons differ a bit from most AW hacks. The characters are not the best of the best, or moves and shakers. They are just average (or pretty near to it) people who are drawn to the world of supernatural horror by events they could not avoid.

During the game it is possible for them to achieve closure or to become one of the most famous hunters of supernatural. But it is much more likely that they will die, go mad or even turn into inhumane monsters they used to hunt. The threat of Taint is ever present on their stories, forcing them to balance between what needs to be done and what they are willing to do to achieve it.

The world where the characters live in is wrapped in paranoia and secrets. They know that most people wouldn’t believe them and have to act under the threat of being locked up in a mental institute. This means that one of the key elements will be trust.

Trust acts a bit like Hx in Apocalypse World or Trust in tremulus, but it is actually inspired by ColdCity. It is used to measure the trust between the character (and some NPCs they regularly interact). But as opposed to tremulus it does not stand for the secrets you know about another character it simply means how willingly you would place your life on their hands.

In addition to this Wayward Sons must be pretty simple. I have had my share of over complicated rules and that is one of the reasons AWengine worked for me. This also means that I will be able to use it to run games set in various different times than just the 80s – our current campaign has had adventures in wild west, 1940s, cyberpunk and in space and I want this hack to allow us to continue on that line.

The picture used in the teaser is from Supernatural and used without permission. No challenge to the owners of the franchise intended.

AW-Hack: Basic Moves

After surviving the birthday party that was held during last weekend I noticed the complete lack of second part of my input for Demon Week. I’ll probably get back to it in some point but for now I’d like to present the revised basic actions for by Apocalypse World hack.

These basic moves are mainly inspired by tremulus though browsing through some other hacks has also given me some ideas. As stated previously these might change a bit at some point. Any ideas and suggestions are more than welcome.

Act Under Pressure (Roll + Stat)
When you take an action that risks failure or opposition, roll with one of the basic stats.
On a 10+, You succeed.
On a 7-9, the GM offers you a worse outcome, hard bargain or a cost. If agreed upon, you succeed.

Assist/Interfere (Roll + their trust to you)
When you Assist or Interfere on someone’s action, roll their Trust to you.
On a 10+, They take +2 (Assist) or -2 (Interfere) to their roll.
On a 7-9, They take +1 or -1 to their roll, and you are exposed to the outcome of the roll.
On a miss, They lose of point of Trust to you

Fight (Roll + Violence)
When you attack someone or something, roll+Violence. The roll stands for the entire combat. Every participant in a combat inflicts its Harm to the other.
On a 10+, Choose 1
– You deal Harm as established
– You deal +2 Harm but suffer Harm
– They change behavior and do what you want.
– Choose one from below
On a 7-9, They choose 1:
– Flee
– Fall back to a secure location
– Back off calmly
– Give you what they think you want

Influence (Roll + Presence)
When you want someone to do something for you, you may use your wits, charm, looks etc. to ask someone to do it.
On a 10+, they’ll do it but might ask for something in return.
7-9, they’ll do it but will ask for something in return.

Instinct (Roll + Discipline)
When you need to know what others are thinking, meaning or thinking you need to trust on your Instinct. Asks are directed to the GM.
On a 10+, Ask something, GM gives a relevant and usable answer.
On a 7-9, Ask something, GM gives you something interesting, build on that.

Investigate (Roll + Intellect)
Looking for clues in a scene.
On a 10+, choose 1:
– You find something hidden
– You find something lost
– You find something forgotten
– You find a Good item (GM’s choice)
– You find a Minor item (your choice)
– You find a Clue (+1forward)
– Pick one from the following:
7-9, choose 1:
– You find a Minor item (GM’s choice)
– You find a Clue (+1forward), but the situation escalates
On a 6 or less, there either is nothing else to be found or the GM may hold 1 against you.

Reason (Roll + Intellect)
When the clues are gathered, the libraries visited and the old dusty tomes read the player may use Reason to tie in the knots.
On a 10+, Ask something, GM gives a relevant and usable answer.
On a 7-9, Ask something, GM gives you something interesting, build on that.

Spark of Taint (Roll + Discipline)
Whenever you commit an inhuman act (kill someone in cold blood, work magic, eat human flesh etc.) make roll+Discipline.
10+ You remain unaffected by the Taint
On a 7-9, You are fighting the Taint. You may choose to advance it.
On a miss, your Taint advance a step.

GM Prep for Wayward Sons

As stated I started to work on a Apocalypse World hack this week. The GM prep was actually quite easy to write as I have been planing this kind of campaign for quite a long time.

Now I do not make the mistake of calling what I have written ready. Actually I believe it will go through some changes still. But I do see this as an interesting opportunity to share the writing process to gain futher ideas and to hone it.

Again – I used the Simple World structure when making this.

Wayward Sons
An Apocalypse World hack

The characters are ripped from their conventional lives by some unnatural event that forces them on the move. They dedicate their lives to investigate the strange and unexplained in secrecy. For they know that hidden forces are always working against them and that the general public would judge them insane. What they do not know that they are all on the road to turn into the very monsters they hunt.

Fitness: physicality, endurance, agility
Presence: influence, charm, looks
Violence: aggression, fighting, shooting
Intellect: knowledge, education, rational thinking, reason
Discipline: willpower, mental strength

Assign to stats: +2, +1, +1, 0, -1

Set Trust to other characters at the beginning of the game by distributing points equal to the number of characters. Trust can be set from 0 to 3.

When you Help or Hinder a character roll THEIR Trust to you +roll.

Additional Stats:


Gain experience for:
+1 for invoking own Trait to escalate the situation
+1 for each Condition gained
+1 for each esoteric secret learned (from old tomes etc.)
+1 after each session
+1 after each session when the group votes for “who made the game most interesting”

Using experience for:
-1 to re-roll
-1 to activate a Sigil
-1 to gain narrative leeway
-n to power up a ritual (depends on the level of the ritual)
-2 gain a new Trait (up to maximum of 12 Traits)
-2 to reduce Taint level by one
-4 to mark an advance

Each character starts with 0 points of Taint and a Taint Move:

Spark of Taint
Whenever you commit an inhuman act (kill someone in cold blood, work magic, eat human flesh etc.) make roll+Discipline.
10+ You remain unaffected by the Taint
On a 7-9, You are fighting the Taint. You may choose to advance it.
On a miss, your Taint advance a step.

Character Concepts:
Journalist (pushing for extra info, gaining influence with public writing, heavy drinking)
Medium (contact to ghosts, sensing weird stuff, being mysterious)
Collector (weird collections, trivial knowledge, extensive connections)
Cult Member (access to occult lore, backup from cult brothers, being in danger)
Biker (looking menacing, having biker contacts, breaking stuff)
Dealer (getting illegal things, being paranoid, all talk)
Private Eye (noticing hidden clues, getting it on with dames, shadowing people)
Boxer (hitting stuff, getting hit, abandoned boxing studio)
Ex-Cop (hangover, strained relationships, no-nonsense mood)

The Agendas:

  • Make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.
  • Play to find out what happens.
  • Drive the characters to turn into monsters

The Principles:

  • The devil is in the details.
  • Introduce a believable world of (supernatural) secrets.
  • Give the world more depth through play.
  • Come up with interesting mysteries, not interesting adventures.
  • Make your move, but misdirect.
  • Make your move, but never speak its name.
  • Use NPCs to introduce constancy, then destroy them.
  • Name everyone, make everyone human.
  • Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
  • Respond with challenging circumstances and occasional rewards.
  • Be a fan of the players’ characters.
  • Think offscreen, too.
  • Occasionally, let the players answer the questions.
  • The fight is in vain, for humanity means little on the grand scale of things

GM Moves

  • Separate them.
  • Capture someone.
  • Put someone in a high-stakes situation.
  • Harm someone (as established).
  • Trade harm for harm (as established).
  • Announce off-screen badness.
  • Announce future badness.
  • Take away one of their Things.
  • Demonstrate one of their Things’ bad sides.
  • Give them a difficult decision to make.
  • Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
  • Turn their move back on them.
  • Make a move from one of your Dangers or Bigger Pictures.