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[personal profile] robotnik2004
My gaming buddies have just posted an episode of their swell podcast, Shake Rattle and Roleplay, where I come on to talk about Southern Rock Opera, the DramaSystem game we recently played about a 70s rock band that sells its soul(s) to the Devil. A couple of people have asked, so I thought I'd post a synopsis of the game. It was pretty boss: maybe the best dramatic, character-driven gaming I've ever been part of.

(NB: [livejournal.com profile] athenalindia also posted full length summaries of each episode, which were invaluable to me in running the game and in writing up this shorter version. Her LJ is friends-only, but I'll bet she would answer a friend-request if you're really curious. Here I was trying to hit a sweet spot in length between "Facebook status update" and "comprehensive TWOP recap" that might be more accessible for people who didn't play in the game.)

This is part one of three. (Here's Part Two and Three.) (And here's the podcast where we talk about the game, the DramaSystem system, and Huey Lewis and the News.)

Southern Rock Opera : Act One

Rock and roll means well / but it can’t help telling young boys lies

Episode 1: Memphis Blues / Elvis Has Left The Building
Memphis, 1977: On the day that Elvis Presley dies, a hard-working band called Whiskey Holler (named for the tiny Appalachian town they grew up in) plays one hell of a show in a dive bar on Beale Street. It’s supposed to be their final gig, but a silver-tongued snake-oil salesman named Billy Saturday likes what he hears, and offers them a deal.

Dylan Cole, our band’s charismatic front man, chats with Saturday, who lets him know the secret to success: “You got to give the people what they want.” Rufus Filburn, our brooding lead guitar, gets picked up by a spooky, death-obsessed hippie chick called California. She takes him to the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. died and tells him she can make him a star—as long as he kicks somebody out of the band. Rae, Cole’s older sister and the band’s cool bassist, tells Manny Hayes, the wild man drummer, that she’s quitting Whiskey Holler. He encourages her to stay. The two pop ’ludes, drink whiskey, and hook up, not for the first time. Shannon Moon, Cole’s girlfriend and kinda sorta the fifth member of the band, has a visit from her pious mother, who pressures her to leave this sinful life and help her family back home. Shannon declines.

Next day, Cole rounds up the band and lays out Saturday’s offer. He and Rufus break the news to Manny: he’s out, Shannon is in. Strong words and punches fly. Cole, Rufus, Rae, and Shannon meet with Saturday at Baptist Memorial Hospital, where they share a sacramental meal of take-out fried chicken, served on the cooling corpse of the King of Rock and Roll.

Episode 2: Born To Run
Out of the blue, Whiskey Holler gets tapped to open for Lynyrd Skynyrd as the boys from Florida warm up for their next big tour. It’s just a string of regional Southern gigs, but to Whiskey Holler it feels like the big time. Too bad the band is playing poorly, and scrambling for material to fill a set, and everything’s threatening to fly apart before it even begins.

Cole and Rufus are fighting over the band’s direction. Rufus doesn’t want to play three-chord beer-drinking songs forever; he has a prog rock opera about Tolkien to write. Cole mostly cares about the chicks. Shannon’s putting up with Cole, and shyly trying to show somebody the songs she’s been writing, but nobody’s paying much attention. And Rae doesn’t look too healthy. Meanwhile, California seems to have joined the tour as Rufus’ girlfriend, but that doesn’t stop her from hitting on both Cole siblings, or stop Rufus from carrying a torch for Rae.

Late one night after a show, Rae gets a phone call from Manny, who tells her about the car crash that just took his life. He encourages her to swallow a bottle of pills and join him… so she does.

Episode 3: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Rae’s in a hospital bed, recovering from her o.d. Cole, who found her and saved her, is furious and hurt. That’s when Rabbit (the band’s devoted, incompetent manager) hits them all with the news about Manny’s death. And Ian Rankin, Skynyrd’s obnoxious promoter, wants to drop Whiskey Holler from the tour.

It’s quiet, shy Shannon who convinces Ronnie Van Zant to give the band one more chance. At their next gig, the Warehouse in New Orleans, they’ll show them everything they’ve got. If that means missing Manny’s funeral and taking chances with Rae’s health—well, Shannon is determined. She’s worried about money and her mother back home, but she’s never going back to the Holler.

Shannon picks the wrong moment to show Rufus some of her own songs, and he responds badly—not because they’re bad, because they’re so damn good. Then Rae and Shannon have a fight, about how Rae left Cole and how Cole treats Shannon, and what both women are hiding from themselves. Cole’s mourning Manny and blaming Rufus for Rae’s near-o.d. And Rae hooks up with California. It’s a long, uncomfortable bus ride down to New Orleans.

Rufus and Cole go looking for spiritual guidance and/or trouble on Bourbon Street and end up in a voodoo church where they pay forty bucks for candles and some exposition about Baron Samedi. Without benefit of said lecture, Shannon talks to Big Bill Saturday about the band’s financial woes. He gives her $500 to send to her mother, on the condition that she spend another $500 in some purely selfish way.

And then it’s showtime! Skynyrd’s late, so Whiskey Holler has to keep stretching out their opening set. The band is tight. They tear the roof off the place. Rufus digs in to the simple, crowd-pleasing stuff, even Manny’s dumb-ass country-rocker, “Biscuits and Gravy.” The crowd eats it up. They try out Shannon’s new song, “Ghost Town,” and it’s electric. Even “Ride of the Nazgul” gets a little love.

It’s not until our heroes finally come off stage, euphoric and exhausted, that they hear about Skynyrd’s fatal plane crash. Saturday throws his arms around their shoulders. Everyone’s going to be talking about this show for a long, long time, he says—the night one band went down in flames and another became stars.


Date: 2014-07-03 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theclevermonkey.livejournal.com
I don't have a lot to say, except: Like. Also: Poor Rae. She had a tough time.

Also, I'm impressed that you have enough entries involving Elvis to justify a tag.
Edited Date: 2014-07-03 02:19 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-07-03 02:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] athenalindia.livejournal.com
Yeah, my summaries are long, but if anyone's really interested, just let me know, and I'll friend you.

Ah, this is making me...nostalgic?

Date: 2014-07-03 03:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] athenalindia.livejournal.com
This made me go back to reread those summaries, and I just realized that a LOT of the scenes in the early episodes ended with someone telling someone else to go fuck themselves and storming off. It's a theme?

Date: 2014-07-03 06:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theclevermonkey.livejournal.com
Wasn't that the name of our first album? 'Go Fuck Yourself'?

Date: 2014-07-03 07:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robotnik.livejournal.com
How about "Go To Hell"? Not quite as strong, but it has the same sentiment, and it's thematically appropriate.

Date: 2014-07-05 01:42 pm (UTC)
bryant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bryant
I am very interested! Thank you.

Date: 2014-07-05 01:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] athenalindia.livejournal.com
There you go! That link near the top of the post should work now.

Date: 2014-07-05 01:59 pm (UTC)
bryant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bryant
Thanks again! I like your writeup style -- clear, plenty of meat, propulsive.

Date: 2014-07-05 02:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] athenalindia.livejournal.com
No problem! And thank you.

Date: 2015-09-23 10:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mgrasso.livejournal.com
Hi there! I'm a friend of Rob's and next year I'm going to be running a DramaSystem game. Any chance I could get access to your session summaries? I think they'll be hugely helpful for me. Thanks!

Date: 2015-09-23 11:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] athenalindia.livejournal.com
Absolutely! (And I think you also interact with my husband a lot online - Bill Templeton/Bill TheSixth?)

They're all under this tag
Edited Date: 2015-09-23 11:39 am (UTC)

hah of course

Date: 2015-09-23 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mgrasso.livejournal.com
Okay, yeah, thanks! I now know who you are. :) I guess we should probably add each other on Facebook too now that I'm thinking about it!

Date: 2014-07-05 01:45 pm (UTC)
bryant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bryant
Ride of the Nazgul, heh. HBO should film that book too.

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