[Dust Devils] 2 x 3 Days in Hell

edited September 2007 in Actual Play
I went to OshCon over the weekend and played a ton of really great games including The Mountain Witch, My Life with Master, Burning Wheel, Beast Hunters, and InSpectres. I also ran a game of Dust Devils. In preparation, I came up with a little scenario called 3 Days in Hell, which I ran once at the con and once two days prior as a practice run. It worked quite well, and I told Matt I'd share my experiences.

First, the scenario. The situation was pretty simple. The characters are all in the town of Brownstone, Montana. Just recently, a really bad man named James Cartwright was thrown into jail by the newly appointed sheriff, Zachary Hayes. In 3 days, federal marshals will arrive to take James away to jail. But in 2 days, James' gang is going to roll into town to bust him out.

Apart from the above supporting characters, there are 3 others in town. These are:

* Leona Chase: James' girl. Sweltering, manipulative, deceitful.
* Charlie Pierce: James' second in command. Ambitious, treacherous, vengeful.
* Bartholomew Cartwright: Mayer & James' father. Compassionate, torn, fatherly.

Character creation was as normal with the exception of the selection of situation elements. I took this idea from Hans' GenCon Dust Devils game. Players had to select one from the first list and one from the second. The one from the first list had to be unique to each character. The lists:

List 1:
* Bartholomew's son/daughter
* Deputy
* In love with Leona
* In James' gang
* Here to kill James
* In love with Charlie

List 2:
* Fucking Leona
* Fucking Charlie
* Bartholomew is in your way
* James owes you a fortune
* You owe Charlie a fortune
* Outlaw

I also provided the exact stats for each of the supporting characters to all of the players. I strongly encouraged them to play the supporting cast when their characters weren't involved in a scene.

So, a pretty detailed AP report on the first game can be found here. A pretty detailed report of the second game can be found here. Also in that thread can be found AP reports for the other games I mentioned above, as well as some DitV and some SotC. I won't cover the ground already tread there. If you want details on the games, read those posts. I'm going to move directly onto my observations.

My first observation is that Dust Devils is a fucking awesome game. It's one of my favorites. It's so simple, yet the mechanics force you down this path on which you learn really important things about your character, things you might have had no idea you wanted to learn. Regardless of whether the story ends in tragedy or triumph, you get to judge your character as a human being and that character is, inevitably, beautifully flawed. I started each game by telling the players that Dust Devils is a game about people with a very dark place inside them that gives them strength, but also leads them to tragedy. I also told them that it's a game about doing violence as a means to your ends. They took that strongly to heart. Like my player Sabe said, "What a brutality engine."

Next, the situation elements rocked on toast. They really started things off with a bang and the two games, despite sharing the same setup, weren't anything alike. I could probably run the game a dozen times and not have any strong similarities between them.

Finally, an interesting thing happened in both sessions, but particularly in the first one. In the first scenario, at the end of the game, we discovered that James and Leona (both supporting characters) were the actual protagonists of the story. They rode off into the sunset after killing all of the PCs and the entire story wound up being about their plot to remove some snakes from their nest. It was awesome. In the second session, one of the players wound up playing a supporting cast character for almost the entire game rather than the character he created. I think that level of engagement with the story was awesome and I'm looking forward to finding more games and/or styles of play that help create that sense of story over character.



  • Great post Daniel! I too have been looking at stuff Hans has been posting regarding Dust Devils, but haven't yet gotten to try it out. Your two lists are awesome, and stuff like this could be used for any pickup story game to create a tight opening situation.

    Thanks for sharing,

  • Hey, I saw that movie!

    Loving your situation bits.
  • Jason,

    Which movie was it? I know I stole the idea from something, but I can't remember what. I thought it might have been a video game, actually.

  • Oh, now I really want to see it!

  • Wow, global brain, man. The second-in-command is named Charlie Prince. His boss is captured and some Good Men need to deliver him to prison, and his gang is coming to bust him out. All your situation elements generally fit. It's a great movie, very Dust Devils.
  • edited September 2007
    The movie also has a 1957 version and the Elmore Leonard story device has been bopping around the genre in a half-dozen other movies which might have scratched your subconscious at some point. I'm running Dust Devils the weekend after next and looking for hints to make it sing.

    The new 3:10 to Yuma movie was really great. One of my favorites this year.
  • Sounds like great fun, Daniel! Thanks for sharing. The situation lists you've got are fantastic.

    Yeah, this smacks of 3:10 to Yuma. It also has a pinch of Rio Bravo in there, too. Probably other flicks, as Matthew suggests.

    3:10 to Yuma is very good. It's a hair's breath shy of great, in my view. But, it's definitely the Dust Devils movie of the year, and worth seeing.

    Last year's? Seraphim Falls. I loved that one, and recommend it as well.
  • Daniel, thanks for linking to Willow's actual play reports from OshCon, they were all great.

    Your scenario PDF has also totally inspired me. I've been looking at a lot of Hans' posts on Dust Devils, over at the Forge, and been thinking of how to put something similar together, and now you've shown me how. Thanks a ton, my Bodie inspired scenarios should be cooking before long now. :D

    I also appreciate the movie tips, I hadn't heard of Seraphim Falls or 3:10 to Yuma.
  • Yoki,

    That's awesome, I'm glad I could help. I'm working on updating that .pdf some, but the scenario really seems to sing as it is. I'd really love to hear what you come up with. I'd love to have a collection of these sorts of scenarios. I think I might do one for the Concrete Angels setting next. I'd love to do a blood opera for Ronin, but I'm not quite happy with the way Ronin plays, so I'll probably work on hacking that first.

  • I'm preparing to run Dust Devils and Inspectres as one-shots for some friends of mine in two weeks. Your AP posts have been extremely helpful. I am tempted by Ronin. What is about that variant that isn't working for well for you at this point?
  • Troy, I'm glad I could help. I've got an update of the scenario .pdf if you're interested in using it.

    My big issue with Ronin is the Duty. I feel like the driving story mojo behind regular Dust Devils is the way that the Devil intersects with a basic sense of humanity, sort of perpendicular to the story being told. Duty, on the other hand, being a pretty concrete goal and being pretty much morally neutral, doesn't seem to intersect with anything and runs parallel to the story. My ideal version of Ronin would pit Duty against the character's personal desires, making the characters choose between each.

  • Daniel,

    I ran 'Three Days in Hell' at Concrete Cow at the weekend. It went really well. Thanks for posting it.

    If you're updating the scenario, I'd suggest that you have an explicit mention of James's hidden cash. I also found the mayor hard to get into action, but I've got no good suggestions about what to do with him.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing an updated scenario.

  • Yes. Please post a link to the updated pdf if you would.

    I kind of knew that was what you were going to say about Ronin. Just from reading it, I thought that might be the problem. The Devil is what makes the system work, really. Duty can put one in a pinch, but it's usually an external rather than internal pressure. (Okay, I suppose the internal pressure comes from the culture; you are morally obligated to live up to your duty. That's not the same, though. You don't have the same feeling of redemption if you commit sepuku (sp?) because duty has put you into a corner.) On the other hand, I love the rephrasing of the card suits into elements. Very cool.
  • Neil,

    Hey, I'm glad to hear it went well! Do you have an AP report posted? In my updated version, I have some idea seeds listed that can be used and one of them is the hidden money. I didn't initially include it because I didn't want it to seem mandatory that the scenario revolved around the money. Honestly, I've found the mayor hard to get into the action as well, but it's certainly not necessary. He became a key character the second time I ran it, but the first time nobody chose a situation element related to him, so he went pretty much unused.


    I'll upload that .pdf and post a link shortly. Re: Ronin, I'm thinking of a hack that might work. It basically involves adding some personal items to oppose Duty and having the pursuit of those personal items being what rewards chips. I'll have to test it out some to see how it works in play.

  • Daniel,

    This scenario/set-up is fantastic! I'm going to work on how to incorporate this method into my own games, and I would love to use this scenario for a few demo games I plan on running at my local game store.
  • My favorite part is how you can take a 'standard' con scenario and make it transformable via the situation elements. You don't have to worry about someone having played in the scenario before or reading the AP posts, because it comes out different every time. Two lists of six = 36 possible combinations ... for EACH character. (Okay, the first list is mutually exclusive, so it's not quite that wide open, but I think you all can see the benefit of this idea.)
  • Chris,

    I'd love to hear how your games go! I'm excited my scenario is getting some use!


    That's one of my favorite things about the scenario. I've run it twice now and it's been completely different each time. Interestingly, neither time did we actually get past the first day. Neither the gang, nor the marshals have ever come into play.

    Here's the newly updated file. Let me know if there's anything I can do to improve it.

  • Thanks for sharing Daniel!
  • Posted By: coffeestainChris,

    I'd love to hear how your games go! I'm excited my scenario is getting some use!
    My group's current campaign is going to be ending soon, and as a short filler between campaigns, I'm planning to hit them with some story-game coolness in the form of Dust Devils and your scenario. If you have any tips or other advice on running it, I'd love to know them.
  • Hey, Chris. It pretty much runs itself.

    Generally, I'll start up and give people my general blurb about what kind of game Dust Devils is. Then, I'll point their attention to the little section of things to do when you're not sure what to do next on the .pdf. After they've made characters, I'll ask if anyone would like to start a scene and I'll let them frame it, possibly with some changes if I feel they're necessary.

    Myself, I do very little for the most part. I almost always let other players whose characters aren't involved in the current scene run the NPCs. I'll play NPCs if I need to throw in some meat for the sharks to fight over or give a little direction.

    When I feel things are slowing down, I tend to focus on the relationships between Charlie, Leona, and James. I'll usually play Charlie as the guy who wants to take over James' gang and/or get away with his money. Sometimes that person will be Leona, but sometimes Leona will want Charlie out of the picture instead because she loves James. It all depends on how the players and their relationships to the supporting cast turned out. When in doubt, here are things I do:

    - Have Charlie contact the player who loves him (as the dominant in the relationship) or the player who is fucking him (as the submissive in the relationship) and reveal that James has buried a fortune somewhere in town. Leona can do this, too.

    - Have Leona contact a player about taking Charlie out before he usurps control of James' gang.

    - Have James offer a player a fortune to bust him out of jail.

    Basically have one of the supporting cast that's connected in some way to one of the characters ask them for help that'll put them in opposition with another of the supporting characters (who is, of course, tied to another of the characters) for something. That'll create all sorts of sparks and conflict. They'll make deals and choose sides. It winds up bloody and awesome. Pretty much all you have to do is throw a little tinder on the pile.

  • I have a question for this scenario. Do you have James and Leona and Charlie all in the town itself, with the main force of James' gang 3 days out of town? Seems like Charlie (and maybe Leona) would otherwise difficult to get into scenes unless with the one player who might be in James' gang.

    I'm going to facilitate for it today. I think I'll end up adding another main plotline after soliciting feedback from the players after they've made their characters. There seems to be something missing - just not sure what yet.
  • Leona and Charlie are not hard at all to work into the story- they are, more likely than not, in love or sexually active with some player characters.
  • Matthew,

    Generally speaking, Leona and Charlie are the driving forces in the scenario. They're almost always either sexually active with, in love with, or both with a number of the PCs. I've never actually had James' gang show up. Everyone basically explodes before they have a chance to get there.

    Honestly, I wouldn't add any plotline at all. It's really not that kind of scenario. Just give each of the NPCs something they want from the PCs and let 'em rip. Normally, I'll start out with Leona and/or Charlie in a post-sex scene with one of the PCs, asking them to do something for them, either against one of the others of the supporting cast or for them.

    I go into detail about this in my last post. If you're concerned about their not being enough meat, I'd like to suggest you try running it as is, but maybe keep a "plot line" in the back of your head as a safety net. Dust Devils doesn't really lend itself to plots, in my experience.

    Good luck! I'd love to hear how the game goes!

  • edited October 2007

    Honestly, I wouldn't add any plotline at all. It's really not that kind of scenario. Just give each of the NPCs something they want from the PCs and let 'em rip. Normally, I'll start out with Leona and/or Charlie in a post-sex scene with one of the PCs, asking them to do something for them, either against one of the others of the supporting cast or for them.
    Yeah, plotline isn't what I meant. No plots here. ;) It just felt to me that there might be something extra needed if some of the players didn't go for the main gang setup, and also felt like there needed to be an NPC that could serve as some kind of a catalyst for a redemptive path. But it worked fine as is; there came to be other NPCs in play (w/o Devils), and so far it doesn't seem like many of the players are in a "give up the gun" mode. We got a very late start and didn't reach The End for any of the characters, but I'm hoping we can finish up the scenario in a second session.

    edit: Gah! I can't seem to fix the whole quote thing. Four tries is enough for tonight.
  • Matthew,

    I'm glad it worked fine for you! I find that Barthomelew can work well as a catalyst for a redemptive path, as can both James and Leona. I tend to run Charlie as a purely black-hat sort of fellow, though in the first game of 3 Days in Hell I ran, he wound up pleading with one of the PCs (had the situation elements "fucking Charlie" & "in love with Leona", thus I had Charlie be truly in love with her) to help him get out of the life and start fresh with him. She turned him down, but there was certainly a redemptive element in play, there.

    I think there can be a lot of sympathy for the supporting characters, depending on how they're played. I wonder if that's something I need to make more explicit, or if it's something folks can just suss out during play. At this point, I'm not convinced it matters either way.

  • You can tinker with these things forever. There is a time when you just have to say, "If it works, it works," and let it be what it is. Tinkering might not make it any better, just different, so why not move on and make a new scenario instead.

    What has been really valuable for me is to see the way you structured a one-shot with built in variables that make it fresh each time. The particulars aren't as important in my mind. I am going to blatantly steal the structure and use it to "correct" the Dust Devils one-shot I was working on.

  • I agree. I'm going to use the template to make my own Dust Devils scenario for Gamestorm (and other cons). Something further south during Reconstruction maybe...

    I'm picturing a sheet that goes out to each player with 13 Devils (Diamonds), 13 Traits (Spades), 13 Past/Presents (Clubs), and 13 Situation Elements (Hearts), each keyed to a playing card. Deal out the whole deck before play begins. Each player, referencing the key, can pick a card and pass the rest to the left until all players have a Devil, two Traits, a Past, A Present, and two Situation Elements. Each player would start with 4 chips and could pay 1 of their chips to change any one of their features either to duplicate one of the choices already taken or to anything they can think of. You could really tailor the Past, Presents and Situation Elements to suit the region, period, and situation you want for your game while still offering a lot of freedom and variance.

    I might try something similar for some of my FATE-hack one-shots as well - having a menu of Situation Elements as well as Aspects for a particular scenario.
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