I’m going to do a dick move by telling you all about an amazing game you probably can’t get, but the experience was so fun that I had to share it.
The Final Girl is a tiny RPG book, teeny-tiny, but it’s full of so much potential. We were short a couple of the In-Fighters and since getting the book in a Bundle of Holding I had been itching to give it a test drive. I’m a horror fan. One of my very short-lived first websites was created when my brother was unemployed and I communicated with him via the medium of bad horror movie reviews. I put most of them up on a site called Killed By Ghosts. One of my favourite video games of all time is Silent Hill 2 and one of my favourite films of the last decade is Detention. So yeah, big horror fan.
To play The Final Girl, you need a deck of regular playing cards, pens and some index cards. If you cut me, I bleed index cards and we used some Asda own-brand playing cards because we’re classy like that.
The game starts off with a chat about horror movies people like. So many people say, “I don’t do horror movies,” but that’s a bit too broad. They don’t do particular horror movies and often brand any good horror as something else like “suspense”. Those genre-evading wimps. I explained my love of Detention, the Scream series and the aptly-named The Final Girls. Ideally kind of meta-things. I like supernatural enemies or human enemies with interesting motivation. For me the example of my least-liked horror movie is Wolf Creek where based on a real life story a completely different story will be told with a motivationless enemy and characters just suffering for a couple of hours until they die or escape. I enjoy the Saw series for the Jenga tower of continuity, but am still too squeamish to watch some scenes the whole way through.
Lee, Ash and Vinnie all shared their favourites and least favourites. The main thing we struck on was a common thread of the sillier horror films. Evil Dead 2 and the like. With this, we had a kind of tonal palette in our minds.
We randomly selected a scenario from the back of the book which involved a demon-possessed child. Then we started using index cards to write up a bunch of characters each.
Our cast were:
Veronica, the Hysterical Mother
Benjamin, the Concerned Father
Margo, the Crazy Cat Lady
Jason, the Sleazy Uncle
Patrick, the Fearful Priest
Tommy, the Friendly Jock
Clyde, the Creepy Twin
Ezekiel, the Dishevelled Loner
Chad, the Bumbling Pizza Delivery Guy
Scruff, the Faithful Hound
Candi, the Hot Babysitter
Bradshaw, the Spoilt Bully
You’ll note I’m not attributing any one character to a player. That’s on purpose. Oh yes, we would all play them and by the end of the session, at least eleven of them would be dead. This is a game with a rotating storyteller running things, here they’re called The Killer. For the first three scenes we just have exposition; setting up three scenes where the characters meet each other and set the scene. The Killer sets the scene and then everyone takes a character to play, cutting when it feels appropriate and marking down relationships which may be established. Each character can have one of each of the three relationship types; friendship, rivalry and screwing. When the game kicks off, you can still mark more of these relationships but in these opening scenes it’s a good foundation. Friends can save each other, rivals can throw each other under the bus and people whose relationship is ‘screwing’ can do either.
We opened on Chad delivering pizza to Benjamin and Veronica. The babysitter had ordered way too much pizza and remembered Chad from when he dropped out. The initial relationships were established, as well as hints about the demon child, Tarquin, who was unwell and behaving oddly.
The next scene was at the nearby school where Tarquin’s creepy twin was hanging out with his sleazy uncle. The twin latched onto Ezekiel and the trio were weird enough that Bradshaw couldn’t even bring himself to bully them. Uncle Jason was a pleasure to play in how disturbing he was to the other players. He pointed out having found the back rows of the bleachers being just out of range of the ankle bracelet he was wearing, how he wanted to watch the young cheerleaders and the smooth-chested boys before going back to his trailer to make meth. Most of this was lost on little Clyde, who was trying to emulate Ezekiel.
The final opening scene was set the next day at a neighbourhood fair in a local park. Veronica had lost Tarquin and invaded Father Patrick’s performance on stage to demand help. Bradshaw heckled and Tommy got his bros to help out the hunt for the kid.
So those were the opening scenes. People had relationships and some didn’t. It was Lee’s turn to be The Killer and this time he actually would be. We gathered up the people with the least relationships for Lee who would both set the scene and play Tarquin. We would run a scene like before but then EVERYONE in the scene would have to die. The people with the least relationships were Margo (who hadn’t been taken yet), Jason and Bradshaw (most of the cast had one relationship and he was the unfortunate who was picked). Around the same time as the previous scene, Margo was in her basement being miserable. Jason entered to help her out with her medication and case the place for valuables. Bradshaw watched the pair from the basement window, not aware of the little child watching him… or the cats. Margo’s cats seemed to be under the control of Tarquin and swarmed Bradshaw, ripping him apart. In the home, the house was gassed just as Jason was applying copious amounts of ointments to Margo’s thighs. He passed out between her legs and the pair were burnt to death when the house went up.
While the firemen were out front, Ezekiel, Candi and Father Patrick investigated what looked like a child trapped inside the back of the house. Ezekiel opened the basement window and something leapt on his back…
This was the first scene where death was not inevitable, so I’ll explain the system for you. The Killer (controlled by me) narrates a deadly situation (demon child dropping on the back of a victim). The characters involved draw one card from a normal deck of playing cards. They draw an additional card for each different relationship they have. Then The Killer flips the top card of the deck. The highest card wins; if that’s Ezekiel then he gets away and I have to start targeting other people, if that’s Tarquin then he’s murdered a surly teenager. Below is an example, mainly because I can’t remember the exact cards, but the outcome was the same.
Damn. Tarquin had to target someone else. Father Patrick entered the house and a knife flew through the hallway, catching him in the side of the head. He died and the remaining characters survived the scene, adding a Survivor Point each.
The youths, being horror movie youths, planned a party in the remains of the burnt out home. Chad attempted to give Candi a lift to the party but she summoned Ezekiel to come along too. Bradshaw’s car in the school parking lot had been vandalised by kids and when Chad went to have a look through the window, he was nearly decapitated when it moved by itself. I was Chad and Ash was The Killer controlling the car. All Chad lost was his hat and Candi thought he was probably just stoned. Cars don’t attack people after all, do they?
At the party, Candi was trying to get close to Ezekiel who was too busy sitting on a ruined bit of roof and looking pensive off to the distance. The roof started to crumble and fall. Another attempt, another failure. Then something was put into Candi’s drink. Another failure and the acidic drink was dropped to the floor. Poor Killer. Ash decided to have the floor of the house fall through and target everyone in the scene. Chad was the only one to fail, crushed under bits of roof and impaled on a bar. Aside from the party, Tarquin smiled at his work. Sadly, while Tarquin’s family took on Scruff at Candi’s behest, he was lured away during Chad’s funeral and his throat was slit by Tarquin.
We moved to the family home where things weren’t all that well. Tarquin had been missing from the funeral and Veronica (the worst mother alive at the rate she kept losing her children) was saved from a screwdriver to the head because she hugged onto her son too tightly. Benjamin was cooking and barely saved from a frying pan to the face. Tarquin finally got frustrated and got his twin to climb a bookcase which he shoved over.
We were beginning to whittle the cast down and it was impossible to ignore that a malevolent force was attacking the neighbourhood and the gated community’s security force were proving to be inadequate.
After working out a plan of action, Tommy went back to his home, was doing weights to calm down only to see Tarquin in the room who increased the mass of the weights until they fell on his neck and kept sinking. The weights smashed through the floor, decapitating him.
Candi and Ezekiel were certain there was something unnatural going on while Benjamin and Veronica decided to take part in an armed mob patrolling the neighbourhood. Veronica had an automatic rifle while Benjamin had a .22 pea shooter. Beset by voices and madness, Veronica ended up shooting her husband and her gun exploded in her hands. Tarquin reached into what was left of his mother and consumed her heart.
Tarquin left the house, to where Ezekiel and Candi were. They tried to flee and Ezekiel sacrificed himself to let Candi go; headphones on, hoodie up, dying the way a broody loner should. Okay, maybe not, as few people expect to be bisected. Tarquin started to shed his skin, revealing the horrendous demon which lived underneath him. The small child was now a massive, obsidian-skinned monster, ready to kill Candi. He looked for her, only to find she’d got the car keys from a dead security guard and was driving towards him.
With one character left, we tallied who had the most dead characters in front of them (me, by quite a way) and they decided the final fate of the final girl. Now I’m an optimist, I didn’t want this ‘film’ to end in just miserable death. Candi hit the demon with the car and rammed a tree. The demon burst in horrendous ichor and she passed out as sirens drew near.
Of course, that’s not where it all ends. Once the credits were done, there’s a slow zoom to the grave of Clyde. Yes, Tarquin’s creepy twin. There’s a light rumble and a clawed hand punches through the earth, trying to get free.
The Final Girl is an exceptional game. Ours took about three hours and that was with us running a little long and aimlessly with some scenes. The monster was overwhelming and vague, the murders gruesome and kind of comedic. We hit the tone just right and it was well received by the group. Some characters were gravitated towards by players repeatedly like Ash with Ezekiel and Lee with Candi. They were in a ton of scenes and the more Survivor Points they accrued for living through a scene, the more they were able to help manage their meagre hands of cards. There were a few points where we purposefully let people die, like poor Chad.
The game was part of a Bundle of Holding and hopefully in October it’ll come back from the dead like whatever demon was inside Tarquin. Otherwise, it’s just a case of looking to play with anyone who has a copy (The Gauntlet on G+ have run online sessions and endlessly rubbed in that this is a great game even though it can’t be bought). I’ve pestered Bret Gillan on his site and G+ asking about this previously and he’s said there’s no current method of buying it. His response to other people has linked to this post so don’t pester him about it, but keep an eye on the Bundle of Holding site and hope it returns from the dead like whatever demon possessed Tarquin.