Friday night of TotalCon was my first scheduled game: Abduction: CE4, a game using Brad Younie‘s The Unexplained to chronicle the activities of the Foundation for Paranormal Investigation. Brad’s worked on The Unexplained for as long as I’ve known him, and possibly longer. We met at OGC in 2006, where I played his Ghosts of the Lady Grace adventure. Then it was called Strange World — and, the Ogre’s Cave’s review tells me, apparently grew out of Brad’s prior game, Now Playing, which used “FPI: The Show” as a sample game framework. It particularly piqued my interest because at the time, and even since then, I hadn’t come across another role-playing game that took straight, real world paranormal phenomena and the study thereof — as in, the paranormal as we know it, rather than as game designers imagine it might be in a world of secret supernatural beings — as its primary subject matter.
In addition to finally checking out the game, I had the secondary purpose of revisiting FUDGE, the super light rule system Brad uses in his games. I had an absolutely miserable experience with FUDGE in Ghosts of the Lady Grace with a phenomenal run of poor rolls and wanted to give the rules another play experience. Abduction: CE4 billed itself as investigating the abrupt disappearance of a college student during the observation of a low flying UFO, a true close encounter of the fourth kind.
It was a small game, as only I and Chuck showed up to play. But that really fit the genre, since Chuck chose to play a skeptical forensic scientist while I took the paranoid ufologist. So we were the true believer and doubtful scientist, off to the wilds of Keuka Park in New York state to find out what happened to a student missing at Keuka College.
This was one of those comfortable, familiar adventures. You have a rough idea of what might be going on and no reason to think there’s a huge twist lying in wait, so you slip into the motions of poking around locations, thinking of questions to ask and theories to test. Our characters spent a lot of time checking out the cemetery where the disappearance occurred, looking for signs giving some indication of what happened, whether it was otherworldly or not.
The three person dynamic, with two players and a GM, really helped the investigation flow from question to question and scene to scene, whereas larger groups in investigation games can make the perceived level of action slow to a crawl, as everyone has to get their turn. With two players, Brad was able to switch between my and Chuck’s questions easily, so something was always moving forward. And we players practiced good etiquette and traded off the spotlight freely.
The first sign of tension came when the archetypal big, black town car appeared on the road, following our characters. We never confronted its passengers directly and now I wish we had, albeit from the player’s perspective. It made no sense for hobbyist spook hunters to pick a fight with men in black suits intimidating witnesses, but there’s always that itch to find out everything going on, down to the last detail.
Those kinds of unrevealed secrets often come out in the post-game bull session, but it just didn’t happen this time. I’ll have to grill Brad next time I see him.